Christmas: The Season of Life and Light – Emily Hunter McGowin

Christmas: The Season of Life and Light by Emily McGowin
Series: The Fullness of Time: A Journey Through the Church Year #4
Published by IVP on September 12, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Christmas
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"O wondrous exchange!"

Of all the seasons of the church calendar, Christmas is the one most recognized and celebrated by our society at large. That means it's the season we're most familiar with―but that can also make it harder to see past Christmas's many cultural trappings to its timeless beauty.

At the first Christmas, God exchanged the glories of divinity for the vulnerability of human existence, uniting himself to us in order to unite us to God. In this short volume, priest and theologian Emily Hunter McGowin invites us into the church's celebration of that great exchange, in all its theological and liturgical splendor.

Each volume in the Fullness of Time series invites readers to engage with the riches of the church year, exploring the traditions, prayers, Scriptures, and rituals of the seasons of the church calendar.

In this book, Emily Hunter McGowin writes about the origins of Christmas and reflects on profound, meaningful themes from Christ’s coming. I enjoyed her eloquent writing and thoughtful reflections, and even though I have read so many books about Advent and Christmas that they begin to run together, I found a lot of unique insights here. McGowin shares historical information about how the Christmas holiday began, debunks common myths, and explores how different traditions developed over time.

This book is part of The Fullness of Time series, which goes through different liturgical seasons in the church calendar. While other installments focus on topics that are uniquely and only Christian, the topic of Christmas is much broader, and I appreciate how McGowin balances writing about church traditions while also reflecting on Christmas as a mainstream cultural holiday. She doesn’t disavow cultural practices to try to make Christmas more spiritual, but shows how traditions like gift-giving and decorating reflect and embody spiritual realities. Even though she warns against consumerism and excess, she honors the good spirit behind beloved Christmas traditions.

Christmas: The Season of Life and Light is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read. McGowin shares stories from her own life on occasion, giving the book a personal touch, and she reflects on powerful themes about the incarnation, God’s care for the poor and lonely, and the ways that Christ’s coming provides hope even in the worst of earthly circumstances. I found this book very thoughtful and deep, and I would recommend it to Christians who are looking for a unique and different book to read during Advent. This is also accessible for people who don’t believe in Jesus, but who love Christmas and are interested in learning more about its history and spiritual roots.