Christmas Videos on Facebook
It's the week before Christmas. For church people – clergy, lay staff, ministry volunteers – this is a crazy busy week. Wonderful, but crazy busy.
Can anyone blame a beleaguered Christian formation person for taking a quick break to mindlessly scroll through Facebook? Maybe watch a video or two? We all need the downtime, we all need the momentary pause before we jump back into our Christmas preparations. Personally, Christmas dog videos and pictures make me smile every time, and if the dogs are wearing Christmas apparel like these puppers, then that’s an extra bonus.
Regardless of how entertaining they may be, Christmas videos are definitely a mix of good, bad, and theologically dubious. At risk of sounding like Dana Carvey’s perpetually disapproving “Church Lady” character, you might want to think twice before sharing some of them. It’s important to consider the messages we send. Even in the funniest or most touching videos, there may be unintentional implications about our beliefs and the way we engage children in telling the nativity story.
Here’s a round-up of some of the videos that I’ve seen frequently across my social feeds and others I’ve discovered. They represent a variety of different denominations and different theologies, and I’m offering my personal assessment of what I liked and what I questioned. While you may agree or disagree with my conclusions (and my theology), my intent is to help you consider what you might want to question before sharing a video. Of course, that decision also depends on who you share it with – friends on your personal social feed, the public via your church’s official feed, parents or other ministry leaders in a formation-focused online group, or young people in a formation setting.
This one is, admittedly, quite clever and funny. In the same way that Sesame Street appeals to children with puppetry and song while giving sly cultural reference winks to parents, in this video, nativity puppets sing the story of the nativity set to a parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The little kids might be too young to know Queen, but they’ll love the music anyway. My only question concerns the inclusion of lyrics that focus on personal sin (“Wash our sins right out of here…”) and the focus on substitutionary atonement (“The God who reigns on high has sent his son through you to die for all”). While these are heavy theological concepts and we can go round all day debating them, my personal approach is one that avoids making a child feel like Jesus had to die because she hit her sister or some such minor infraction. My theology is not one that emphasizes the sinfulness of humanity, but rather focuses on grace and reconciliation. I am very, very cautious when using materials from other denominations that take a different approach.
So this is going to get me in trouble because everybody seems to love this video. In it, children tell the nativity story in their own words, with their narration super-imposed over adults acting out the story. While I love anything that privileges children’s voices and encourages young people to share in the telling of the story, I question the hammy acting of the adults.
In this video, every time a child makes a verbal stumble or stutter, the adults over-exaggerate and play it for laughs (Angel Gabriel in particular). My fear is that when we laugh at children – especially when they aren’t intending to be funny – we shut down the thoughtful little souls who might otherwise have profound things to say. We want our children to engage in the nativity story in a way that encourages them to go deeper, not play it for laughs.
I do, however, like this next video that includes children telling the story in their own words but features child actors instead of adults.
The church that created this video, St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Auckland, New Zealand, has produced numerous videos, many utilizing the same footage of the children acting out the nativity story.
This uses much of the footage from the preceding video, but attempts to touch on the theological question of why God sent Jesus. While I question the "angels and clouds" literalistic depiction of Heaven, this video grew on me. I love how Mary is described as a young peasant girl, “…whose heart is beautiful and full of courage.” I like the emphasis on bringing people closer to God and the emphasis on how unexpected and radical the circumstances of Jesus' birth were. And I’m a sucker for the angel who asks, “Can we sing for him?”
Some other offerings from St. Paul’s, New Zealand include the following three videos.
This interesting video bypasses the familiar Luke narrative and tells the nativity story with quotes ranging from Isaiah’s Old Testament prophesy through the Gospel of Matthew’s magi and then moving rather abruptly to the Gospel of John’s version of Christ’s death, featuring the foreshadowing represented in the symbolic gifts of the magi. Although this video obviously brings up atonement theology, it is a well-stated expression of the reconciliation offered by the cross “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who have been tempted.” This video could be an interesting prompt for a discussion of how Easter is integral to understanding Christmas.
This video builds slowly, showing a contemporary plurality of people on the street, going about their business, who gradually become aware that they are witnessing something extraordinary. Starting with curiosity and incredulity, the expressions gradually become unreservedly joyfully. People smile and break into delighted laughter, all responding to something extraordinary that isn’t revealed until the near end of the video: a small child in a star costume scampers, while contemporary music sings, “Star of wonder… look at that star” Text overlaid on the screen offers the message, “When they saw the star they were overjoyed.” At first I questioned whether this was just an “aw cute” kid video, but considering the idea of Jesus coming as a child arriving joyfully in our daily, pedestrian lives, I decided that I liked it. I question using the video without any context or additional telling of the nativity story, because the messaging is so subtle; but in a certain context, I think it works.
Finally, St. Paul’s, New Zealand, also produced a very powerful and thought-provoking video on the realities of Bethlehem today.
“And you, my child…will shine on those living in darkness to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
I’m fascinated by this video, which depicts present day Bethlehem, which is as far from the serene Hallmark depiction of the nativity as can be imagined. Starting with contemporary shepherds, this video gives voice to a range of people of different faiths living near Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, including refugees, the wall in the West Bank, and honor killings; but it serves as a reminder that the realities of the world that Jesus entered were every bit as violent and complex as what we face today. My question when watching this video is that not being from the Middle East, I am unaware of the nuances and the biases it might reflect. The political realities of modern-day Jerusalem are in the news daily. Even in offering this video as a theological reflection on the messy world in which Jesus entered, I don’t want to unwittingly add to that mess by appearing to take a certain unintended political position. That being said, I think there is potential for good discussion prompted by this video. Just maybe not on social media!
Considering videos with a contemporary setting, one of my very favorite Christmas videos is this modern-day re-telling of the nativity story by the Reformed Church of Hungary.
I love this video because it brings home the uncertainty and fear of an unexpected birth, to unlikely parents, in the company of improper strangers. It’s worth checking out the entire website for the supplemental content that fleshes out the characters and makes interesting parallels, such as the idea of nomadic long-range truckers being akin to the shepherds of the original story. My only question in using this video would be that it does bring a certain darkness, almost a menace, into the story that, while probably accurate, might be too overwhelming for some audiences, especially children.
Of course, Christmas videos don’t always have to be so serious! There is room for both the sublime and the silly. Speaking of silly, and as someone who is continually texting and messaging, this Facebook post features a nativity story told via texts from the Angel Gabriel’s iPhone. I might question sharing it in some instances because of the double entendre usage of “Jesus Christ” and “for Christ’s sake” as an exclamation. But I’ll admit it made me laugh. It’s the first nativity story I’ve seen that includes a poop emoji.
Finally, although I’m not a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, I must say they do Christmas videos really, really well. Not only are they beautifully-crafted and messaged, but the videos are individual components in a larger, more comprehensive social media hashtag campaign. I think many churches (and denominations) that wanted to do a Christmas video could learn from both the LDS videos and campaigns. They exquisitely capture the solemnity and sacred nature of Christmas, and do a great job of integrating the traditional story in the expressions and voices of contemporary people.
As part of their #ShareTheGift campaign, which gives clear instructions for participation, I discovered this lovely music video version of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The music is sublime, and I love the juxtaposition of the intimacy of small children preparing for a Christmas pageant and setting up nativity sets with the large-scale theatrical scenes of the nativity. As my daughter says, “It gets me in the feels.”
I also love this LDS video that features an international array of young people telling of the birth of Christ in the beloved cadence of the Gospel of Luke.
The beautiful faces and voices, followed with the invitation “More than 2000 years ago, God sent Jesus Christ, our Savior… Discover Why” surely encourages people to click on the link that follows. Although most churches don’t have the resources to record and compile a global reflection, a collaborative telling of the gospel story of Jesus’ birth by the young people of a church could be a powerful piece of media. And, like the LDS #ASaviorIsBorn campaign, encouraging parishioners, especially young people, to share their reflections extends the possible impact of the video, making it an ongoing campaign.
It doesn’t matter if you love the silly videos or the sublime ones, video is a great way to tell the nativity story in a new way, amplifying new voices, and reaching a new audience. Whether you create and produce videos with intentionality as part of a social media campaign, or you just happen to capture a special moment, or you merely stumble across a video on social media that gives you all the Christmas feels, I hope that watching and sharing Christmas videos prepares you to celebrate a glorious Christmas, full of wonder and light!
Merry Christmas! Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to All!
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
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