Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is Christmas Only for Christians?

Merry ChristmasImage by Noël Zia Lee via Flickr
This time of year we hear "put Christ back in Christmas" from those who see the "original" meaning of Christmas being watered down and who believe that Jesus is being dishonored when we say "Happy Holidays" or when we use X (the Greek letter Chi as in Christ) instead of writing out Christ in Christmas, as if the X is a way of stamping out Jesus. I always find it interesting when people talk about taking Jesus out of Christmas. There isn't much uniquely Christian about Christmas to begin with.

As many of you already know, the true origins of the way most of us celebrate Christmas now are a mixed bag at best with almost none of it being originated by Christians. Scholars vary on their best guesses as to the time of the year of Yeshua's birth. But no one thinks he was actually born on December 25th. So, why do we celebrate Christmas this time of year? Yep, pagans. The pagans that Christians were trying to convert to Christianity already had a holy day (or three) on December 25th. So, the Christians slyly put Christ's celebration on that day to get the pagans to more easily slip on over to Christianity. They could still have their celebration just instead of honoring Mithras or Saturn, they honored Jesus. This time of year (the Winter solstice) is when the days are darkest and longest. People needed to look forward to some light coming into the world. So, what better time to celebrate the Light (as in Jesus) coming into the world? In December, the sun has been "dying" since the Spring solstice losing a little power each day. Finally, this time of year, the days beging to get longer and the sun gets stronger. The sun is "reborn". So, the concept of celebrating light coming into the world at this time of year is not originally Christian or uniquely Christian.

How about the tree? Well, again, we can thank the pagans (northern Europeans) for that little tradition. They brought in evergreens (the only thing green in the dead of winter in northern Europe) and decorated them around the winter solstice to bring a little life and light into their homes at a depressing time of year.

How about gift giving? Surely, that has Christians origins? Well, probably not. Some say the idea of gift giving was started by the Romans who actually compelled the populace to bring offerings and gifts to the emperors and this was later expanded to the common people in the form of gifts. Some say it started with Kris Kringle or Saint Nicholas.

So, what's my point? That since Christmas is not an original ritual that is exclusively Christian, we (Christians) should not participate in it? Absolutely not! Although some have used that logic (the Jehovah's Witnesses who do not celebrate Christmas). As an aside, for those who tell me I should not do yoga or meditate because those things a "not Christian", using that same logic, I sure hope you didn't put up a tree this year. I think Christians can and should celebrate Christmas with gusto. My point is that Christmas has transcended Christianity and has become a holiday and a time of year we can all celebrate. Just as the Winter Solstice celebration transcended the worshippers of Mithra and Saturn, I believe Christmas can/has transcended being a uniquely Christian thing. I hate all the tip-toeing around this time of year trying to be politically correct. You can't say "Merry Christmas", you have to say"Happy Holidays". Maybe that person is Jewish or celebrates Kwanzaa or is an Atheist. "Bah humbug!" I say. Everyone can celebrate the generosity of the season, the one time of year when we're most concerned about people having enough and when we give freely. Every human being can join in on the feeling of hope that comes from marking the end of the descent into darkness and the coming of the Light. The spirit of Christmas is not a uniquely Christian spirit. It's a spirit that can be shared by all.

One of my best friends is Jewish. He's married to a Gentile. The holidays in their house are "interesting". He's raising his children to be Jewish and would prefer that they shun Christmas celebrations. In this society, that's a very difficult thing to do. I argue that he should just give up. and I've told him so. IMO, Christmas has moved beyond being just a Christmas celebration into a celebration that has become largely secular for most people. While there are a handful of people who really remember the "true" meaning of Christmas, for most people it seems to be about the gatherings with friends and family and the tree and the gift giving, not necessarily about the birth of Christ. The real meaning of Christmas is hope. Whether you take the story literally or not, its about a boy born in a backwater town in an animal trough being King of the World. It's about hope coming to the world through the poorest and the outcast. It's about mankind putting aside our differences and living in peace. And, while I think it's extremely important for Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ, that doesn't mean that others cannot participate in these other wonderful aspects of Christmas.

I don't mean to say that Christians don't have something wonderful and unique to celebrate this time of year. We do. Marking the birth of Jesus is something that is very important and that we should never let go of. But, I would suggest to those who get upset that the secular world is taking the Christ out of Christmas, you might want to look at all the good stuff they are leaving in Christmas. IMO those things are the true spirit of Christ. Getting together with friends, a time of year of reflection, a time to look forward to better days, a time to give generously. There is nothing wrong with those things and the fact that people do them around Christmas is a good thing, whether that person is a Christian or not.

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karen said...

Good post, Brian. I agree. I just get frustrated with the materialism that everyone has allowed into their lives. It was quite a coup, wasn't it, pagan date, rituals, and the magic of advertising.
I would suggest that anyone who has a problem with Christ in Christmas, though, plop their bad self at work on the 25th. ;-D

Brian said...


What I hate about Christmas is the obligatory gift giving. I love giving unexpected gifts- giving to people who have no idea I'm going to give them a gift and who haven't had the chance to buy me anything out of obligation. Those are the fun ones.

I hate all of the waste this obligatory gift giving generates. There are certain people who already have everything they need. But, we feel we have to spend X amount of dollars on them. So, we buy them crap they can't use or a Gift Card. What a waste!

Don said...

Mery Christmas to you and yours, Brian!

kc bob said...

I guess I have come to the realization that most of us can celebrate Christmas (and Easter) all year long. If some want to just celebrate on the 25th I am okay with that :)

Merry Christmas Brian!

Brian said...

Great point, Bob. Not only can the spirit of Christmas transcend Christianity, it can (and should) also transcend a season.


Therese Z said...

"Scholars vary on their best guesses as to the time of the year of Yeshua's birth. But no one thinks he was actually born on December 25th."

Late comment, but sorry, that's wrong. There are about a billion calculations of Christmas and many end up on 12/25.

For one instance, a charming one, 12/25 is nine months after 03/25, which is celebrated as the Annunciation. 03/25 is measured against the fact that Elizabeth was carrying John the Baptist and was in her sixth month. Backing up to figure out when she conceived, her husband was doing his temple service, and since his tribe is identified, the scholars can back into when THAT was and work forwards up to Christmas.

Here is a whole page of decade-by-decade calculations of Christmas in the early Church (much of it pre-Scriptural): http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm.

You ARE aware that there are scads and piles and MOUNTAINS of Church history available and well-documented and authenticated before the Reformation, right?

Hope your Christmas was blessed by the awesome knowledge that God became man!

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