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The War on Christmas, or the war on thinking?

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IMG_0135I would think that if modern Christians knew what modern Christmas is about, they might very well want to wage war on it! My guess is that if people in general knew what ancient popes used Christmas for, they might indeed step strongly away from it and the dark deeds committed in its name.

But nothing is that simple in life, and Christmas is no exception.  Unfortunately, in our 5-second-information-sound-bite society and low tolerance for complexity and our rejection of education, what Christmas is and what it does and where it came from and why we observe a kind of secular version of it is, simply not interesting to many people.

And what to do with all of that information if I do read up?  Will I have to throw the baby out with the bathwater?  Or, will I have to think for myself?  Don’t you just hate that!

But, but, is practicing Christmas un-Christian?  

Yes and No.  It depends who you ask and how you observe it and whether or not you are a Christian in the first place, and what kind of Christian and how you interpret the scriptures, and… sigh….And don’t think it’s any easier if you’re not a Christian. There are things to think about…unless, of course, you just don’t care about knowing what the traditions you hand to the next generation are all about.  I find that most people prefer not knowing what Christmas is about and where it comes from. Those who do know, tend to be lenient with the meaning of the traditions and prefer to go with the flow of warm fuzzy feelings generated by glitter, gifts and family.

Few know of its somber history when ancient Popes with almost god-like authority allowed its celebrations to victimize Jews and in an effort to consolidate their growing control absorbed
such practices as tree decorating and re-branded them as acceptably Christian.  Non-Christians who celebrate Christmas have no problem singing eggnog-warmed Christmas carols about the good king, Wenceslas, or about the silent night when a virgin delivered the Prince of Peace, not knowing and not believing or sometimes not understanding the words at all.   

I can see why a Christian might get bent out of shape.  I guess it’s like when people summarize my faith tradition as positive thinking, and then go ahead and write a book about how to think yourself into prosperity.  I don’t like it one little bit. 

One perspective among modern Christians (and also our Puritans of the past) is that Christmas is a decidedly un-Biblical practice. Why?  Because nowhere in the Bible does are Christians instructed to celebrate Jesus' birthday, to throw a party, roast a turkey, give a gift and put up a fir tree... and it doesn't mention December 25th. (No one knows the date of Jesus' birthday. The date of December 25 is thought to have coincided with the conclusion of the week long pagan celebration of Saturnalia, a period of lawlessness, indulgence and revelry.)

But wait... can Christians celebrate Christmas anyway?  Is there another perspective? 

Well yes!  There is another perspective.  You might say that just because the scriptures are silent about the form and practice of celebrating the birth of the central figure of Christianity, doesn't mean Christians can't make a special celebration of anything in the Bible. There is no scriptural rule for or against it. 

Relief. For Christians, that is.   

The very presence of the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the gospels—albeit that they don't match perfectly, and assuming you’re not going to get all nitpicky about inerrancy of the word—suggests that the reading of the story regularly would be appropriate. The reading of the gospels as part of Christian worship and education is customary. I suppose a reading of the scriptural account of the birth of Jesus on an annual basis to celebrate and teach new generations would be just fine, especially if it were done with awareness about incorporating non-biblical practices.

Whoops, there’s the problem, all those things we do and practice over and above the reading of the story.  I ask people why we give gifts at Christmas, why do we hang mistletoe, why do we bring a tree inside and decorate it. Most people don't know, and don't care. Santa Claus, Father Christmas Saint Nick, they don't know who, or what, or why; but they do—they tell me—love everything that the season is about.  Sigh.

But, but, isn’t it pagan?  

Yes and no.  Some people believe Christmas is a thinly disguised version of an ancient pagan celebration called Saturnalia which took place on December 25.

But wait, is that completely true?

“No!” says Dr. Richard P. Bucher, quoting two theories that point to other reasons for placing the celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25.  One says that Julius, Bishop of Rome in the 300’s carefully researched the details available to him to arrive at December 25.  He had the official records of the Roman census examined to get to the date.  Although it is acknowledged that there are many problems with the accuracy of his conclusion, the point is it was allegedly the result of research.  Another more likely theory points to the deliberate choice of the date by the Church of Rome to turn people’s attention away from the celebrations that took place at that time of year to celebrate the Sun God and turn the it into a celebration of the Son of God.  Smart move!   And because the Church chose the same date as a popular pagan party to celebrate Jesus’ birth doesn’t mean that Christmas is intended to be a pagan party.  That’s up to you and me.  

But, is it up to you and me?  

Yes, that’s probably the heart of the matter.  It’s up to you and me to decide what the lights, and trees and gift giving mean.  Lights, gifts, gathering and merry making have been the hallmark of a good party for a long time.  And if a Christian decides to use any of those to celebrate the birth of their central figure, how can it possibly mean they are being Pagan?  And anyway, what on earth is wrong with being Pagan?  (Modern Pagans are not what ancient Pagans were and modern Christians aren’t what ancient Christians were.)  Can’t we all just get along?

If a non-Christian wishes to celebrate the holidays with lights, gifts, gathering and merry making, that’s good too.  (I would be interested to hear how a non-Christian explains the lyrics of popular carols to their children. I’d vote for honesty, to tell the children the songs belong to a popular religion that celebrates the birth of their leader at this time of the year, and we sing them because we can’t go to a mall and avoiding them, and they're darn catchy.  But being able to talk to our children about who Jesus is, in the Christian world as compared to in our faith tradition becomes important, and in my opinion will not only preserve the tradition in both faiths but lead to an increase of mutual respect.)

Here’s the real problem…the Mall.

"Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world." Wikipedia  

There is something about this time of year that makes us want to celebrate, gather with friends, express good will, and enjoy family, and luckily, in my faith tradition, whether you do that with a menorah, a Christmas tree, carols, or a quiet vigil of prayer, it doesn’t matter. There is no command to celebrate life one way or the other, so we are free to do it this way or that way. 

If the “something” that makes us want to celebrate is advertising, then we have to pause to think. I'm not for waging war of any kind, I am for thinking about the influences that bare down upon us and cause us to do what we do when we do it.  I am for waking up to what the traditions in my life mean.

More Reading:

Not caught up in the holiday spirit? – containing the politically correct holiday greeting
The Christmas Tale – the power of story
Boxing Day – the story of the good king, Wenceslas



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