Hijacking Christmas

The Merry season is upon us. And with the spiced wine, traditional carols, and rampant shopping, we once again have voices that claim Christmas is pagan and, therefore, not to be celebrated by Christians. 

Is this true?

The first part is largely accurate. Many of our Christmas traditions are rooted in celebrations that used to be pagan - the whole Christmas tree and such. But the second part involves a colossal leap in logic and a profound misunderstanding of Christian theology. It’s exactly because many of the traditions have attachments to paganism that we should be celebrating it. First some, historical background…

History

I doubt that it's news to my readers that early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas. The New Testament never mentions it. Only two gospels describe Jesus’ birth. The amount of persecution that the early church received during the first 300 years of its history resulted in a strong doctrine of the resurrection – not the birth – of Christ. 

Also, early Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays – they were seen to be wholly pagan affairs. The only birthday parties described in the Bible are those of wicked men – like Pharaoh and Herod – and usually resulted in someone being killed. Rather, the early church celebrated the day of a Christian’s death: his birth into eternal life. That being the case, the early Christians saw little reason to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.

The first hints of a Christian winter holiday come from the East, where Epiphany was celebrated on the 6th of January. In the fourth Century, we see Christians beginning to celebrate the ‘Feast of the Nativity’ on 25th December. In 567, the Council of Tours proclaimed the period of 25 December to 6 January to be Christmastide - or ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. 

One generous fourth Century pastor from Turkey died and became Father Nicolas Christmas. Since then, it has grown into a major holiday. But not all Christians have celebrated it. The Puritans didn’t. But for most Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians, it's a thing.

Societies have had winter celebrations of light and food to help get them through the dark winters for as long as human history can recall.  Somehow the souls of men in these Northern societies needed to know that light would once again triumph over darkness. Evergreen trees and candles were held as symbols of resistance against the dark and icy season. 

Unsurprisingly, various mythologies – such as Yule and Saturnalia – grew up around such celebrations long before Jesus came. But mythology is not religion. I paraphrase one of Chesterton's quippings by noting that: Religion is the prophet dogmatically saying, ‘It is so.’ Mythology is the poet wishfully saying, ‘Why can’t these things be?’ The cruel and lightless winters stirred a longing in mankind for the world to be reborn.

Redemption
If our various Christmas dates and practices originally came out of pagan practices, should Christians reject it outright?

Christianity is a movement centred on the idea of redemption. If we were to empty the church of everything that had godless roots, the people inside them would be the first to go. We are all born pagan. We are sinners who don't naturally worship God. Our natural inclination is to worship created things: wealth, sex, career, relationships, etc. 

For that reason, we all need to die and be born again. 

But God’s goal isn’t just to redeem some inner, invisible part of us (our ‘hearts’). Rather, God seeks to make everything new. Christmas now becomes the fulfilment of all those dark winter longings. The wish has become fact. The myth has become history. This baby is the true light of the world – the evergreen that will never wither.


Eggnog Baptisms

If we don't remember this message of redemption, we will inevitably have post-Christmas blues. We may hope that the various scrooges in our lives will be changed by gently falling snow and that our difficult family members will be alchemised into kind-hearted people through the consumption of holiday cider. 

But we can’t baptise them with eggnog as much as we may long to. No, we are just gathering selfish sinners together indoors and giving them lots of toys, food, and alcohol. Hey, what could go wrong?

May our lives smell like good news this season. Let’s give great gifts to others – even those who don’t deserve it – and bake and eat and share what we have for we serve a God who is generous beyond all imagination. 
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Comments

  1. I am a fan of most of Joshua's articles but have to say that is definitely my favourite. My soul is truly lifted by his words of hope and redemption.

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