I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve witnessed over the years arguing the reasons for keeping Christ in Christmas. Between the progressive liberals and conservative believers, there are many individuals with staunch beliefs as to what can/can’t be said and what should/shouldn’t be celebrated. I don’t claim to be trying to set the record straight, I think I’m far from capable of doing that. Instead, I hope that this may be an informative read for you on the tradition of the holiday that is being celebrated today, regardless of the reason you’re celebrating.
The church today is attempting to convince culture that they should be keeping “Christ” in Christmas. A worthy endeavor. Christmas is, after all, about Christ and His birth. But it is important to know that the age-old ideas that formed what we call today Christmas was not always about a baby that was born in a manger.
In ancient Rome, each year a great feast would be held. The feast was called Saturnalia, a celebration of the end of harvest, and it had many interesting traditions associated with it. At this time of year, there was a great sense of goodwill, as over-indulgence ran rampant. Houses would be decorated and lavish feasts would be thrown. Slaves would be allowed to rule as masters for a day, there was mass-cross dressing and drunkenness, and to top it all off: gift-giving. This is far from the modest and civil celebration we have today. As Christian-conversion occurred all across the nation, Christian Rome converted Saturnalia to a Christmas holiday to preserve the spirit that was experienced at that time of year.
Another historical holiday celebrated around the same time of year was Yule (Yule-tide carol!). This celebration was held in Northern Europe and was a time to ward off depression. The cold winter months were rather easy to feel depressed in, and culture sought to defy this possible occurrence. To do this, the community would gather around a massive log and get drunk together. Again, a far cry (hopefully) from the celebration that we have in America today.
The early church wanted nothing to do with these kind of celebrations, labeling them as perverse and pagan rituals. The church would often ban its members from being a part of these celebrations. However, as many people across the continent were converted, the church had a difficult time attempting to convince its new adherents to forsake their old practices. In concession, the church established Christmas parties which were focused on celebrating Christ’s birth instead of pagan things. It re-purposed the focus of the holiday, but maintained many of its more raucous traditions.
When America was settled, the religious Pilgrims were greatly concerned of the dangers of a sinful celebration of Christmas, going as far as to ban the holiday in the majority of the settlements. Massachusetts was one such state. Founded in 1620, the Pilgrim settlers refused to allow the gaudy and ostentatious celebrations to have a part in the colony. Although the celebration in Europe was slowly becoming more and more similar to what we celebrate today in 2016, America was at war with Christmas and its concerning history. There was fear it could corrupt the New World. It wasn’t until 1870 when the federal government declared Christmas a holiday that Massachusetts and other regions opened up to the holiday. Even after Christmas was declared a holiday, much of the nation remained uncertain about Christmas’ role in society. It was the mass immigration of individuals and traditions in the early 1900’s that would ultimately lead to America’s more complete acceptance of Christmas.
This information is an important piece to be considered in light of Christmas, and society’s view of it today. The church may fight to keep Christ in Christmas, but we must also recognize that many of the traditional parts of the holiday have little to do with Jesus. The reasoning behind certain traditions have changed over the years, and often the very traditions themselves have changed!
But what does this mean? Shall Christians forsake Christmas? Shall we cease celebration of the birth of Christ and be happy about jingling bells?
To my fellow Christ-followers, Christmas in centuries past was not celebrated as it is today. It is important that we grasp the truth of Christmases-past. However, that truth does nothing to the reason why we should celebrate today. The fact that people didn’t comprehend the monumental nature of Christ’s birth in the past does not diminish the spirit or reason why we should celebrate it as such today. And that is why I will continue to celebrate Christmas as a time of remembering the Lord’s birth, regardless of what society’s celebration focuses on. My dear brothers and sisters, society will celebrate whatever thing their hearts desire after at that time. Christianity is no longer the leading cultural ideology, and fewer and fewer individuals in our nation will celebrate Christmas as the time of Christ’s birth as the years goes on. Yet, that does not change the fact that we must celebrate Jesus Christ, no matter what the culture embraces.
To my unbelieving friends, I hope you enjoy this time with family and friends. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. But, while you may enjoy the Christmas season for any number of reasons, I hope you know that I don’t celebrate this holiday for a simple reason. I don’t celebrate it for the giving, for the family, for the weather, for the spirit. Because none of those things came down and died on a cross for my sin. I celebrate Jesus Christ and his incomprehensible gift. My spirit will never cease to look upon that truth with anything less less than awe. You may celebrate anything you wish, you can even celebrate a tree if you wish! Yet I will celebrate the Son of Man who came and died on a tree, for I am convinced that there is no greater cause for celebration.
Praises, and Merry Christmas.