Written By: Gregory Watson
“The man who does not keep Christmas is an incomplete human being.”
-G.K. Chesterton (The Illustrated London News, December 24, 1933)
This is the second Christmas that I am working for my current employers (the second of hopefully many more to come), and as the Nativity of Our Lord approaches, my astonishment is renewed at the fact that, while my employers are Christians, they belong to one of the Protestant denominations that doesn’t celebrate Christmas! This is by no means a common (non)practice among Protestants–growing up Pentecostal, I was in my fair share of children’s Christmas plays. (Once I played “Harold the Angel” in an It’s-A-Wonderful-Life-esque send-up. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Harold the Angel! There’s a famous Christmas Carol about him: Hark, Harold the Angel Sings, Glory to the Newborn King! No? Well, nevermind then.) As I was saying before nostalgia so rudely interrupted, Christians rejecting Christmas is by no means a universally – held theme of Protestantism. Nevertheless, there are several denominations out there who condemn the celebration amongst their members (and while many of the sites I researched for this article rather militantly condemn other Christians–especially Catholics–for celebrating Christmas, my valued employers take a more live-and-let-live approach, even giving us the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day).
I asked one of the members of my employer’s ecclesial community why they didn’t celebrate Christmas, and he rattled off a list of reasons that coincided with some of the stuff I’d read online–so it seems that no matter the denomination, they’re sharing the same “War on Christmas” handbook. As such, I thought I’d list and respond to the top 5 reasons why certain Christians don’t celebrate Christmas:
5. Christmas is too Commercial
With all the gifts and cards and sales and Black Friday madness that goes on in the world, which seems to start earlier and earlier every year, the lamentation over Christmas’s transformation from celebrating the God who made Himself into a poor baby in a manger into the worship of stuff and a celebration of greed seems more than a little justified. But is it a valid reason to discard the holiday altogether? I’m trying in vain to think of a more apt expression than the clichés, “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” or “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” but I suppose there’s a reason why they’re clichés in the first place. If you don’t like the commercialised nonsense that surrounds Christmas, get rid of the nonsense; don’t get rid of Christmas!
4. Christmas isn’t in the Bible
As I mentioned, the Christians who reject Christmas are Protestants, and thus go by Sola Scriptura. More accurately, they tend to go by a view that holds that the Bible has to spell out every detail of a thing, or it’s not good. As such, the simple fact that three out of four Gospels have some account of God becoming Man, is not the same thing as the Bible telling us that we should celebrate that event annually. And since the Bible is silent on the subject, it must be forbidden, right? Along with wearing pants or playing sports or typing up lists of why you hate Christmas on the Internet…
But of course, Sola Scriptura is a self-defeating position–as demonstrated by the mere fact that the Bible doesn’t teach it, nor does it even tell us which books are inspired. The Catholic Church did that–the same Catholic Church that gave us Christmas! You’re welcome.
3. Christmas is a Recycled Pagan Holiday
It is alleged that the Catholic Church arbitrarily picked December 25th to celebrate Christmas in order to redefine and take over a popular pagan celebration known as Saturnalia (which was celebrated from the 17th to the 23rd of December). If that’s the case, the Church seemed pretty horrible with their date-setting! Oh wait, it was to supplant the Feast of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, which was celebrated on December 25th. Except that was started by Marcus Aurelius more than 200 years after Jesus’ birth, and never really had much popularity. One wonders whether Aurelius wasn’t actually the one trying to replace Christmas? I remember now! It was Mithras, right, the soldiers’ deity which wasn’t popularly worshipped until well after Christmas had already been established. Yeah, this argument would have a lot more traction if it wasn’t composed of throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks… (BTW, have you seen this video? https://youtu.be/s0-EgjUhRqA)
2. Christmas isn’t really Jesus’ Birthday
When it comes right down to it, all this recycled-pagan-hullabaloo as to why Christmas was set on December 25th is an implicit way of saying that Jesus wasn’t actually born then! Now, we’ve heard this for so long that it’s just accepted, common knowledge that Herod died in 4 BC and shepherds wouldn’t be in their fields in frigid December, so obviously Jesus must’ve been born in, like, the Spring, right?
I recently read a masterful little work by Dr. Taylor Marshall, entitled God’s Birthday, which lays out the shocking case that, hey, maybe the traditional date was right, after all! Turns out, Herod probably died at the end of 1 BC or into AD 1, and in Israel, shepherds actually bring sheep into their fields in December, when the rainy season makes an otherwise arid terrain lush with grass for the sheep! Furthermore, contrary to so many claims that the Bible doesn’t tell us Jesus’ birthday, the doctor and historian, St. Luke, actually does tell us Jesus’ birthday, or at least, pretty close to it. We just have to understand the clues he’s dropping.
St. Luke tells us that Zechariah, John the Baptist’s dad, was of the house of Abijah, which normally we gloss right over with a pious “so what?” (Admit it!) Well, so this: that little detail pinpoints the time Zechariah was ministering in the Temple when Gabriel showed up–namely, the Day of Atonement (I don’t have space to draw out the whole map for you here–seriously, check out the book!). Anyway, the Day of Atonement is usually mid-to-late September, and it was after his service that Zechariah and Elisabeth conceive John the Baptist. So, let’s say for the sake of argument, September 24th. Nine months later, we’re at June 24 (the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Go figure!). At the Annunciation, Gabriel told Mary that Elisabeth was 6 months into her pregnancy, so, 6 months after June 24th is December 24th–and since Jesus is traditionally held to have been born at Midnight, we get to December 25th! Amazing! I was astounded the first time I saw the dots connected. The myth that December 25th was an arbitrary date up and vanished, and the centuries-old Tradition of the Church shone through!
1. Christmas Misses the Point
I’ve said in the past that, until my conversion to Catholicism, I never really “got” Christmas. The babe in a manger was a far cry from the King on the Cross, saving us from our sins. Easter was the main event, and while I never would have gone so far as to reject Christmas, it was a less-than-important aspect of my spirituality. Those that do reject Christmas go so far as to claim that it distracts from that salvific message and work of Christ! The problem is that such denominations have a severely truncated understanding of Jesus’ salvific mission. It’s no coincidence that the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity becomes more and more emphasised just as the Early Church was dealing with various heresies that rejected key aspects of Who Jesus Is. The Nativity reminds us forcefully that Jesus is both God and Man, and the celebration of the Mystery of the Infant lying in a manger helplessly dependent on His parents for food, shelter, and safety, is also the Almighty God who created the very world He now inhabited. Without the Incarnation, there would be no sacrifice at Calvary and no glorious, bodily resurrection. There would be no True Presence always with us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. There would be no hope.
Far from obscuring the message of the Gospel, the Nativity safeguards it, and at the same time, makes it accessible and, indeed, loveable.
O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in an ever-virgin womb,
look with favor on our prayers,
that your only Begotten Son,
having taken to himself our humanity,
may be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
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