It’s been interesting to watch the Christmas/Holiday debate this year. Historically, it’s hard to conclude that Jesus was actually born on December 25. Even a cursory look at the Biblical facts should make any honest bible student ask questions.
For instance, it’s cold in Israel in December, so you’re not likely to find shepherds watching their flocks in the fields by night. And seems rather cruel of the inn-keeper (with Joseph’s apparent agreement) to consign an obviously pregnant girl to the manger/grotto/stable in midwinter. And according to Luke’s account of the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ birth six months later would have occurred somewhere in the fall, around September. So it’s a safe assumption that December 25 is a traditional, rather than historic, observance of the birth of Christ.
At the same time, there are numerous parallels between modern Christmas traditions and ancient pagan practices. As a consequence, early America was careful not to observe the holiday. The History Channel sums it up like this:
“The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.”
That quote comes from here . So, if you figure that Columbus landed on these shores in 1492 (or thereabouts) and that the pilgrims arrived in 1620, followed by the Declaration of Independence culminating in 1776, and Christmas was declared a federal holiday in 1870, Christmas was not observed on a national level for the first 400 years of our tenure on this continent. But importantly, the reason that Congress did eventually recognize Christmas was specifically because of its connection with the birth of Christ. They had no problem with its connection to Christianity.
These days, Christmas is entrenched in our society. While a portion of America celebrates it as a Christian holiday, it has also become a vital part of our retail economy. The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” among retailers because it is usually the point in the caledar year where they move into positive profits, out of the red and into the black. So, it would be quite impossible to remove Christmas from America’s calendar because of its economic impact.
On the other hand, even though Christmas cannot be altogether eliminated, the anti-Christian secularization of America marches forward and those who object to being reminded of Jesus’ birth have rallied successfully to make retailers and those dependant on the whim of the consumer nervous about using Christian-sounding phrases. So, in order to be politically correct, and avoid offending any potential shoppers, many businesses and retailers have abandoned the “Merry Christmas” greeting in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays.” Several schools across the country have even replaced their traditional Christmas concerts with “Winter Solstice” programs. And, in so doing, they’ve come full circle back to the pagan roots that surround December 25. Meanwhile, the Christian pro-Christmas groups are quite vocal in their opposition to these replacement greetings, making sure to say “Merry CHRIST-mas” at every ocassion.
So, we live in interesting times. Early America avoided Christmas because of its pagan connections. Later America celebrated it as a Christian holiday. Present America objects to its connection with Christianity, but do not want to lose the economic benefits. And Christians are left arguing in favor of an observance our forefathers rejected, trying to “put Christ back into Christmas” when He was likely never in it in the first place.
Whew. The only thing we’ve learned from history is that we’ve learned nothing from history.
So, where do I stand in the midst of all the cross-traffic? It’s undeniable that Christmas/December 25 has a load of pagan baggage attached to it. And I do shudder at the intermingling of pagan and quasi-Christian symbols during this time of year. For instance, my neighbor has a well-lit manger scene in his yard (replete with the magi who never actually attended Christ’s birth but arrived when Jesus was around two years old) with Santa Claus overseeing the whole affair. I’m a bit surprised he doesn’t have reindeer watching over the Christ child along with the cows and sheep. Oh, and there was never a drummer boy at the manger, either.
BUT, all that being said, I equally dislike the systematic elimination of all references to Christ in our schools and society. The idea that Christianity is somehow harmful to our public discourse is very disturbing. So, I find myself, for better or worse, siding with the pro-Christmas crowd in order to combat the continuing encroachment of secular powers against the rights of Christians to worship according to their customs.
It’s a terrible shame that Christianity has lost its position in the marketplace of ideas. As Purpose-Driven, seeker-sensitive, be-careful-not-teach-anything, TBN-style “christianity” dominates the “evangelical” landscape, the Bible is viewed with increasing suspicion and opposition. And Christians are no longer equipped to posit a defense for the faith. Rather than be fully equipped with sound doctrine, modern “christianity” is left Biblically ignorant and easily confounded by the arguments posed against it.
It seems to me that the more the modern church continues to act like the world in order to appeal to the world, the more it loses its effectiveness to genuinely influence the world. This current Christmas debate is yet another red flag that indicates the secular world’s increasing opposition to all things Christian. And as the modern church loses its focus on the historic doctrines that separated it from the world, it will equally lose ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of men.
While we know that faith in Christ is a gift from God and that not all men will embrace Christianity, there was certainly a time in our nation’s history when Christianity was respected and the government recognized that having Christians in the midst resulted in a better, more law-abiding, civil society. The primary reason that secular society so easily opposes Christianity in our day is that they fail to see any real benefit to having Christianity in their midst.
And that’s not their fault. It’s ours.