Christmas Is For Christians (And Their Friends)

I just re-read a thundering post I put up a year ago about a major concern of mine this time of year.  The mainstream culture’s war on Christmas has me wanting to mount a backlash.  In light of the economic meltdown and bailouts, a lot has been said this year about Ayn Rand and striking against the system.  I wonder if it’s time for Christians to “strike,” at least in terms of taking back their holiday from the secular mainstream that has watered it down and now wants to deny the validity of the original completely. 

The language in my original may have been a little harsh–I don’t really think that only Christians should celebrate Christmas.  It’s important to be able to share our traditions and beliefs with others, and certainly I don’t mean to deny the celebration of Christmas to anyone just because they may not exactly be devout.  However, yes, it does bother me when that growing body of society that denigrates Christians, that belittles God, and that wants to flout the Western world’s–and especially America’s–Christian heritage, or strip our public realm of it entirely, still wants to put up a tree and get presents. 

If atheist warriors like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins want to put up lights or a tree this year, they’d better face a huge groundswell of protest from outraged Christians. 

Here are my original comments from a year ago:

Non-religious friends and associates often ask me if I’m offended when they express a lack of belief in traditional religion, usually with the tone of an apologizing diplomat. I assure them that such ideas are not inherently offensive. However, ironically, few people seem to worry about something which truly is offensive: the warping of traditional religious belief itself.

We’re trained to resist offense and be as accommodating as necessary so that nobody feels that their toes are stepped on.  To that end, the public celebration of Christmas, enshrined for generations as a bedrock part of American culture, has been quietly stripped of religious significance.  We’re now to the bizarre Orwellian point where we see many voices in the media complaining that the secular holiday of Christmas is being infringed upon by nosy Christians. 

Glancing at the news this morning over my breakfast, I saw a local news channel announcing a contest: they’d be giving away a “holiday tree.”  What?  Why is Christmas picked on like this?  (Have you ever heard of a “holiday menorah?”)  Why are so many in our country desperate to preserve the commercial trappings of Christmas long after they’ve abandoned its spiritual significance?

If society appropriated parts of any other religion’s rituals or sacraments and adapted them to a secular mainstream, they’d be grossly offended, and rightly so.  If anyone did market a “holiday menorah” for non-Jews, or advocated decorating homes with statues of Vishnu and putting bindi dots on people’s foreheads–all the while scoffing at the concept of any inherent association with Hinduism–followers of those faiths could be justifiably outraged. 

So also with Christmas.  We give gifts at Christmas to remember the ultimate gift–the birth of Jesus Christ, and to follow the example of the wise men who brought offerings to the young Christ child.  There is no other reason for anything attached to Christmas (which still bears His name–Christmas).  The Santa-and-reindeer, Frosty the snowman, jingle bells aspect of Christmas is a secondary augmentation of the true holiday, not a primary, secular alternative.  As Lincoln said, calling a tail a leg doesn’t actually make it a leg; similarly, calling two men in a relationship a married couple doesn’t actually make them married, and calling a secular winter celebration Christmas isn’t really Christmas.

To ape the tradition of gift giving for greed, to curry favor with children, to indulge in the comfortable remnants of a heritage you’ve chosen to abandon, or to contribute to the economy is flatly, baldly sacrilegious. 

No Christians are saying this because we want to be tolerant and inclusive, to avoid the appearance of the narrow-minded stereotype that’s been imposed on us.  But, considered in this light, how can a non-practicing Christian justify celebrating Christmas?  Is it time for Christians to stand up for their Savior and ask firmly that America call the symbol of His birth a Christmas tree or not display one at all? 

We use the term “holiday season” now to designate a generic winter period, but when I was a kid, it was understood to refer specifically to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s…three holidays with purely Christian origins.

 

11 comments on “Christmas Is For Christians (And Their Friends)

  1. “three holidays with purely Christian origins.”

    New Years I grant you.

    Thanksgiving was as much about thanking the help of the natives as it was about thanking the Christian god.

    The origins of Christmas are rooted in Paganism and ancient Rome.

  2. Morsec0de, sorry, but that’s just a weak PC whitewash.

    The first official Thanksgiving Day proclamation for the United States was made by President George Washington in 1789, where he set aside the 26th of November as a day for Americans to worship God (and a decidedly Christian-sounding one at that). Read his proclamation here.

    Abraham Lincoln set the precedent for the regular, annual observation of Thanksgiving, setting the last Thursday in November as the official date, and also urging Americans to thank God in prayer. His signature proclamation on the subject is available here.

    As for Christmas, yes, everybody knows about Germans bringing in evergreen trees and lighting them to ward off evil spirits on the longest night of the year, but the fact remains that for well over a hundred years, Christmas has been a fundamental part of our identity as Americans. It’s been a federal holiday since 1870. Only secular bitterness warrants stripping it of a special place in our society now.

  3. If society appropriated parts of any other religion’s rituals or sacraments and adapted them to a secular mainstream, they’d be grossly offended, and rightly so.

    But this is exactly what Christianity did. Christmas is a co-option of pre-existing pagan religious holidays (based on the winter solstice and the birth of Mithras). Do you put up a tree? If so, guess what? Pagan origins. By the same token, Christmas has been secularized. Our family exchanges gifts placed under the tree and we have Christmas turkey. But there’s no religious attachment to the day for us.

    It’s been a federal holiday since 1870. Only secular bitterness warrants stripping it of a special place in our society now.

    We evil secularists have no problem with individuals celebrating the religious aspects of the holiday on their own. But to do so in public government institutions is promotion of Christianity and a clear violation of church-state separation that the Founding Fathers fought hard to prevent.

  4. Shameless, why are you so desperate to perpetuate the myth that Christmas is “only” a pagan rip off? Do you think that somehow discredits it? Yes, as I’ve said (and I think as most people know), the current methods of celebrating Christmas take many aspects from various non-Christian sources.

    So what? What does that prove? My point is that Christmas is a Christian holiday, notwithstanding some borrowed trappings (and also that, since you bring it up, it is an important American tradition).

    I already said that I have no problem with non-Christians celebrating Christmas with us, but I am deeply bothered by those who do so while mocking and even combating Christianity. Yes, I would be offended if Bill “Religulous” Maher were to put up a tree and carve a turkey.

    You seem to think that since Christians have adopted some outside mannerisms into their Christmas celebration, that you’re justified in stripping away its spiritual tones in yours. It’s a free country, but if you’re going to benefit from religion with one hand and then denigrate it with the other, then you’re guilty of more than just ingratitude, you’ve done something grievously offensive. You may not care, but for what it’s worth, shame on you or anyone else who violates America’s traditional meaning of Christmas.

    Yes, Christmas is a special, religious holiday. No, you cannot abuse it as you wish without facing social protest.

    “Church-state separation?” Good grief, all that means is that there would be no single, official denomination, enforced by law (which there was actually a problem with, even in the colonies, before the Constitution). It does NOT mean that government can’t condone, participate in, or even encourage religious activity, like I demonstrated before with the Thanksgiving proclamations.

    Do you think your vision of a totally secular public sphere would have been endorsed by the several ordained ministers who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Do you think Christmas was just a secular, “commercial” holiday when it became a federal holiday…in that materialistic year of 1870?

    No, Shameless, the secularizing of America is a recent aberration, one that would have shocked and saddened most of our Founders, who framed the first amendment to protect the “free exercise” of religion, as well. How odd that anti-Christian bigots rarely quote that part of the law.

  5. Shameless, why are you so desperate to perpetuate the myth that Christmas is “only” a pagan rip off?

    Oh, so we actually know for sure that Jesus (if he ever existed – the evidence is far from compelling) was born on December 25? Please give citations. The co-option of pagan celebrations is far from myth. My question to you in response why do you keep denying so obvious a fact?

    I already said that I have no problem with non-Christians celebrating Christmas with us, but I am deeply bothered by those who do so while mocking and even combating Christianity. Yes, I would be offended if Bill “Religulous” Maher were to put up a tree and carve a turkey.

    Oh, brother! I’m sorry, but this is obtuse. We can’t eat turkey now? The Christmas tree is of pagan origins. By your logic the pagans should be offended at you! And what the heck does the turkey have to do with the nativity? Nor do I have any such religious paraphenalia in my home.

    No, Shameless, the secularizing of America is a recent aberration, one that would have shocked and saddened most of our Founders, who framed the first amendment to protect the “free exercise” of religion, as well. How odd that anti-Christian bigots rarely quote that part of the law.

    I don’t deny free exercise of religion, but the government has no business promoting it. Period. This was true for the Founding Fathers as well and why the exclusion clause was enshrined within the constitution. That’s what secularism is. It is the fair and equal treatment of citizens without regard to their sex, race or religion. Putting up a nativity scene by a public institution violates this in no uncertain terms since it promotes one religion over others.

    “Church-state separation?” Good grief, all that means is that there would be no single, official denomination, enforced by law (which there was actually a problem with, even in the colonies, before the Constitution). It does NOT mean that government can’t condone, participate in, or even encourage religious activity, like I demonstrated before with the Thanksgiving proclamations.

    Self-contradictory statement, unless public institutions become involved in ALL religious holidays for ALL religions. This is unworkable. And if you think endorsing Christianity isn’t a violation of the constitution, pretty much every sitting court at every level (almost all of them Christians themselves) disagrees with you.

    Protest all you want. It’s for silly reasons, obviously. I don’t celebrate any of the religious aspects of Christmas. Christmas is a holiday for all now. If you don’t like it, well, that’s just too bad. But you do not have the right to not be offended, so bite me.

  6. Shameless, the logic and evidence in this post of yours was even more lame than your previous one–far more so, in fact.

    I never denied that Christmas celebrations are influenced by pagan trappings. Why would you accuse me of doing so when I went to great lengths to AGREE with you on that point? And no, there is no evidence that Christ was born on December 25–in fact, he wasn’t–but it’s totally beside the point. This is a weird and random train of thought for you to follow. It’s apropos of nothing here.

    Sure, pagans can go right ahead and be offended that some Christmas traditions are derived from various non-Christian sources. Why not? It’s a free country. Of course, the original contexts of those aspects of paganism were never a fundamental facet of public worship and tradition in America, now were they? So it’s completely irrelevant to this discussion.

    Yet again you go into a paroxysm of outrage over the obvious, widespread religiosity that has always been deeply woven into the fabric of American public life. Denying that reality is tantamount to denying gravity. I notice that you still offer neither any kind of evidence for your claim that secularism is and has been America’s reality, nor do you refute the basic evidence that I have supplied so far, such as the Thanksgiving proclamations by Washington and Lincoln, or the involvement of clergy in framing our country. Feel free to ignore them, but do so at your argument’s peril. Please also ignore “In God We Trust,” prayers offered to open meetings of Congress (which have been given by equal numbers of leaders from all world religions over the last two centuries, right? Uh…no.), military chaplains (also not exactly demographically equal), the Mayflower Compact, swearing in leaders and witnesses on Bibles with “So help me God,” countless school nativity pageants over the decades (and school prayer, until they both started getting stripped away by secularists), etc., etc.

    Shameless, if secularism was the way America was supposed to be, then why was it always so thoroughly infused with Christianity, until that began being removed piece by piece in the last two generations? You’d think if all this religion was unconstitutional, someone would have said something until the current waves of anti-Christians started complaining, after hundreds of years of American culture.

    I’m happy to continue this discussion, but please, bring more than just bitter rhetoric to the table next time.

    I don’t have the right to be offended? Of course I do. So do you. So do pagans. In the marketplace of ideas, everybody gets to air their grievances, even (oh, horrors!) those poor, poor Christians who just won’t stay in their place at the back of the bus. Sorry, friend, but I’ll not be going quietly into the night so you can roll over us in your culture war.

    As for your simply charming closing statement, I’ll respond by merely saying, “Merry Christmas!”

  7. One more thing–I’ve neglected to mention the most important aspect of the Christmas celebration: the giving and recieving of presents. This is a ritual that has no precedent in any outisde culture because it is meant purely to commemorate the birth of Christ as the giving ofthe ultimate present: God’s gift to us of His only son.

    Thus, to a non-believer, especially a hostile one, giving…or recieving…any Christmas presents would be pointless.

  8. “This is a ritual that has no precedent in any outisde culture”

    You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried.

    Saturnalia, the Roman Fest of the god Saturn. “The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria).” Thank you wikipedia.

  9. Morsec0de, so the existence of presents at any religiously-related occasion is a clear precedent for Christmas? That’s like saying that Citizen Kane is a movie, and Cicero was a citizen of Rome, therefore Cicero inspired Citizen Kane. The proposed relationship is tenuous to the point of absurdity.

    While there are obvious, viable historical links between lights, evergreeens, feasting, etc. from pagan to Christian celebrations, the practice of gift giving to specifically comemmorate the gift of a Savior from God is specifically Christian, having its basis in the gifts of the magi to the young Jesus in the Bible. The adoption of some outside ritual trappings–such as designating December 25 as Christmas Day–was to help appeal to non-Christians. The tradition of gift giving could have served no such purpose, as nothing like it was in general practice throughout the pagan areas where Christianity spread during the high middle ages.

    I reluctantly add that, again, even if you were right, it wouldn’t add anything substantial to any anti-Christmas case you might want to make.

    And as for your claim that I “couldn’t be more wrong” if I tried, that shows what you know. As a matter of fact, I DID try to be wrong once, and that experiment made me far more wrong than I have ever been. I ended up thinking like a socially progressive secular liberal.

    Cheers! :)

  10. “Morsec0de, so the existence of presents at any religiously-related occasion is a clear precedent for Christmas?”

    Your claim: “the giving and recieving of presents. This is a ritual that has no precedent in any outisde culture”

    Saturnalia not only predates Christianity, it takes place during the same time period as Christmas and involves the giving and receiving of presents.

    Thus, your claim was completely false.

  11. Morsec0de, if anything, you just confirmed my characterization of your argument–that it’s shallow and specious. You’re claiming a completely unrelated and only vaguely similar event as a “precedent.” Maybe you’re not actually claiming that Saturnalia influenced Christmas; only that there was a remote thing that also including gift giving. The defense you put forth in your last comment suggests this.

    Isn’t that a sad, desperate attemtp to score a point, though? What, really, would you gain from “proving” that my claim about Christmas presents being unique was actually incorrect? (It wasn’t, by the way–Christmas is wholly innovative in promoting selfless scarifice as a token of God’s atoning gift. Cave drawings do not somehow lessen the achievement of the Mona Lisa, nor does Saturnalia have any bearing on Christmas.)

    As I’ve said a few times here now, nobody has yet addressed the points I’ve made about Christmas being an important American tradition, much less substantiated their secularist interpretation. All you’re trying to do here is argue your way into “winning” a minor footnote on the subject. What’s the point of that? Or are you willing to take whatever hollow victory you think you can get at this point?

    Sorry if all this sounds uncharitable on the screen–I’m sure you’re a great guy in real life–but this quixotic battle you’re trying to pitch here just isn’t going your way. Now, please, say something substantive, rooted in evidence, or please just go have a great life and a merry Christmas.

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