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Austin Cline

Taking Christmas Out of Christianity

By December 8, 2012

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Many religious conservatives complain about how liberals are trying to take Christianity out of Christmas, but should Christmas even be in Christianity to begin with? There are Christians today who say that it shouldn't. This anti-Christmas attitude used to be much more common within Christianity and maybe it's a sign of the influence of modern culture that things have changed so much.

Santa with Crying Child, 1930
Santa with Crying Child, 1930
Photo: Fox/Getty

It's ironic that Christian railing against secular culture's influence on Christmas is happening in part because secular culture has gotten Christians to make a big deal out of Christmas in the first place.

The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne reported a couple of years ago (the original is no longer available):

The nation's one million Jehovah's Witnesses also don't believe Dec. 25 is the correct date. "It has been established to our satisfaction that is not the birth of Jesus," Backloupe says. The Church of Christ, which has two million to three million members, also doesn't believe Jesus was born Dec. 25, pointing to the Bible's indications that Jesus would have been born in a warmer time when the shepherds would have been out in the fields to see the star that reportedly heralded Jesus' birth.

Although the great majority of Christians worldwide now celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, they have not always agreed on what kind of celebration is appropriate. Even in the early days, church leaders were concerned about too much merrymaking. The church's Second Council of Tours proclaimed in the mid-500s the duty of fasting during Advent and the sanctity of the 12 days between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6.

In the 1600s, Christmas came under strong attack from some Christian groups. The Puritans banned Christmas because there was no reference to it in the Bible and even fined people who celebrated it. The English Parliament also outlawed celebrating Christmas in the mid-1600s. But their view wasn't shared by all, and as more diverse groups came to the United States, Christmas became more festive for most Christians.

I certainly have no problem with Christians who choose to celebrate Christmas, either as part of their liturgical calendar or simply as a cultural event. The fact that Christmas arguably isn't fundamental to Christianity, and may even be antithetical to aspects of it, does however mean that Christians shouldn't get self-righteous if contemporary American culture has drained the holiday of many religious elements. If Christians could drain pagan meanings from it, why can't modern American drain Christian meanings from it?

Holidays aren't static. Holidays serve social and cultural needs, which means that as society and culture changes the manner in which we celebrate our holidays also changes. The "traditional" Christmas people like to reminisce about is of relatively recent vintage, with all of the elements not coming together until the 20th century and many elements not even starting until the 19th century. There is nothing permanent or necessary to the way we celebrate Christmas today and Christians don't have much basis for complaining when changes occur.

Comments
December 23, 2007 at 4:31 pm
(1) Danny Haszard says:

I was born raised a Jehovah’s Witness and of course we did not do holidays.
The real reason is the Watchtower leaders want us to be ‘different’ for the sake of being different.Jehovah’s Witnesses are not ‘happier’ and are just as dysfunctional as families who do holidays.Jesus was not born on Dec 25th BUT he also did not have his second coming in the month of October 1914,which is the core doctrine of the Watchtower religion.

99% of the world has rejected the teachings of the Watchtower Jehovah’s Witnesses as a ‘joke’ but the darker truth is they are a destructive and oppressive organization.

December 23, 2007 at 4:59 pm
(2) online reader says:

If you would like REAL information on Jehovah’s Witnesses go to: http://www.towerwatch.com/Witnesses/Beliefs/their_beliefs.htm
Online reader,Elkhart Indiana

December 23, 2007 at 5:25 pm
(3) Telperil says:

Somehow, I found Danny’s info on Jehovah’s Witnesses to be a lot more convincing and “real”.

December 23, 2007 at 5:31 pm
(4) bangor maine says:

Don’t listen to the lie’s of that stalking troll old DannyH above. He has become mentally warped from abusing prescription drugs and now spends his time suing the companies that tried to help him! What a Hypocrite. Just google for yourself and see!

December 23, 2007 at 6:14 pm
(5) Joe Witness says:

IP address of the reviling Jehovah’s Witness who posted the spam above

Internet Address: c-76-23-65-89.hsd1.in.comcast.net/

76.23.65.89

December 23, 2007 at 9:06 pm
(6) Jesus Freak says:

I understand when Athiests say that people who follow a god is a hypocrite… But I just wanted to clarify that “true” Christians know that we are not good, but forgiven. See, man’s nature is sinful. We ALL sin. There may be some people that claim to be better than others with their behaviors and morals but ultimately, they also sin. Whether you are an Athiest, Muslim, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian, etc. we ALL sin. I hope this poem below would provide an understanding of how true Christians are humble to know that we fall short of holiness. NOBODY can maintain perfect morality. That is why we put our faith in Jesus Christ to forgive us of our sinfulness. “I am not a good man, but a forgiven man”…

When I say…”I’m a Christian”
I’m not shouting “I’m clean livin”.
I’m whispering” I was lost,
Now I’m found and forgiven.

When I say…”I’m a Christian”
I don’t speak of this with pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble
and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak
and need His strength to carry on.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed
and need God to clean my mess.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not holier than thou,
I’m just a simple sinner
Who received God’s good grace, somehow!

Share this with somebody who already has this
understanding as reinforcement. More importantly,
share this with those who do not….

May your day be filled with many blessings!

December 23, 2007 at 9:40 pm
(7) John says:

Jesus Freak,

You should give Carol Wimmer credit for writing the poem you quote above.

http://www.carolwimmer.com/index.cfm

December 23, 2007 at 11:36 pm
(8) Jesus Freak says:

I thought it was Maya Angelou?

December 24, 2007 at 7:59 am
(9) Simon says:

Jesus Freak:

You may feel like a pioneer, on the outskirts of Christendom evangelising the heathens, but we’ve had so many missionaries here that I doubt you have anything new to offer. You all follow the same steps, perhaps you’re taught them at Missionary School, and they seem to be the following:

Step one: Post off topic. Show total disregard for the purpose of the comments section. Better still, post the exact same thing in the comments section of several totally unrelated articles.

Step two: Make sure you give a gloss of politeness to your post.

Step three: Be sure not to actually read anything on the site, just launch your attack. Do not seek answers, and do not question your own position. You already know you’re right; either of the above would merely be matching wits with the Devil!

Step four: When you get a response, make sure you point out how puzzled you are that they are not yet totally convinced. Be sure to ask “why so much anger”. Point out the character flaws which are surely the cause of their incredulity. Do not engage any of the points raised, do not under any circumstances enter into real dialogue; then repeat your original post as if nothing else has yet been added to the discussion.

Step five: If asked a direct question, ignore it. Accuse everyone else of not answering your questions.

Step six: If they are still not convinced, repeat steps four and five.

Step seven: If anyone calls you up on any of our incoherence, poor reasoning, dishonesty or blatant lies; ignore step two. Be sure to whip yourself up into a self-righteous frenzy, bemoan the fact that all you want is an honest discussion, share opinions. Tell them how much God loves them. Tell them they’ll spend an eternity in Hell.

Step eight: Leave, never to be heard from again, shaking the metaphorical dust from your metaphorical sandals as you go.

December 24, 2007 at 9:19 am
(10) Ron says:

Jesus Freak. have you given any thought to CBN? There’s no money to be made here!!!

December 24, 2007 at 10:21 am
(11) Danny Haszard says:

WOW Simon your 8 point response to ‘Jesus freak’ is a masterpiece.

Thanks-Danny Haszard http://www.dannyhaszard.com

December 26, 2007 at 4:10 am
(12) Gotweirdness says:

I wonder if this “Jesus Freak” is the same person who posted under Missionaryway, Frank Walton Fan, Micheal something or other, etc. The comments left by all of these names look remarkably similar.

December 26, 2007 at 11:37 pm
(13) Jesus Freak says:

The “Sinner’s Prayer” is a term that describes the words spoken by a person when he or she has recognized their sin and their need for a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It goes something like this:

“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

The words posted look the same as other writers because we have a consistent God who speaks through people to reveal His glory. It is the same way in which the Bible was written:
The Bible was written over 1600 years by 44 different authors (shepherds, fisherman, kings, tax collectors, etc.)scattered all throughout the world. The amazing thing is that they all wrote about the same exact things. How can that be possible? Answer: only God. Think about it for a sec. What are the chances you can get just five (compared to 44) people to write about the same exact thing(s) from different parts of the world?

P.s. Simon, God really does love you :)

God bless,
Jesus Freak

December 28, 2007 at 12:00 pm
(14) John says:

Jesus Freak,

“…we have a consistent God…”

What evidence do you have of the existence of God?

“…God who speaks through people…”

What is the mechanism through which God speaks? How do you measure it? What evidence do you have people are hearing from God and not just from their own imaginations?

“…they all wrote about the same exact things…”

No they didn’t. Have you actually read the Bible?

“What are the chances you can get just five (compared to 44) people to write about the same exact thing(s) from different parts of the world?”

What are you talking about? Are you claiming 44 people sat down in different places and each wrote something and that they all turned out to be alike? Where was this study conducted and was it peer reviewed? Has it been shown to be repeatable? Or are you saying the people who made up the books of the Bible didn’t read the earlier texts? Or, are you saying the Quran and other religious books written in other parts of the world are the same as the Bible? Can you take the time to try to make some sense and provide some evidence for you contentions?

December 28, 2007 at 3:54 pm
(15) John Hanks says:

I wish people would give up the Christianity and embrace the commercialism.

December 18, 2009 at 6:28 pm
(16) JehovahsWitnessesHeadlines says:
December 19, 2009 at 12:33 am
(17) ckitching says:

>See, man’s nature is sinful.

I would strongly disagree with this. We all have negative and positive impulses. Given a decent upbringing, most of us will tend to favour or positive impulses as they tend to be more rewarding in the long term. This has been true for every civilization on the planet, regardless of if they embraced your god (or, for some, any gods at all), and this cannot be coincidence. Interestingly enough, those who try to completely deny their negative impulses seem to often end up falling to them in very spectacular ways.

The intent of these lines, of course, is to attempt to weigh us down with the inescapable burden of the doctrine of “Original Sin”. For those of us who have managed to avoid or overcome the self-loathing taught by the Genesis story in the Bible, this doctrine has no meaning.

However, by all means continue using God as an excuse to be absolved of all your wrongdoing. I will continue to seek forgiveness from the people I have actually wronged (as well as the more difficult task of forgiving myself for hurting others).

December 19, 2009 at 4:26 am
(18) Zak says:

> What are the chances you can get just five (compared to 44) people to write about the same exact thing(s) from different parts of the world?

That is an assumption that these were not old stories passed down. By the way most of the bible stories predate Christianity by thousands of years, there are very few if any completely original stories. Get your facts straight before you spew your crap and accusing us of being loved by your god, something many of us would be offended by because of your version of God’s actions.

December 19, 2009 at 5:57 am
(19) sornord says:

Most, if not all, Christmas traditions are based in pagan traditions anyway but the fundies don’t seem to get that either.

December 27, 2009 at 7:50 am
(20) Beatnik Bob says:

“44 different authors from all over the world”? Only if by “all over the world” you mean along the Eastern Mediterranean (and maybe Rome). They were writing about the same things for the same reason people in theological seminaries write about the same things. It’s what people who are part of the same religion do. The ones who write even slightly different views, from the Gnostics to the Cathars, don’t get printed in the official Bible.

March 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm
(21) Unlisted Name says:

First of all, no one can ever know for sure the exact day that any man was born if it was not recorded. The actual day has no significance to the celebration. Christmas is a day set apart to celebrate the birth of Jesus and what His birth signifies. Your argument pretty much sucks because your stats are wrong. They’re wrong in this respect – the statement of the certian religious affiliations that say derogatory things about Christmas does not reflect the belief of the people – necessarily. Half of the preachers these days are corrupted and give non-Christians the wrong idea about what true Christianity is!

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