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Austin Cline

Christ vs. Christmas

By December 15, 2012

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What does Christ have to do with Christmas? Many religious conservatives complain that modern liberalism and secularism have driven Christ from Christmas, but if we take a closer look at how Christmas is celebrated in modern America we find that there wasn't much of Christ there to begin with. What's there to "defend"? Maybe Christ hasn't really been an integral part of the American Christmas for a long time.

Creepy Santa Caught, 1890
Creepy Santa Caught, 1890
Photo: Transcendental/Getty

New Donkey wrote a couple of years ago:

Have Christians forgotten how many early martyrs died because of their refusal to pay homage to the "universal" religion of the Romans? And have Protestant Christians (who undoubtedly make up the vast majority of those upset at the resistance of Jews, Muslims, and the irreligious to the idea of demanding universal acknowledgment of Christmas) forgotten that the imperial establishment of Christianity by Constantine was the beginning of what the Reformers considered the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Church?

And speaking of the Reformers, have today's heirs (including Presbyterians, and indirectly, Southern Baptists) of the Scots Reformer John Knox forgotten that official celebration of Christmas was actually banned in Scotland until well into the twentieth century as a "pagan" feast?

I'm prejudiced on this subject, believing, as I do, that Knox might have been right for the wrong reasons: Christmas is spiritually dangerous not because it's a holdover from "idolatrous" Roman Catholicism, but because it has become intimately associated with values--greed, commercialism, and insincere family conviviality--that have nothing to do with the Feast of the Nativity, and its profound underlying idea, the Incarnation.

Several important themes are touched upon here. First, Christians need to remember that the use of force to get people to acquiesce to dominant religious practices should be treated as antithetical to their own religious heritage (however much it's actually been done by Christians in the past). Second, Christians need to remember that many Christians, past and present, have objected to celebrating Christmas at all. In light of that, it's difficult to argue that Christmas is inherently or necessarily "Christian."

Finally, Christians need to pay attention to the fact that modern celebrations of Christmas simply don't have anything to do with Jesus, the Feast of the Nativity, or the Incarnation. Consider some of the most popular Christmas traditions: erecting and decorating a tree, hanging wreaths, sending cards, drinking eggnog, giving presents, hanging mistletoe... where is Christ in all of this? Most of it is pagan -- it's no wonder that many Christians have objected to Christmas celebrations.

If Christians want to "defend" Christmas and restore some religious meaning or content to it, that's fine -- but they are going about it the wrong way. They can't turn the tide of commercialization, secularization, and tolerance in how modern American culture celebrates this time of year. They might, however, be able to convince individual Christians to turn away from all that and focus on the religious aspects of the holy day. If enough Christians change, perhaps the culture will as well, but the focus should be on what Christians do as individual Christians. Trying for force the culture to change by attacking the use of greetings like "Happy Holidays" is just silly.

Comments
December 24, 2007 at 6:58 pm
(1) diclif says:

Thanks for the ‘lesson’ Your tone was very preachy. Again I hear this pseudo-intellectualism. If there was no Christ, there would be no John Calvin. Many of the tenets of Calvinism have had profound social implicationsóin particular, that thrift, industry, and hard work are forms of moral virtue and that business success is an evidence of God’s grace. Because these views helped to create a climate favorable to commerce, Calvinism played a role in the overthrow of feudalism and the establishment of capitalism. His writings are one of the pillars of U.S. society.
Christians know all about the tree and the reindeer, the pagan festival the Romans adopted. It’s not Christ’s real birthday. Sunday school taught us many things. It’s our high holiday and I for one will not kowtow to political correctness. It’s Merry Christmas. If one of you are hurt by it then get over it. I don’t understand why you people are so angry

December 24, 2007 at 7:03 pm
(2) silkworm says:

There were no Christians martyrs until late third century. Stories of early Christian deaths at the hands of the Romans were made up by later Christians. My source for this is jesusneverexisted.com.

December 24, 2007 at 7:05 pm
(3) silkworm says:

Itís not your high holiday and I for one will not kowtow to your political correctness. Itís Happy Holidays. If one of you are hurt by it then get over it. I donít understand why you people are so angry.

December 24, 2007 at 7:10 pm
(4) Telperil says:

Why “we people” are so angry. Actually, if we have people shooting us death glares for something so silly as daring to say happy holidays, those people are the ones who should be going to anger management courses. Oh, boo hoo, not every single person I meet on the street believes in my invisible sky dude. Waaa.

December 24, 2007 at 8:22 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

Thanks for the Ďlessoní Your tone was very preachy.

How so, exactly?

If there was no Christ, there would be no John Calvin. Many of the tenets of Calvinism have had profound social implicationsóin particular, that thrift, industry, and hard work are forms of moral virtue and that business success is an evidence of Godís grace.

And are you seriously arguing that such ideas would never have developed otherwise?

I donít understand why you people are so angry

You’re the one coming off rather upset here. What do you care whether people say “Merry Christmas” or not?

December 25, 2007 at 9:44 am
(6) Jim MacIver says:

Diclif,
John Calvin was, I believe, English. In any case he was not an American therefore his writings would not be one of the “pillars” of U.S. society as you put it.
Calvin…didn’t he have a mathematician burned at the stake because the mathematician couldn’t accept the strange idea of the Trinity that one equals three?

December 25, 2007 at 2:53 pm
(7) Blayze Kohime says:

Christmas, like all Christian holidays, is just an import of a pagan holiday; in this case Yuletide or Winter Solstice. They did this to lure more pagans into the Church when they weren’t busy just killing them.

December 25, 2007 at 3:49 pm
(8) diclif says:

Yes I was angry. From what I’ve read from you before you write very intelligently about matters of belief and non-belief. But telling anybody how they should behave goes beyond the pale. All you were missing was Dear Stupid Ignorant Deluded people. It get’s people’s back up and Christians aren’t the only ones that can behave insensitively. The posts I’ve read are tainted with arrogance ending with an insult. Nobody should knock anothers belief system. I haven’t experienced what you are writing about, everyone seems happy there is a season of goodwill toward others, get on the bus without correct change. You are right it is a holiday for everyone, but a for some of us it’s the highest religious holiday, along with Easter. So saying Merry Christmas shouldn’t offend anyone, if it does then say bah humbug or something.
There are some good arguments against Calvinism, I’m not a fan-but that bone should make people happy about something big and Christian. Since this is your crowd Happy Seasons Holiday Greetings.

December 25, 2007 at 5:10 pm
(9) Austin Cline says:

Yes I was angry. From what I’ve read from you before you write very intelligently about matters of belief and non-belief. But telling anybody how they should behave goes beyond the pale.

Yet here you are, doing just that with me in reference to this article. If you have any serious and substantive objections to what I said Christians should do ó like my recommendations that “the use of force to get people to acquiesce to dominant religious practices should be treated as antithetical to their own religious heritage” ó then say so. Or do you just not like hearing such things from an atheist?

I haven’t experienced what you are writing about, everyone seems happy there is a season of goodwill toward others, get on the bus without correct change.

So because you haven’t experienced anything bad, I must be wrong?

You are right it is a holiday for everyone, but a for some of us it’s the highest religious holiday, along with Easter. So saying Merry Christmas shouldn’t offend anyone, if it does then say bah humbug or something.

Who said they were offended at hearing “Merry Christmas”?

December 28, 2007 at 3:58 pm
(10) John Hanks says:

I don’t know Jesus personally, but I know he hated phonies and blockheads (which would probably be in church) I suspect he would have enjoyed all the eye candy of the holiday

December 28, 2007 at 4:54 pm
(11) OldChurchGuy says:

As a Christian, I honestly don’t see where my faith or beliefs are in any way compromised by acknowledging and even saying “Happy Holidays”. For me it is a sign of respect for people of all faiths and beliefs.
But, as I have remarked before, it appears I would never make a good fundamentalist or literalist when it comes to Christian theology.

December 21, 2009 at 12:43 pm
(12) Liz says:

I think the point of this reposting is valid and deserves repeating: if Xians think that Xmas has lost its religious significance, then individual Xians should take steps to return that meaning for their own lives, in their homes and churches.

I for one think that if there is a “religious meaning”, it cannot be found in strip malls and box stores. The focus of so much of the “take back Xmas” revolves around which stores recognize Xmas by saying a specific greeting “Merry Xmas” over “happy holidays”. Saying “Merry Xmas” does not return any religious meaning. It’s just a greeting, and most of the time it’s not sincere. Would you get your knickers in a wad if the cashier didn’t say “Have a nice day!” as she handed you back your credit card?

I have no problem with Xians putting up trees & wreaths, giving presents, visiting Santa and the works as part of their celebration, but they don’t seem to recognize that this is not essentially *their* practice. Diclif (1) says they know this – and I know many do – but as recently as yesterday I was looking at sites and saw a Xian blog about ways to put religion back in Xmas (there were some good ideas, if you are so inclined…. like going to church!), but the comments at the bottom showed that many Xians conflated pagan and religious practices. Some of their *best* memories are from putting up the tree, having a party or sipping coffee with a spouse while oohing and ahhhing over cards and presents. Again, I have no problem with them doing these things, but there was the point of the blog was “putting religion back in Xmas” and I didn’t see where these comments had anything to do with Jesus (baby or adult).

I guess my problem is that so many Xians think that these practices are now *theirs* having been subsumed into the holiday. And then they want to go complain that the *true* meaning has been forgotten.

December 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm
(13) Edmond says:

Some Christians insist that Christmas is “theirs” and that they need to put Christ back into it. Some Christians insist that it is a pagan holiday, and that they need to eschew it.

Some Christians welcome gays into their churches. Some would rather send them off to brainwashing camp.

Some Christians say that evolution is perfectly compatible with their beliefs. Others say the Earth is only 6000 years old, and all animals exist today exactly as they were created in the garden of Eden.

You all play from the same playbook, but you all seem to be playing different games.

More and more each day I feel like, “Who cares what ANY Christian says on ANY religious subject? Tomorrow, a different Christian is just going to tell me something different. And they’re just going to tell me that the previous person wasn’t a TRUE Christian.”

The fact that your book is SO open to interpretation, and interpreted with SUCH disparaty by nearly everyone who “follows” it, really, for me, destroys any credibility it would hope to claim. If there really is just one god who did all the things the Christians say, then you’d think he could’ve made his “unerrant word” much clearer and more obvious in its truths and revelations. No biology teacher ever taught me that bats were birds, but the god who created them should know the difference.

But don’t feel bad, Christians, I feel the same about all religions. How you can all sit there hollering “My way is the ONE, TRUE way!” and NOT NOTICE that billions of other humans around the world are ALSO hollering “My way is the ONE, TRUE way!” just floors me.

So, go celebrate Christmas if you feel that is the correct Christian way. But remember, your next door neighbor might be a Christian too, and they might be doing something vastly different. One of you is pleasing your god, and one is not. You should get your stories straight.

December 21, 2009 at 4:58 pm
(14) Jack says:

Being an atheist for decades, and reading/listening/viewing all the arguments by theists and non-theists, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion.

Faith Divides, Reason Unites.

This is easily demonstrated by the many doctrines arrived at through faith and the very few arrived at through reason.

The faith doctrines will bicker and continually split forever, but the few reasonable ones will be refined and through ongoing discussion and logical thought. will be pared down to even less. The discussion will always be ongoing.

December 21, 2009 at 6:37 pm
(15) susanthe says:

If one’s faith in one’s God and religious tradition is so weak, so frail that it can be dented by someone saying “Happy Holidays,” don’t you think you need a more macho God?

Chuck Norris is available.

December 21, 2009 at 8:28 pm
(16) Ol'Froth says:

Surely, Christmas is best defended by crass commercialism and snapping at minumum wage clerks who have the audacity to wish you Happy Holidays!

December 22, 2009 at 6:52 am
(17) Heidi says:

“I donít understand why you people are so angry”

“Yes I was angry.”

This is called projection.

“Nobody should knock anothers belief system.”

Nobody should make impossible claims and expect to go unchallenged. So there we go.

“Christians know all about the tree and the reindeer, the pagan festival the Romans adopted. Itís not Christís real birthday. Sunday school taught us many things.”

Did Sunday school teach you that Christians are specifically forbidden to have Christmas trees in Jeremiah 10 1-5? Or did they gloss over that part? I never went to Sunday school, so I’m honestly curious as to whether they discuss that.

December 22, 2009 at 11:40 am
(18) Dean says:

Some Christians seem to be unclear on who is angry. I have never encountered (even online) an atheist who has a problem with being wished a ‘Merry Christmas’. On the other hand, Christians who are offended if someone say’s ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ are easily found.

December 24, 2009 at 10:02 am
(19) Another Christian says:

I feel sorry for you atheists. You are missing out.

December 24, 2009 at 10:10 am
(20) Another Christian says:

Oh and by the way when I said you are missing out… I meant to say for all eternity. Which is quite a long time, and can’t be undone later.

December 27, 2009 at 11:09 am
(21) Dave Y says:

The real question is what are all you christians doing on a atheist website??

Could it be your trying to stuff your religion down someone else’s throat??

January 1, 2010 at 3:31 am
(22) Zack says:

I feel sorry for you atheists. You are missing out. — Another Christian on December 24, 2009 at 10:02 am

Oh and by the way when I said you are missing outÖ I meant to say for all eternity. Which is quite a long time, and canít be undone later. — Another Christian, eight minutes later

Well, if anyone knows the rules that govern eternity, it is certain to be a person who takes more than eight minutes and two attempts in order to compose four sentences, half of which are redundant.

January 3, 2010 at 9:39 am
(23) Eupraxsophy says:

Jack is absolutely right that faith divides,reason unites, because the only difference between faith and ignorance is the truth. Humility is the wisdom of truth and deception is the wisdom of pride.

Zack would be a good example of someone who is ignorant. His pious sympathy for those that don’t endorse his superstitious beliefs are all going to miss out, for all eternity. His faith has divided himself from all those who do not believe what he believes. His statement is the one that is redundant. As if we never heard of the threat of eternal damnation. Doesn’t this guy sound like an after-life insurance salesman? “Hurry!, before time runs out!” “This is a one time offer!” “Act now, before it’s too late!”

Be objective to that which you are naive to as opposed to being ignorant to that which you doubtful of, and weigh that which is given consideration with truth.

From the variety of life springs forth the fountain of diversity which only makes us more distinguished and less insignificant.

January 3, 2010 at 5:22 pm
(24) Eupraxsophy says:

I am afraid I made an error in naming Zack as the one who is ignorant. My last post was meant for; ” Another Christian.

Sorry for the confusion.

January 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm
(25) Another Christian says:

I lay no claim to be able to prove beyond all doubt that God our creator exists. But I do believe He has created us and has extended to us ‘free will’ and the opportunity to share in His love or reject it.

If we Christians are wrong, and we have lived the best we can according to what we think is expected of us… then when we depart this earth we have nothing to lose.

But a counterpoint, for those that reject God or refuse to believe. If they are wrong, then ALL is lost when this life is over.

December 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm
(26) Ozette Agnostic Atheist says:

Another Christian:”If we Christians are wrong, and we have lived the best we can according to what we think is expected of usÖ then when we depart this earth we have nothing to lose.”

The same could be said of Muslims, Hindus, Jews et al. If you are wrong in your beliefs and Allah or Hedes etc. is the “true” god, then you could go to hell.

Another Christian: “But a counterpoint, for those that reject God or refuse to believe. If they are wrong, then ALL is lost when this life is over”.

You assume the two choices you’ve mentioned are equally probable (believing in your god vs “refusing to believe” in your god). When there’s so many alleged gods, chosing just one is hardly a “safe bet”. I don’t understand what you mean by “ALL is lost when this life is over” for non belief in your god. That sounds like a threat. In which case, your god doesn’t sound like a particularly fair or just god to me. Can you support your premise with evidence that there is something to lose after we die?

December 21, 2012 at 3:31 pm
(27) Jay says:

Another Christian, do you realise that your best might not be good enough? You are just assuming that you live a life pleasing to your god. You might go to hell anyway!

December 22, 2013 at 5:54 am
(28) Pst. Jeremiah Rajesh Lal says:

It is really sad to see born-again christians are still living in the dark ages when it comes to christmas[a word which has no definition]
The word christmas is never found in the Bible .Proverbs 30 vs 5–6 is very clear .Shame on those christian leaders who are preaching false doctrine about Jesus Christ being born on christmas day.
As a born-again I throw a reward of $50000.00[fjd] to any person who shows me the word christmas in the Bible.

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