Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I love the sounds of Christmas, the smells of Christmas, and the entire season altogether. In my opinion, there’s not a better, more joyful time of year than the month leading up to Christmas. On the secular side, I love spiced cider, hot chocolate, gingerbread, cookies, REAL Christmas trees, cards, presents… the list could go on and on. On the sacred side, I am an absolute advocate for the celebration of Advent, traditional carols, and a time of year set aside for believers to remember and celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God. So, as a Christmas enthusiast and an evangelical Christian, it has always puzzled me why so many Christians think that Christmas is all about… well… us. The war on phrases like “Happy Holidays,” and traditions such as the Christmas or “holiday tree,” seem really bizarre to me. Now, I’m far from being a liberal but I’d like to make a case against what I will call “Christmas Militarism” when it comes to Christmas. I’d like to do so from three fronts, history, tradition, and respect.
In the way of history, I’m sure many are familiar with the pagan origins of our December celebration of Christmas. From the Norse celebration of “Yule,” to the winter solstice, to the Roman celebration of “Saturnalia,” mid winter seemed an apt time to celebrate the coming warmth of spring and the bountiful harvest that would follow in terms of agriculture and livestock. By the time Rome was Christianized, followed by Germany, Britain, and Scandinavia, Pope Julius directed the celebration of Christmas to fall on December 25 in an attempt to replace and absorb the other pagan festivals surrounding winter. What we sometimes fail to realize is that our celebration of Christmas on December 25 was virtually arbitrary and probably not created for its actual proximity to the actual birthday of Jesus. There are many, many theories as to when Jesus was really born, but I will not venture into that territory here; suffice it to say that December 25 has a 1 out of 365 chance of being correct. This is not to mention that Christians did not observe nor commemorate any celebration of Christ’s birth until Pope Julius’ proclamation… in the fourth century. My simple point is this, Jesus did not invent Christmas. He nor the holy Apostles ever commanded nor sanctioned the celebration and it probably isn’t his “birthday.”
Along with recognizing the largely arbitrary and late-coming celebration of what we know as “Christmas,” we must also recognize that modern traditions of Christmas were not invented directly by Jesus and the Apostles as some facebook-ers would have us to believe. A very clear example is the Christmas tree or just evergreen decorations in general. Before Christianity was even heard of, plants and trees that stayed green all year already held great importance for agrarian societies, especially during winter. There were any number of superstitions applied to the hanging of evergreen branches from the attempt to repel witches and demons to attempts to please the gods of fertility and agriculture. Though many credit German Reformer Martin Luther with the “invention” of the Christmas tree as we know it, these traditions are far from solid, historical fact. Likewise, ornaments and other decorations do not find historical verification until the late nineteenth century. Now, from a man that loves his Christmas trees big, fat, and REAL, my point is simply that the Christmas tree is not a sacramental sign ordained by Christ for believers’ sanctification. As such, it really shouldn’t matter who decides to call their tree what. Again, neither Christ nor the Apostle invented the Christmas tree so I couldn’t care less if someone wants to call it a “holiday tree,” a “merry tree,” or a “Hanukkah tree” for that matter.
Lastly, I want to challenge Christians to celebrate the Christian holiday of Christmas with respect and love for those outside of Christ. We do not own the month of December, we have neither a constitutional nor biblical warrant to mandate what is celebrated or when it is celebrated, and Christ couldn’t care less if we say “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or anything at all for that matter. It seems a bit ironic to me that believers seem more up in arms about arbitrary traditions such as Christmas and Christmas trees than about the actual truth of the incarnation… if that is even brought up. It’s also ironic that we would take something as cheery and pleasant as a “Merry Christmas,” and turn it into some sort of instigative hot-word to garner attention and cause offense. What good is a “Merry Christmas,” if we turn into Tyler Perry’s Madea every time we say it? The Christian worldview is one that engenders respect, love, and kindness to others regardless of religious or cultural beliefs. Does this mean we sacrifice truth and sound doctrine for kindness and acceptance? By no means! We zealously defend the truth of the gospel and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ. We eagerly defend sound doctrine and biblical truth… The modern trappings of Christmas just have very little to do with that. It’s okay to wish your Jewish friends a “Happy Hanukah,” or your atheist friends, “Happy Holidays.” Don’t have any Jewish or atheist friends? Maybe you should… maybe I should. You aren’t defending the Christian faith when you say, “Merry Christmas” with an attitude of superiority and you certainly aren’t compromising truth when you say “Happy Holidays.” Buying a “Holiday Tree” and refusing to shop at stores that don’t allow the Salvation Army to receive donations will not cost you your salvation.
Again, I’m a man that loves his Christmas. I’m sitting about fifteen feet away from our brightly lit and decorated, fresh-cut frasier fir (the creme de la creme of Christmas trees in my opinion). I start listening to the Carpenters’ Christmas album at the first sign of a cold snap in September or October and I can’t wait to see wrapped presents laying under the tree. But I’m not naive. I know that while Christmas and all its trappings is a good, wholesome, and perhaps even helpful celebration for Christians; it is neither commanded nor mandated by Christ, the Apostles, or Holy Scripture. As such, we have no ownership of December, evergreen trees and branches, secular holiday songs, tasty winter treats, or the colors silver and gold. I agree with dear Fred, the nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when he says, “though it (Christmas) has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!” But when Jude told his hearers and us to “contend for the faith,” sneering a “Merry Christmas” at those who do not share our faith was the furthest thing from his mind. It should also be noted that as long as we spell and know how words work, “Christ” will logically always be in “Christmas.”
This season, if you are a Christian, celebrate Christmas with all your heart. Indulge in the sights, sounds, and feelings of this “most wonderful time of the year,” and reflect upon the miracle of the incarnation. But remember that we are not alone in this world. We are surrounded by those that neither share nor perhaps wish to share our faith in Christ and it makes little difference to them when Christians snidely wish them a “Merry Christmas.” In fact, it probably does nothing but hurt our testimony to Christ. So yes, pray eagerly for your Jewish, Muslim, atheist, and other non-believing neighbors to come to faith in Christ. Humanity is universally commanded to “repent and believe the gospel,” but nowhere are they commanded to “honor the celebration of Christmas.” Let’s get our priorities straight for the sake of the gospel and respect to our fellow man. It’s not about political correctness, it’s about common decency.