Why We No Longer Celebrate Christmas
(Recently my wife wrote this letter to a friend of hers explaining our family’s philosophy about Christmas. I thought a wider audience could benefit from reading it. DB)
I woke with you on my mind and how I was going to explain what our Lord has done in the area of Christmas in our lives. There are so many different avenues with which I could approach the issue, I can’t decide which one to take….so I’ll take ALL of them! (In order, of course!) The avenues are: personal journey, Scriptural teachings, early roots of Christmas, and “recent” evolutions in church life re. Christmas (Chm).
First the personal journey. Since we are relatively new friends, let me tell you that I have always had a “simple is best” approach to Christmas. I’m basically just a little African girl and my personality is not a frills-type. Nor am I very materialistic. If the Lord took away all my possessions today, it wouldn’t bother me in the least…except that I’d miss the sentimental things. Regarding Chm., the heavy emphasis on materialism has always been revolting to me, probably in part because I grew up in the poverty of Ethiopia, and know that things have nothing at all to do with happiness. It also is revolting to me how people use gifts to extract “love” and “commitment”….they are manipulative and enslaving. There is a very definite gift-comparison that goes on, even between believers in SS classes, or extended family! One person “ups the anti” with a bigger & better gift, then the other has to out-do that level…pride is very evident in the whole gift-giving thing. It has long-since stopped being a pure love thing. (And my personal feeling is that this breeds the high rate of depression & suicide that goes on during this time of year…the pressure to perform, and the knowing that the gift received isn’t really given with love is just too much for some people.)
So when my boys were little, they got just a very few, well-thought-out gifts from us. And when we opened gifts, they were one at a time, with thank-yous, with enjoyment & appreciation, etc…..it took several hours to open our few gifts. My emphasis was always on the “spiritual” meaning….so I’d take all the activities and decorations and attach spiritual meanings to them, hoping that somehow thru all the hooplala, my children would gain the kernel of truth that God became man & we celebrate His birth. In spite of my efforts, I have no doubt that although they could give the right answers to why we were doing what we were doing, down deep inside, they were really excited about the activities and gifts of the season, rather than having a deep appreciation for Him and His gift. This is only human nature, especially with children.
About 6 years ago, my children now raised, the materialism really began to get to me….it seemed to be getting worse & worse with each passing year. We started seeing Chm things in Sept! The store music started in mid-Nov! And with all the materialism is a greed, a sort of civilized hostility between people as they grab for this product or that product. Advertising was getting “heavier”…louder, more brazen. Attitudes in stores were getting less polite & gracious, more “gi’me, gi’me”. My approach was to do my part to tilt the scales of society in the other direction; so I’d give extra effort to speak out against materialism, and keep a cheery face in the stores, focusing on individuals, etc
Then about 5 years ago, Dave began doing some research into the origins of the Chm celebration. I’m not sure why he started this research. But this is typical of him….when he’s wrestling with an issue, he heads to the library. So he sort of disappears from society for a period, and then re-emerges with all his answers; he’s at peace with the world again & ready for socialization. It’s not quite that bad, but almost…..as compared with me, who works thru issues partly by vocalizing & brainstorming.
And he began sharing with me the roots of the “doing” celebration that our society does today. Here is a brief summary:
1. There was no celebration at all by the early Church of our Saviour’s birth….until Constantine arrived.
2. When Constantine arrived, he literally forced everyone in Rome to adopt Christianity as their religion; it became the state religion because of his vision….so pagans were baptized & declared to be “Christian”.
3. Since they were still pagans at heart, (and conquered pagans at that!), they didn’t want to give up their pagan traditions, understandably so. Constantine wanted peace & submission in his kingdom, so he approached the bishop of Rome and they worked out a deal, whereby the bishop would take the pagans holy-days and Christianize them….in this way, unity would be brought between the true Christians and the pagan Christians.
4. Christmas was born…it was put on Dec 25th because this was the date of the Birth of the Sun God on the calendar of the pagans living around Rome. It is the solstice.
5. Over the centuries, things have been added….advent, tree, caroling, plays, cantatas, cookies, home decorations, etc.,etc.,etc….to the big production we now have. Each addition was initially added because of some great spiritual truth…the tree representing Christ’s eternal life, the caroling representing the angel’s song, etc.
6. Santa Claus, of course, was added initially because of St. Nicholas, but he quickly attained all the characteristics of God Himself…omnipresent, omniscient, Judge, etc.,etc. In many homes, the first act of parental betrayal is the lie of Santa Claus…many children go thru a deep depression & anger when they first realize that everyone in the world know he wasn’t real except them…and their own parents betrayed them. We always told our boys from the beginning that Santa Claus was a game many people played at Chm, but he wasn’t real; our greatest opposition came from adults (!) in church (!) and family (!)…..amazing! But in the Catholic system of theology, when a good person dies & is officially made a “saint” by the Pope, that person becomes god-like…..so it’s only natural that we now have an alternative god for the Christmas celebration.
When Dave shared this with me, I wasn’t very happy about it. “Yuck”…we’ve been celebrating our Saviour’s birth cuz of the Sun God??? We’ve taken something pagan and white-washed it with Christianity?? Don’t we have a better way of celebrating the pure gold treasure that we have in Christ? It was very disappointing to me; I’ve always drawn strength from my Southern and Christian and familial roots….and this was a big let-down that I needed to work thru, because the “problem” was no longer just materialism, it was church-history; we Christians, we true believers were now a big part of the problem…it wasn’t just those materialistic non-Christians in our society. (I think this parallels somewhat the transition that Christian parents go thru when they realize that the pagan school system isn’t the only “problem” that’s destroying their kids & families; it’s also the church system of age-segregation & programs & pastoring philosophy. There’s a period of time in the initial phases of processing that we really don’t want to believe the conclusion that we are coming to…there’s denial/disbelief at first; but eventually it’s inescapable, and we have to deal with it as truth.)
I had always known that Dec 25th probably wasn’t when Christ really was born, but I never imagined that it actually was purposefully tied to a pagan holiday so that they would be accommodated in Christian circles. (Of course, this is a standard practice of the Catholic church even today….I’ve seen it in action among the Indians of central America.)
Which brings me to the third “avenue”…Scriptural teaching. Of course, as part of Dave’s research and our discussions, passages of Scripture were highlighted. Some specific ones dealt with the following:
1. The instruction of our God is not to have any other gods before Him. What is a “god”…it is anything or anyone that has such a hold upon us that our peace is destroyed when it/he is taken from us. Just talk with people about “giving up Christmas”, and the panic bells start! And I must admit that the first year we quit, it was emotionally deflating for me, but not for Dave or Nathan; I longed for that ritual that spelled security, the comfort of tradition, etc. But now it’s Christ Himself during the season that I seek, and my worship of Him is more pure because we dropped all the “attachments” that society and the church require in the worship of Him.
2. The instructions that we are given is to not keep holy-days, dietary rules, etc., as those under the Law. For the born-again Christian, every day is as every other day….and He is Lord of all of these days. Every day He is to be worshipped, loved, obeyed, glorified. Every day He is risen; every day His sacrifice is sufficient. There are no special days whereby we give Him special attention, or honor Him more. This is true also of Sundays…it is not “the Lord’s Day”…every day is “the Lord’s Day”. This challenge of Scripture toward complete integrity of worship and Christian living is something that we have taken to heart, and our Lord is giving grace to grow in.
3. There is no mention of the exact date of His birth, nor any instruction to observe it. We are required to observe His offering, in the form of communion…and the early church did this remembrance every time they met, as a matter of course. Today, most churches observe communion (the Scripturally-mandated item) maybe every 3 months with a teaspoon of juice & an itsy-bitsy piece of stale cracker! (What a mockery & slap in the face of our God!) But we make at least a month-long, hog-wild to-do about His birth, which He did not command. Sounds a little backward!
4. Scripture specifically states that we are not to make “graven images” representing God. Does the statuary used at Chm fall in this category? Nativity scenes abound, and many of them include the halo over the baby and the mother! It is too easy for us to look to images instead of Him. (For this reason, we also don’t have pictures of Christ in our home, nor do I wear a cross.)
These are just some of the main Scripture points.
The final avenue has to do with recent trends in church life. By “recent” I mean in the last 50-100 years….which is recent compared with the 2000 years since our Lord’s life. There are many things that mark the evangelical protestant church during this time period. Some changes have been the emphasis on Sunday School replacing family worship/teaching. Programs replacing doctrine. “Seeker-friendly” entertainment replacing “cost of discipleship” thinking. Age-segregation replacing age-integration & age-specific teaching/programs replacing maturity-targeted teaching/activities. Professionalism has replaced lay leadership. “How-to”/“Steps-to” has replaced holistic doctrine. Topical teaching has replaced exegetical teaching. Numbers/quantitative measurement has replaced life-style measurements... All of these items have served to weaken the spiritual constitution of the evangelical church in America.
As relates to Chm, another change is the ecumenical movement. Not only are various protestant denominations joining together, where the doctrinal positions are always watered down to the least-stringent & Scripture-related position. But also, the merging of Protestant & Catholic interests has become significant. I have read several testimonies of people who lived decades ago, who were Protestant; their testimony was that the Christmas celebration with the tree, decorations, etc., was done at the Catholic church down the road, but certainly not here in the protestant church…..the protestants held a simple church service, and that was it! And some protestant communities didn’t even do that…it was just another work day. Some protestant communities went even further & actually “outlawed” Christmas celebration as pagan. Even today, in most of the world, the protestants hold a simple worship service, and maybe a few gifts among intimate family members….but otherwise there is no “celebration” as we know it. The todo in the American church about Christmas (cantata, children’s play, greenery decorations, manger scene, candles, etc.,etc.)….these are all imports from the Catholic church, where they have been doing this as part of their worship scene for hundreds of years. And they use the same ideas for their worship of Peter, Mary, Paul, Mark…and all the hundreds of other saints/gods they have. In fact, the word “Christmas” means Christ’s Mass. Just as the Catholic church says a mass on Peter’s day, and Paul’s day, and other saint’s day,….so it has a mass on “Christ’s day”….it’s called Christ Mass….Christmas. Hence, my simple explanation when people ask me about our celebrating Christmas….I respond that since I’m not Catholic, nor am I pagan, I don’t do the Christmas thing everyone else does.
But I do rejoice in His birth! But my greatest rejoicing is in His death & Resurrection….for this is what bought my spiritual liberty. And this is what He commanded me to celebrate. And this is what separates Christianity from other religions….all religions have the birth of their leader…but only Christianity has the death & resurrection of their leader!
Most of all, I rejoice in Him…His person.
Since we made our change (the Chm of 2001 was our first decision in this regard), with the exception of the first year, I have felt a tremendous peace, joy, calm, richness, treasure in the season. While everyone is running around trying to cope with the pressure of performing, trying to meet the financial burden, trying to juggle the social constraints, trying to stretch their time & energy to the demands of the season (including the church mandates)…we are just continuing on with life as usual, enjoying our Saviour in the little moments of each day as He gives them to us. I wouldn’t go back to the old way for anything! There is now such a beauty and richness of worship in the simplicity of daily living! All the hoop-lala seems so artificial and white-washed; all the “spiritualization” of the activity and attachments is so superficial, like most rationalizations of sin. My heart grieves for the American church, we have departed so much from His plan. Just this past spring, our choir leader suggested that we start observing Lent as a means to “more fully experiencing” our Saviour’s sacrifice. Slavery…Entanglement…that’s all it is!
I strongly believe that the future of our country is catastrophic. And I believe that our Lord is calling out a remnant of His true church…those who are committed to Him and displaying Him in their personal lives and in their families and in their churches. I think the Christian homeschool movement, the age-integrated movement, the elder-led movement, the Bible-only movement are all feeding this remnant. And more of us are rethinking the Christmas thing. We are still a very small minority, but I think that as committed Christians look at the Scriptures, the roots, the recent developments, and bring their own lives honestly to Him, then He will make this “movement” spread as He has done with the other “movements”. And hopefully, by His grace, we will have a church, (tho significantly smaller in size/number) that is more in line with Scripture and His will, and by extension will reap His rewards and “well done”.
For Him and His Kingdom,
December 1, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.