I grew up not celebrating Christmas, Easter, or Halloween for that matter. I was raised a non-denominational Christian, though maybe a little more old fashioned than 20th and 21st Century Christians are used to.
Over the years, people have asked me if I felt left out as a kid, not celebrating Christmas or Halloween. Honestly, I didn’t care. I think some of it has to do with the fervor of your belief, and the attitude of your parents.
In 3rd grade I knew a girl in my class named Summer, who didn’t celebrate any holidays at all because she was a Jehovah’s Witness. I remember saying to her once in confusion, “How can you not celebrate birthdays?” She didn’t seem to mind.
Do Muslim or Jewish kids feel bad that they don’t get to celebrate Christmas? I don’t think so. Likewise, I think you’d find you more or less tend to be quite comfortable with the world in which you live.
It’s interesting though that just over a decade ago, this article would have applied to me, and it’s ironic that the comments section of that article is full of atheists that identify with what was said.
What are you?
I remember a conversation with my adult next door neighbor, which also happened when I was in 3rd grade. He was a super nice guy (to date the nicest neighbor I’ve ever had), and knew we were Christians. He asked me one day, “Hey David, what kind of Christian are you?”
“I’m just a regular Christian, ” I replied. To which he said, “C’mon, there’s no such thing as a ‘regular Christian’.”
Finally I gave in and said, “Pentecostal,” since that was the only traditional denomination that would most accurately describe my family. He laughed, and said, “See, that wasn’t so hard.”
“Ya, but we’re not really Pentecostal though.”
The truth is that basically, we were, but my dad didn’t like denominational labels for a number of reasons. Today I’m ok with “denominations” simply for the matter or organization and efficiency: rather than take an hour to explain all the nuances of your faith, you can simply state a name and have somebody google it to gain a general understanding of what you believe. For those of us “in the fold” It’s more of a way for us to sniff each other out, because most of us know what other denominations believe without using Google.
So if I went up to a Southern Baptist and said, “Pentecostal”, which I’m most definitely not any more, they’d feel a little bit at ease that I vote the same way as them, have the same foundational theology, and would view me as part of the Christian “fold”. Still, we wouldn’t be going to each other’s prayer meetings (’90s Pentecostal language), bible studies (’90s Baptist language), or community groups (21st century church re-branding).
Whereas if I’d said “Jehovah’s Witness”, “Mormon”, or “Catholic”, there’d only be a political understanding between us. They’d still be courteous but the relationship would be a secular one, like the one many of us Christians have in the workplace.
Why didn’t we Celebrate Christmas?
To make it clear, we were the odd ones of our relatives. My parents both grew up Catholic as my grandparents on both sides were Catholic, but my parents converted to Protestantism in their 20s. The entire rest of our family celebrated Christmas. Thanks to Martin Luther’s blessed stubbornness in 16th century Germany, my dad along with every single Christian in the world, is now allowed to not only interpret the bible for himself, but take heed to his conscience, and hear directly from the Holy Spirit.
Based on his analysis of both the Old and New Testaments, and a desire for obedience to the Lord, my dad came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, and that Christians were in error for celebrating it. To understand my family’s reasoning, you had to understand the Puritans.
I’ve heard it said once before, that the proper definition of the word Puritan is: the continual fear that someone, somewhere might be having fun. Here are a couple of excerpts from Wikipedia on the topic of Christmas in Puritan New England.
Most Anabaptists, Quakers, and Congregational and Presbyterian Puritans, [Colin Daniels] observes, regarded the day as an abomination while Anglicans, Lutherans, the Dutch Reformed and other denominations celebrated the day as did Roman Catholics. When the Church of England promoted the Feast of the Nativity as a major religious holiday, the Puritans attacked it as “residual Papist idolatry”.
The Puritans had their reasons though…
First, no holy days except the Sabbath were sanctioned in Scripture, second, the most egregious behaviors were exercised in its celebration (Cotton Mather railed against these behaviors), and third, December 25 was ahistorical. The Puritan argued that the selection of the date was an early Christian hijacking of a Roman festival, and to celebrate a December Christmas was to defile oneself by paying homage to a pagan custom. James Howard Barnett notes in The American Christmas (1984) that the Puritan view prevailed in New England for almost two centuries.
There was a time where there were no Christmas trees in the White House, both because of prevailing Puritan views, and the idea that celebrating the holiday was un-American as it was a traditionally German holiday.
Why I celebrate Christmas today
The first baby steps on my road to celebrating Christmas, was attending (against my will) a Christian private school. We’d have secret Santa every year, and I didn’t have any real convictions for or against the holiday, but it did make sense to me. We give gifts to each other because the wise men gave gifts to Jesus.
Eventually, I came to the choice that I’d make the concession to celebrate Christmas, but without the Christmas tree, because I knew that had pagan roots. Until recently, that is…
A few things in particular changed my mind. First was what Jesus said to the Pharisees when they accused him of using demonic power to cast out demons.
Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?Matthew 12:25-26
Today, and for many years, I’ve seen a war against Christmas in popular culture, which is part of the larger war against Christianity in our culture. Things like changing Christmas to “Xmas”, or removing the star from the top of Christmas trees and replacing it with a ribbon tied in a bow, or asking people to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” on the company holiday card, reflect small aspects of this change in public opinion.
To have Christmas be a pagan holiday today, in 2013, seems to me to be complete nonsense. Whatever happened before Emperor Constantine converted, no longer seems to apply because Satan seems to have taken a dislike to the holiday. If non-believers rebel against the holiday today, maybe the answer Jesus gave to the Pharisees should be good enough for me too.
The funny thing is that Christmas means “Christ’s mass”, or the veneration of Christ, something I’d ignored for most of my childhood, considering how into “names” my family was. To venerate Christ means to exalt him. Which takes me to reason number two: redemption.
Redemption should be a word many Christians are familiar with. We are the redeemed. Redeemed from eternal death, from separation from God, and from destruction. Likewise, I think the Christmas holiday, when celebrated in reverence of Jesus Christ, is redeemed from whatever it was before.
There’s pretty good evidence that Easter and Christmas are tied together, and were used to worship pagan gods. That was then. Likewise, the Apostle Paul used to be named Saul and was a persecutor of Christians. The Christian story is full of people who were transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Is it a stretch that such a thing could happen to a holiday, or even a culture? Today, I live in a culture that is, at least in the open, very much against any form of racism or discrimination. Just 200 years ago, the ancestors of these same people were openly for discrimination, racism, slavery, and genocide.
The teachings of the New Testament
There are many verses in the New Testament that tell Christians not to quarrel over what I’ll call “personal convictions”. These are things you may choose to do or not to do based on your own history, and your walk with God, but are not explicitly forbidden in scripture. Things like which holidays to celebrate, what type of food to eat, whether or not to drink alcohol, and what type of sex two married consenting heterosexual adults are “allowed” to have with each other. Let’s not go down the rabbit hole.
The rule of thumb in all cases is, if what you’re doing isn’t explicitly addressed in scripture, and it doesn’t prick your conscience, you’re free to do it, but don’t use that freedom to cause another person to stumble, or violate their own conscience.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.Romans 14:5-6
If you’re a man that loves to eat meat and you marry a woman that’s vegetarian, you’re not supposed to judge each other about it, or even try to convince the other they’re wrong. Just respect each other’s wishes. Though, from experience I find that people who abstain tend to be louder about their opinions than people that indulge. So in essence I’m thankful for verses like that to protect us from the legalistic among us. Though, maybe you’d better ask a few questions before marrying someone.
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree!
The last remnant of the pagan holiday that finally passed my litmus test was the Christmas tree. Some have pretty good evidence that the Christmas tree was supposed to represent a great many pagan beliefs among Europeans before the spread of Christianity.
A scripture often quoted by those against the Christmas tree is Jeremiah 10:2-4. It makes the unnecessary and ultimately incorrect assumption that Christmas trees are in the bible, despite there being more than enough evidence it was used in pagan worship. Maybe placing it in the bible makes it an official no-no?
Thus says the Lord:Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.
At first it sort of sounds like a Christmas tree, until you keep reading…
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”
What is being described is how idols were made. They would cut down a tree, carve the idol, and then plate it with gold and silver. The command is to not make idols.
Though, when I consider the story of the nativity, and what Christmas trees look like today, I see something completely different. I see the night sky that the shepherds and the wise men saw. A sky full of stars (the lights), and planets (the ornaments), and the brightest star of all, the one that the wise men followed, crowning the entire beautiful scene. In the Christmas tree, I find the story of the nativity as told in Matthew and Luke. I find it to be quite the coincidence.
Of course there are ways to celebrate Christmas that don’t “venerate Christ”. If it becomes all about consumerism, lying to children, selfishness, and pride, none of those things glorify God. Likewise, taking communion when you’re high on drugs, wouldn’t really be in the spirit of what taking communion is about. You can ruin any seemingly Godly ritual or exercise if you’re creative enough.
I personally will never tell my children that a fat man in a red suit comes down the chimney to bring them gifts, only for them to be told by a “big kid” at school that it was all a lie. The wonder of my childrens’ childhood won’t be based on things I tell them that I don’t even believe, but I’ll make sure that my kids aren’t the one that spoils Santa Claus for your kids.
Though I’m probably preaching to the choir on this blog post, maybe I am even more on the Santa Claus issue. I personally don’t know anyone that enjoys going to a Protestant church on a weekly basis that told their kids that their gifts come from Santa Claus.
The phrase “being intentional” can be overused in Christian circles, but I have found pretty good applications for it in my own life.
Part of it for me is believing that one day I’ll give an account for everything I think, say, and do. So I’d like to know why I think, say, and do things. Sometimes that introspection causes me to alter my behavior, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Taking a look at why I did’t celebrate Christmas caused me to change my mind. I made the same introspection about Halloween, and didn’t come to the same conclusion.
In December 2013, my wife and I had our first married Christmas together, and in my mind that’s what made it my first proper Christmas. It wasn’t just the tree, or the gifts, or the christmas movies, or the candlelight service. It was my first Christmas with my family, and she’s my family.
We also decided to take into account the conscience of my parents, and not see them until December 26th. I told my dad, “Happy Holidays!” with a smirk on my face. My wife wasn’t so politically correct.
I think one of the sadder preoccupations of Christianity is worrying about what other people are doing privately, especially when it comes to what non-christians are doing privately. Rather, I’ve grown fond of the saying, “As for me and my house…”