Christians decry the use of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” for the same reason they bemoan movies that depict families gathering for Christmas celebrations with plenty of food and cheer but no mention of baby Jesus. Or cringe at Jingle Bells without Away in A Manger. The ‘heart and soul’ of the season must not be deleted. As if the season were “ours” and to leave out the baby Jesus along with the incarnation and salvation he represents constitutes an offense, an attempt to remove our story from the public sphere, to “steal Christmas.” The arrogance of this attitude in some Christians only magnifies when we consider the extent to which it is false and its concerns misguided.
The truth is there have always been and always will be religious celebrations of great variety at the end of December. This statement would be just as true if Jesus had never been born. Rant #2 alluded to the underlying cause of this inevitable mid-winter celebrative mood. One could more accurately say the solstice is the reason for the season. In the old calendar, the 25th was the solar solstice, the birth of the Sun god, the day on which the waning source of heat and light begins its comeback. That’s signifcant. We humans need to celebrate something at this time of year. And we will. Night and cold are good and holy things, but enough is enough. Time to turn our faces toward the growing day again. It’s the cyclical nature of things in this universe.
Christians made use of this reality to tell the story of Jesus as the light of the world, the “sun of righteousness.” They intentionally intruded upon pagan festivities to do so. They confronted, adopted, adapted, and baptised ideas and images from the pagan religious world. Due to the eventual growth and dominance of the Christian religion, we are more correct to say that Christians stole the season from pagans. If “pagans” of any kind want to claim it back, they have every blessed right to do so. If you consider consumerism a form of “pagan” religion (you certainly may), you could say that this has already happened.
While the early church exhibited a great deal of intentionality and inspiration in creating its feast traditions and revealed care in its appropriation of practices that did not come from the Bible, much of the modern church has blindly embraced commercial influences. It has remained oblivious as Christmas observances have weirdly wandered in secular directions and morphed into something often directly opposite of what our forbears envisioned (like treating the 25th as the end of the season instead of the beginning). Why should Christians get all apoplexic about non-Christians not observing Christmas when they themselves, in essence, don’t anymore? But that is the subject of the next rant.