“Old Christmas” from the 1843 Illustrated London News

“Old Christmas” from the 1843 Illustrated London News

“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” Benjamin Franklin

It’s that time of year again when the mythical war on Christmas is waged in the minds and hearts of some believers and cries of put Christ back into Christmas are heard thoughout the land.

Frankly speaking, there is no war on Christmas. Not getting your way as a preferred religious group is neither persecution nor a war on your religion. Anyone is free to celebrate their special holiday any way they want and there is no conspiracy to prevent such celebrations. It can be helpful to note that Christians do not own the month of December as can be seen in this list for 2015 (some holidays change dates because of the calendar that is used in a specific religious system):

Dec. 7 to 14: Hanukkah — Judaism
Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi Day) — Buddhist
Dec. 21: Solstice — Wicca/Pagan
Dec. 23: Mawlid el-Nabi — Islam
Dec. 25: Christmas — Christian
Dec. 26: Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra) — Zoroastrian

It can be argued that the celebration of the Winter Solstice is the oldest of these holidays. It was obvious to many early Christians that December 25th was originally a pagan holiday that was “stolen” by the Church to help Christianize a pagan celebration. Consider the following:

  1. It is almost certain that Christ was NOT born on December 25th. The spring and fall have both been given as more realistic time frames since Luke mentions shepherds tending their flocks (Luke 2:8).
  2. There is no record of the early church celebrating the birth of Christ and, as such, no record or tradition of his birth was preserved. In fact, early church fathers such as Origen (185-232) believed that only sinners and pagans celebrated birthdays. Origen didn’t list Christ’s birth as a Church holiday. (Natal Day)
  3. The English Parliment banned both the religous and secular celebrations of Christmas from 1644 to 1659.

    “Both the religious and secular celebration of Christmas was forbidden by the English Puritan republic, but by no means everywhere with success” (Christmas Under the Puritans)

  4. In Massacusettes, the Puritans saw Christmas as a pagan festival with Christian trappings. Christmas was made illegal in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681. Anyone caught celebrating it was fined 5 shillings.(Christmas Celebration Outlawed)
  5. A.W. Pink (1886-1952), an influential Calvinist author and bible teacher, said:

    Christmas is coming! Quite so: but what is “Christmas?” Does not the very term itself denote it’s source – “Christ-mass.” Thus it is of Roman origin, brought over from paganism. But, says someone, Christmas is the time when we commemorate the Savior’s birth. It is? And WHO authorized such commemoration? Certainly God did not. The Redeemer bade His disciples “remember” Him in His death, but there is not a word in scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, which tells us to celebrate His birth. Moreover, who knows when, in what month, He was born? The Bible is silent thereon. (XMas (Christmas))

  6. Charles Spurgeon, arguably one of the greatest Baptist preachers, said:

    We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon on Dec. 24, 1871).

    When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, “Is this a law of the God of Jacob?” and if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty. (from Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 81:4.)

    (Charles Spurgeon Quotes on Christmas)

  7. Robert McCurry, a Baptist pastor, got it right when he published an article on “The Origins of Christmas”. So in case you were thinking this atheist has it all wrong about Christmas being a pagan, not Christian, holiday, here is what Pastor McCurry said:

    Why Christmas? The majority say, “Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.” Why a Christmas season? Most will say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Really? No, not really — the manger scenes, Christmas carols, and religious activities notwithstanding. Interestingly, Christmas is not a Bible word or even a Bible subject.

    It is a historical fact that the season and day now known as Christmas preceded the birth of Christ by hundreds of years. Christmas was adopted from earlier heathen winter solstice celebrations celebrating the sun, including the Roman festival of Saturnalia celebrated from December the 17th to the 24th; Celtic Yuletide which was a twelve-day long festival of feasting around November/December; the Roman New Year celebrated on January the first when greenery was used to decorate houses in celebration of the birth of the undying sun, and presents were given to children and the poor. The Roman catholic church “Christianized” this pagan festival by substituting the birth of Christ for sun worship and named it Mass of Christ.

  8. It wasn’t until the 1870’s that Christmas became an official holiday in the U.S. (Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application)
  9. In 1999 Ganulin vs U.S, atheist lawyer Richard Ganulin filed suit saying that Christmas was an illegal holiday since it was a government sanctioned religious holiday. He lost his case but it was no win for the Christians crying put “Christ back in Christmas”. The ruling saw Christmas as a secular, NOT religious, holiday. In fact, Judge Susan Dlott wrote the following poem in her decision (Judge rhymes to refute a Yuletide lawsuit):

    The court will address
    Plaintiff’s seasonal confusion
    Erroneously believing Christmas
    MERELY a religious intrusion.

    Whatever the reason
    Constitutional or other
    Christmas IS NOT
    An act of Big Brother!

    Christmas is about joy
    And giving and sharing
    It is about the child within us
    It is mostly about caring!

    One is never jailed
    For not having a tree
    For not going to church
    For not spreading glee!

    The court will uphold
    Seemingly contradictory causes
    Decreeing “The establishment” AND “Santa”
    both worthwhile “CLAUS(es)!”

    We are all better for Santa
    The Easter Bunny too
    And maybe the great pumpkin
    To name just a few!

    An extra day off
    Is hardly high treason
    It may be spent as you wish
    Regardless of reason.

    The court having read
    The lessons of “Lynch”
    refuses to play
    The role of the Grinch!

    There is room in this country
    And in all our hearts too
    For different convictions
    And a day off too!

It’s pretty clear that the holiday we now call Christmas was adapted from earlier pagan holidays celebrated at the same time. The holiday has no relation to the birth of Christ since the time of his birth is no where to be found in the Bible. Actually, it is pretty disingenuous to call for putting Christ back in a holiday that orginally had nothing to do with him. Still, I get the reason behind that cry, as believers (and non-believers alike) see the excesses of the season, but it has been like this for as long as the Winter Solstice has been celebrated. It may not have been excess commericalism but excesses have always abounded, be it food, drink, dancing, gaiety, partying, cards, gambling and every other thing that at one time or another went into the season.

I’m not even sure what putting Christ back into the season means?

  1. Refusing to celebrate at all since it is a Christianized pagan holiday?
  2. Removing the “pagan” Christmas tree and other decorations from your house?
  3. Eliminating the gluttonous feasts many have in favor of a simple meal?
  4. Giving to the poor instead of spending money on gifts for your own family?
  5. Going to a Church service?
  6. Forcing everyone to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays?
  7. Putting a Christmas Creche in front of every house and public building?
  8. Removing Santa Claus from the holiday?
  9. Other?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Celebrate this holiday season any way you want. If you want to say Merry Christmas, then say it but don’t get upset if someone, who realizes the multitude of holidays this time of year, just says Happy Holidays. It isn’t being politically correct, it is being sensitive to other cultures and religions. You, as a Christian, don’t have a monopoly on the season.

If you want to put Christ back in the season, whatever that means to you, do so for yourself and your family. However, if someone wants to celebrate in what you consider wild excess, let them as long as no one is getting hurt in the process. It isn’t just about your season and means of celebration. For some, it isn’t about a baby in a manger, as much as that may offend you.

This is a season that can accommadate the fundamentalist, the evangelical, the non-Christian, people of vastly different faiths and beliefs, and even the atheist. It is a time for family and comfort and a cartoony character called Santa Claus. If you want to throw in (and if we are honest this is what most Christians do) or make center stage a baby in a manager, go right ahead. I have no wish to prevent you. This season can handle all of this. In one way, it is deeply personal and in another it is a community (family, town, state, church) celebration.

Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to All.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas


Additional Posts on Christmas:

Why This Atheist Likes Christmas
Robert Ingersoll’s Christmas Wish
Santa Claus?
Is Christ the Reason for the Season?

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