Commentary by Jack Kelley
(This article was originally published in November of 2005 when the controversy over the Christmas season was first heating up. It’s even more relevant today. I’ve expanded and updated it for this holiday season.)
For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.” (Jeremiah 10:3-4)
A friend once observed that when you see the Christmas decorations begin to go up on Main Street, you know that Thanksgiving must be near. That’s because in the US, Thanksgiving weekend officially kicks off the Christmas season. Special school programs, parties, shopping, all the things Christmas has become these days begin in earnest on the day after Thanksgiving.
Of course there’s a concerted effort on several fronts to make the holiday season as non-Christian as possible, so that it’s no longer for Christians only. Anti-Christians want to deprive Americans of all our public religious observances, so taking manger scenes off our court house lawns, and Christmas Carols out of school concerts is right up their alley. And neo- pagans rightly say that Christians hijacked what used to be their holiday, the Winter Solstice, so it shouldn’t be exclusively Christian anyway.
There’s More Here Than Meets The Eye
But I suspect there’s also another motive behind this effort, and it’s an attempt to further increase the traditionally high levels of Christmas spending. Many US retailers depend on a strong Christmas shopping season to be profitable for the year, and holiday sales tax receipts are an important part of every state and local government’s annual revenue. Getting more shoppers into stores makes good business sense all around.
Maybe this is why other religions have been encouraged to join in the season, too. In recent years, some denominations of Judaism have made their Hanukkah into a Christmas-like celebration, and now we have Kwanzaa, an African holiday that first came on the world scene in 1966 and is based on seven principles arrayed as a seven branched candlestick that looks surprisingly like a Jewish menorah. Like Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa involves gift giving, special decorations, and lots of good food. It begins on Dec. 26 and includes a big feast on New Years Eve. Both these movements bring millions of new shoppers into stores during what’s now called the “holiday” season.
A few years ago, the American Muslim community began lobbying for recognition of Eid-Ul-Adha, a four day feast of sacrifice in memory of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his first born son, who they believe was Ishmael, and Ishmael’s submission to Allah’s will. Since the Arab calendar is a lunar one, it has only 354 or 355 days. But unlike the Jewish lunar calendar, Muslims don’t add days every so often to stay in sync with the western calendar. Therefore Eid-Ul-Adha, which came during the Christmas season a few years ago, was celebrated on October 15 in 2013. That has taken some of the steam out of their effort to get in on the holiday season.
That’s the problem when multi-culturalism and freedom of religion meet. If you encourage every religious group to celebrate its own holidays, which ones should get official sanction? It has to either be all of them or none of them, because anything in between is discriminatory toward someone. So far the multi-culturalists seem only to be offended by the observance of Christian holidays. Maybe that’s because for the most part they’re the only ones officially recognized in the US. Government offices typically aren’t closed on non-Christian holidays. 1700 years ago the Romans solved this problem by re-making former pagan Holy Days into Christian ones. That’s how we got Christmas and Easter in the first place. Of course they were only trying to replace one religion with another. Today we’re trying to recognize all religions, and the easiest way to accomplish that without doing massive damage to the economy is to deny the religious nature of the biggest money maker of the year, Christmas.
What’s The Solution?
Personally, I’d like to see all religious holidays observed by followers of the religion to which they apply, but none of them officially recognized by the various branches of government. If we’re going to have separation of church and state, let’s have it. The US constitution does address freedom of religious expression, even if it doesn’t guarantee freedom from religion. How much more productive could our government be if it didn’t have to be closed for all our holidays?
And as for the people who don’t follow any religion, why should they be forced to observe Holy Days they don’t believe in? Even more productivity could be realized if they just went to work like it was any other day. To be non-discriminatory, we could create an un-holiday for them, sort of like the un-birthday in Alice in Wonderland.
I’d also like for Christians everywhere to give the winter and spring solstices back to the pagans and celebrate the Lord’s birth and His resurrection on the actual anniversary of their occurrence. That would go a long way toward restoring the original meaning to the two most important events in human history. We could stop spending money we don’t have to give meaningless gifts to people we don’t even like at Christmas time, and we could stop teaching our kids pagan fertility rites instead of the wonder of the Lord’s resurrection at Easter.
I realize I sound a little like Andy Rooney here, but before you start calling me a spoil sport, think about it. The Lord’s birth and His resurrection are cause for extraordinary celebration on the part of all who understand their significance to humankind. And if the focus of our celebration was on that significance instead of some meaningless pagan ritual, wouldn’t we all approach our Holy Days with a lot more reverence and celebrate them with a lot more gratitude? And wouldn’t the non-believers who know us be a lot more curious as to why we’re so grateful? And wouldn’t that lead to more conversations about our eternal destiny, and theirs? Certainly some of them would be saved because of this, and wouldn’t the Lord be blessed by all of that? Tell me this doesn’t make sense.
Here’s Another Good Reason
Many Christians are increasingly offended by the commercial excesses of Christmas, and if all of its original purpose is just about lost anyway, what’s the point in continuing it? Best to abandon it altogether and have a real Happy Birthday Jesus celebration in the early fall when He was actually born. And as for Easter, let’s call it by its real name, Resurrection Morning, and celebrate it on the Sunday morning after Passover when He actually rose from the grave.
Researching the origin of the two most important Holy Days in Christianity, you’ll find that right from the beginning the motivation had more to do with profit than piety. There were already pagan festivals in place on these dates that involved celebrating, exchanging of gifts and riotous public banquets, all of which generated lots of income for merchants. Superimposing Christian customs upon these pagan festivals was an accommodation to commercial interests, pure and simple. It allowed them to keep selling stuff to their customers as in the past, just under a different banner. Isn’t it about time we abandon this offense to our Lord, and begin paying Him the homage due Him as our Savior and Redeemer?
The anti-Christians have just about succeeded in stripping away every last vestige of religious meaning from these holidays, and the Lord permits it because they’ve been counterfeit right from the beginning. Let’s let them have their way, and follow the example of our Christian ancestors who for 400 years or so refused to participate in what they knew were really pagan celebrations re-packaged as Christian Holy Days. They were no more fooled by this than the Lord is.
Over the years there have been several attempts to steer us back toward the original purpose of the holidays without abandoning them altogether. As a kid I remember an effort to “put Christ back into Christmas.” And a few years ago a clever marketing strategy reminded us that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Neither of these attempts was successful. It’s time for something more dramatic, like starting over from scratch.
Where Do We Start?
Lately, people have been asking me what we can do to prepare for our soon coming departure. Since some economic forecasters are saying that our economy will be a long time recovering, if it ever does, I think Christians could make a great start by changing the way we look at our two most significant holy days. I’m not naive enough to think this could all happen overnight, and perhaps we’ll never be completely successful. But if we each commit to a small start, and begin talking to others of a like mind, who knows how soon we could change things for the better.
One thing we could do is start celebrating the Lord’s birthday on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, usually mid to late September. That’s the most likely time of His birth, when the God of the Universe became a man and dwelt among us. We could start reading the “Christmas Story” then, and exchange gifts within our family and circle of friends that sincerely express our joy that our Savior came into the world on that day. Instead of telling our little ones that their gifts came from an imaginary person called Santa Claus, we could tell them they came because of a real person named Jesus. Then we could tell them who Jesus is, and why we’re so happy to know Him. We could explain to anyone who’ll listen what we’re doing and why.
As for Easter, remember the word comes from Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility. The rabbit and colored eggs became part of the celebration because they’re symbols of fertility. Jesus rose from the grave on the Sunday morning after Passover. It’s the Jewish Feast of Firstfruits, and it’s the day He became our Redeemer, having conquered death to prove that all our sins had been forgiven, making it possible for us to conquer death as well. That’s why He’s called the Firstfruits of those who’ve fallen asleep (died) (1 Cor. 15:20). Let’s get the pagan stuff out of our celebration of His great victory as well.
What greater cause for celebration could you imagine than these? What better ways of thanking the Lord than by honoring Him on the days when the two greatest expressions of His love actually happened? What better way to prepare our hearts for the face-to-face meeting that’s almost upon us? Selah 12-21-13