What Christmas Means To Us

Susan Page
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Wednesday - December 24, 2008
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Every year Christmas comes under attack and this year is no different.

Atheists once again drag out their complaints about “church and state separation.” The politically correct drag out their “we can’t hurt anyone’s religious or nonreligious feelings, so the season mustn’t be exclusive to the celebration of the birth of Christ” arguments. Literalists put forth the notion that the holiday evolved from ancient pagan rituals, Saturnalia and Sol Invictus, idolizing the Sun. Some Christians reject the Christmas celebration, believing it includes the worship of idols like trees and gifts, which God forbids in the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 19 of the Holy Scripture. And others hate the idea that the very word Christmas comes from the Catholic “Christ mass” or Christ’s death.

Many Christians are dismayed that the whole season has become a crass commercial exploitation of the sacredness of Christ’s birth, as retailers have come to bank on Christmas sales to bolster their bottom line. And some complain that Christmas starts too early, even before Halloween.

To all this complaining, I say, so what? It is what it is. All of the above minutiae are just a distraction from what Christmas really means.

It matters little whether we believe that a decorated pine tree symbolizes the Holy Trinity triangle, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or has no place in the celebration of Christ’s birth because pagan Celts decorated trees during Winter Solstice.

Symbolism is to each his own. Certainly, long before Christ was born pagans worshiped the sun during winter solstice. During the Middle Ages, Catholic priests thought that by converging Biblical teachings and pagan traditions it might bring more people to embrace Christianity, therefore, the celebration of Jesus’ birth combined with other age-old practices became “Christ mass.” The priests used the pagan symbols of firelight as a reminder of Christ’s light, apple-adorned trees as symbols of the Garden of Eden, and gift-giving modeled the gifts of the wise men.

And so what? Traditions can, and often do, evolve for the good of mankind.

For example, today in the African monarchy of Swaziland, a longtime tradition called the Reed Festival occurs each August. During this eight-day celebration, thousands of young Swazi “virgin” girls wear traditional garb (tiny beaded skirts covering little ornate necklaces, and no tops) gather reeds for the Queen Mother’s house and ultimately dance for King Mswati III, who chooses one of them to marry. He has 13 wives to date. With Swaziland’s HIV/AIDS rate the world’s highest per capita, some Christian leaders in Swaziland envision a celebration during the Reed Festival to present a wholesome, safer alternative for young women, who are often raped or exploited during the festival, only advancing the AIDS crisis. Over time perhaps a new Christian holiday could eventually replace or live alongside the pagan one if, like the Middle Ages priests, the Swazi pastors’ hope becomes reality.

History doesn’t tell us if Christmas was celebrated in the early Christian church, but the Apostle Paul does talk about the celebration of certain days in the Book of Romans, Chapter 14:5-6,10: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each person be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God ... You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”

As a Christian - or non-Christian - we’re free to choose how we celebrate the season.

Ignoring objections, criticisms and commercialism, let’s simply dwell on what Christmas means to us personally as Paul the Apostle suggests.

This season, as always, I will greet with a “Merry Christmas!” And if you greet me with “Happy Holidays,” I say, thank you.

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