Do Christians actually want people to celebrate Christmas?

The Church of England is making a special effort to promote the Christian message of Christmas this year, with a bizarre campaign to live-tweet their Christmas sermons. It’s not clear what this is meant to achieve, although it appears that evangelism is a part of it.

The significance of the occasion is being asserted (or possibly assumed) with the cumbersome hashtag #ChristmasStartsWithChrist. Whether or not this is the intention, it’s reminiscent of claims that “Jesus is the reason for the season” or some such, looking like the latest salvo in the ongoing battle to plant a cross in the middle of a significant date and claim it for the church. Apparently, the day gets its name from Jesus, so it’s a solely Christian occasion.

This is a dangerous line of argument for the church to adopt, as Sunday starts with Sun, from which the day gets its name. So by the same reasoning, the church should recognise that Sundays are pagan occasions and stop imposing their own weekly celebrations on someone else’s day.

We can hopefully all agree at this point that the origins of the name commonly used to indicate any given day or occasion don’t actually mean anything, and that arguments on that basis are facile at best. So how else should we determine the true significance of an occasion?

We shouldn’t – simple as that.

Happy birthday to you

If someone finds significance in a certain meaning of a festival, who am I to tell them that they shouldn’t? Winter solstice, Saturnalia and Yule were all celebrated long before Christmas, but even if they weren’t, I don’t have the right to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be celebrating. If someone wants to mark the 25th December by celebrating the birth of Humphrey Bogart, why shouldn’t they?

It’s particularly ironic that Christians will complain if people are celebrating Christmas in a way they don’t like, but also (for example) fight to have Christmas explicitly associated with the worship of Mammon by a retailer which has been repeatedly criticised for its dodgy ethics. Maybe that makes sense to the church, but it doesn’t to me.

If you’re going to get upset at people celebrating Christmas without worshipping Jesus, where’s the righteous anger at all the corporate giants turning a holy day into a profiteering exercise? Apart from the obvious inconsistency, Jesus wasn’t exactly in favour of that sort of thing.

There’s a choice to be made – a celebration can either be a big cultural occasion, or it can be ideologically and theologically pure. But unless you live in a theocracy, it can’t be both, and as soon as the celebration has any sort of secular identity, the church loses control over its observance.

So what do you want, guys? Do you want everyone to join in your celebrations whatever their reasons, or do you want to keep it holy, separate and special, just for religious purposes? Because you might be able to make a decent case for one or the other, but arguing for both is just weird and frankly, it makes you look rather confused.

Photo by classic film scans, used under Creative Commons Generic Attribution License 2.0

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

4 responses to “Do Christians actually want people to celebrate Christmas?”

  1. unklee says :

    I tend to agree that some christian “advertising” seems to be trying to make people feel guilty, and I think that is wrong, silly and counter-rpoductive. But I think it may be a bit of a jump from “#ChristmasStartsWithChrist.” to “Christians will complain if people are celebrating Christmas in a way they don’t like” and “If you’re going to get upset at people celebrating Christmas without worshipping Jesus”.

    The reality is that Christmas is both a secular and a christian (and perhaps even a Jewish) festival at the same time. We are all bombarded with the secular side every time we go to the shops or watch the TV, so I guess we can all cope with the christians doing their own very mild advertising too, don’t you think?

    And a merry (secular) Christmas to you!

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Are we really bombarded with the secular at all times? If we were, that would be one thing. But my whole point is that Christians complain if the wider occasion is divorced from the name they give it. If the TV’s so secular and neutral, why all the fuss if anyone dares to put on a “secular” TV programme without using the word “Christmas”, or even worse, if they say “Happy Holidays”?

      I was in a shop today, talking to a woman working there. She doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and she certainly doesn’t think the music and TV that’s on all the time is just a civil, secular event. Christians are welcome to advertise all they like, but as I said, they can’t simultaneously claim the right to define how it should be celebrated and also to impose that label on secular events.

  2. 2012 and all that says :

    This is a dangerous line of argument for the church to adopt, as Sunday starts with Sun, from which the day gets its name. So by the same reasoning, the church should recognise that Sundays are pagan occasions and stop imposing their own weekly celebrations on someone else’s day.

    Absolutely spot on! A Merry Christmas to you, however you choose to mark it.

  3. Chris says :

    Agreed! One of my pet hates is talk of the ‘true meaning of Christmas’. For me it’s friends, family and lots of drink. For my fiancée, it’s the first Christmas without her mother. For a good friend, it’s Christmas on his own because he refuses to speak to his mum because she had an affair. Christianity does not dominate any more and must recognise this. I like singing carols, I like nativity scenes, and I may even attend church… But because it is part of my personal winter festival called ‘christmas’ and not for religious reasons…

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