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.
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