For many people across the world, Christmas is the most loved holiday of the year. When you walk into a mall you can hear the bliss of holiday music and you can see the trees and lights. Many places have Santa sitting on a thrown of red, surrounded by elves, and each Santa ready for children to joyfully tell them what they want for Christmas. Churches have nativity scenes, Starbucks has red cups, and ABC plays their 25 days of Christmas movies. It could be one of the most wonderful times of the year, but what about those who don’t celebrate Christmas? What about those who don’t follow the Christian faith? Is Christmas even Christian?
Let us begin by looking at the bible at the story of Jesus’s birth. If you read Matthew chapters 1-2 and Luke chapters 1-2, you will find this story, and also the story of Jesus’s cousin: John the Baptist. Mary and Elizabeth are pregnant and the time of Jesus’s birth is approaching. John is born, and Jesus follows shortly after. There was a census declared by Caesar, so according to the bible, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Kind Herod hears the news that the King of the Jews is being born just as the Jewish prophets had spoken about. He then declares that every child two and under should be slaughtered. An angel appears to Jesus’s father in a dream and so the two escaped to Egypt as refugees until the time that Herod died.
Now that we have an idea of the biblical account, lets put ourselves in the shoes of people in different historical time frames. As you’re imagining the scenarios below, take everything given here with an open mind. Indulge yourself as a challenge to what you know and what you believe.
Let’s go back in time to about 4 or 6 B.C. During this time, Jerusalem is a Roman city, the Maccabean war has already happened, and a Nazarene child is born. You read that right. Jesus wasn’t actually born between the AD and BC time frame. Think about it: it is highly illogical to cut out 30+ years of recorded history to fit a man’s life into what would be undocumented time. A.D. is actually short for “Anno Domini”, which means “In the years of the Lord”. It’s hard to really track the time of Jesus’s birth because Jews kept no birth records. It’s easier to track the death of Jesus because Romans kept logs of men and woman who broke law, had trials and were put to death. Most scholars believe Jesus died between 30 AD and 32 AD.
Time plays an important part in understanding the “Christmas” story. It’s important to deconstruct the ideas presented in the biblical account of Jesus’s birth and it’s crucial that we find historical context outside of the story. What do we find when we study history? The Bible has a lot of plot holes, but it’s overall a compelling production. The bible is a narrative of humanity’s struggle to find and understand God. Did Herod really order a mass genocide? History tells us no. Was Mary a virgin? Scientifically, it’s impossible. Who cares if she was or wasn’t? It doesn’t change anything. Was the birth of Jesus divine? If you say it is, then sure. To some, Jesus is just a man. To others, Jesus is God. Both people can be right. None of that really matters. What matters is what we can learn from the story of Jesus and how that changes our lives.
Let’s fast forward. It’s 336 AD. A lot has changed in the world, but one thing is new. There’s a new holiday being celebrated by Christians. It’s called “Christmas” or “Christ’s-Mass”. It feels familiar to the current pagan holidays surrounding winter. In fact, that’s why we have it. In the 300’s, Christmas was designed to make pagans comfortable with worshipping Jesus. The Catholic Church had already adopted so many Pagan ideas to become more appealing to the world, but the holiday that Pope Sylvester and Pope Julius pushed was one that would change the world forever. Christmas is only Christian by the force of the Pope. The original holiday had nothing to do with Jesus’s birth. Many scholars don’t even believe that Jesus was born in December. They suggest that Jesus was born early in the year, but as suggested earlier, there are no official documents on his birth. It makes it hard that there’s no documentation of the great genocide that Herod declared in the Bible. It’s even harder because Herod died years after the birth of Jesus.
Is Christmas Christian? Yes and no. Evangelizing isn’t about forcing your beliefs on others, and that seems to be the way our idea of Christmas has come about. Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and various pagan holidays surround the month of December. The realization of Christmas throughout history suggests that there is no such thing as a war of Christmas. Christ was never in Christmas. It was a power struggle for the Catholic patriarchy. I look forward to a time where we can put the Christmas debate aside and celebrate unity in the month of December. Next year, my wife and I will be celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. We will have a pagan tree decorated with lights and ornaments in our home, sing of Christ incarnate, and spend the month of December celebrating what God has done for the Jews during the oppression of the Romans.
As we celebrate this wonderful time of the year, let’s not forget our neighbors. Let’s not forget the God who is love. The holiday season has been drowned out by the fast-paced capitalism. The meaning of Christmas is much bigger than this. Christmas is about spending time loving each other. Instead of feeding our desires, let’s strip it all away, be inclusive, love endlessly, and have Happy Holidays.