Faith

Things I wish Christians would stop saying: “There’s a war on Christmas”

The Bible tells the story of Jesus’s birth twice: once in Matthew, once in Luke. But in neither telling, nor anywhere else in the New Testament, are we told to celebrate the event.

It is our choice to do this. God does not command it.

What's the Reason for the Season?The closest the New Testament comes to telling us to celebrate anything is in Luke 22, when Jesus takes the last supper. After sharing the bread and wine with his disciples, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The original Greek carries a connotation of repetition: keep doing this. Most churches interpret this to mean that we should do it, too. I belong to a church that does it weekly. Some churches do it monthly or quarterly. I know of one that observes it annually. It has many names: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Evening Meal, and simply communion.

Meanwhile, several Christian groups don’t celebrate Christmas. The United Church of God doesn’t. Neither do Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh-Day Adventists. And neither do conservative Churches of Christ, a church to which I once belonged. There are probably others. These churches believe that God doesn’t authorize this celebration, and that we should celebrate and worship him only as he authorizes through his scripture.

I used to agree with them. But over time I’ve come to see that their view on authority is too restrictive. Imaine your five-year-old child drawing you a picture, perhaps one of your family, and giving it to you with a smile — and you rejecting it, because you didn’t authorize it. How unloving. I believe God welcomes and smiles upon our good devotions to him, even when he has not explicitly called for them.

However, those churches contend, correctly I might add, that December 25th was chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth because nonbelievers already celebrated various winter festivals at about that time. It’s not like anybody knew Jesus’s exact birthdate anyway, and they felt sure it would be easier to convert the nonbelievers if the church had a celebration then, too.

Part of the rationale some churches have for not celebrating Christmas is avoiding any connection with those pagan celebrations. I respect their choice, but believe that those origins are so obscure and remote today that they no longer matter. We have infused this season of celebration with new meaning.

But that meaning has been strong only relatively recently. Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas at all for the first few hundred years of the church. When they did start celebrating Christmas, it wasn’t yet the central celebration is has become today. At certain times in history, religious leaders even forbade celebrating Christmas to avoid excessive revelry.

In truth, the traditions Christians follow in celebrating Christmas are only a couple centuries old, and have only become widespread in the last hundred years or so, mostly since the great prosperity that followed World War II’s end.

And so it galls me when I hear Christians speak of there being a war on Christmas, or insist upon greetings of Merry Christmas, or otherwise decry a perceived weakening of Christmas as a central national religious holiday. Christmas is a devotion and celebration of our own creation. We should celebrate it if we want — but we should not force it on anyone who doesn’t want it.

Show people love instead, the kind God gives you despite your sin.


“Things I wish Christians would stop saying” is an occasional series. Read the other entries here, here, here, and here.

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22 thoughts on “Things I wish Christians would stop saying: “There’s a war on Christmas”

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I’ve always thought that there’s a war on Saturnalia BY Christians!

    http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm

    I don’t really believe in organized religion, but I believe in a possible supreme being. What amazes me, is how the fundamentalist Christian right-wing in the United States considers Christmas tradition, and many more aspects of their faith to be “set-in-stone” as absolute truth; when even a minor interest in history on a college level shows you how almost everything was created from a mash-up of pagan ritual, celebrations that came before, and conniving by self appointed experts at the dawn of these organized religions to set rules in place that benefited the powers that be.

    When we all die, I think what we’re going to find out is that if their IS a supreme being, the “true believers” that were jerks every other day than Sunday, and used their believes to marginalize others, are going to fare rather poorly in the afterlife; while the religious clueless and “non-believers” that tried to live moral and ethical lives, and treat other with as much grace as possible, might just fare a lot better…

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    • I’m decrying precisely that: the absolute-truthism of Christmas tradition by some Christians. We Christians need to get over ourselves, honor God as we feel led to, but let the rest of the world do what it wants.

      I agree with you that many people who call themselves Christians will be surprised when they die.

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  2. A thought provoking piece. I think that there is a war on Christmas, but it’s a war that has been waged from the very beginning, when Herod tried to find that troublemaking child so as to kill him.
    I also think there is another war, which is about what Christmas is or is not. Is it a Christian notion to mark the birth of a savior? Or is it a great big monthlong string of caloric excess, horrific overspending and drunken parties? If not a real war, I see some real tension between two views of what the holiday is.
    That said, I agree with your main point. It’s a big country we inhabit, and not as traditionally Christian as it was in past generations, when those who were not part of the celebrations were expected to shut up and go along. It is a joyful season for us Christians, and we should be spreading that joy instead of bitching.
    It is also interesting to me listening to people who come from backgrounds such as yours. I believe there to be more evidence of Christ’s December 25th birth than many acknowledge, though much of it is more indirect owing to the underground nature of early Christianity due to Roman persecution. But it is beyond dispute that Easter was a bigger deal until relatively recently.

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    • So to the extent there’s a war, it’s against Christ himself, not his birth or any celebration of it. And I bristle at calling it a war. Certainly it is on a spiritual scale, in the heavenlies, but down here on earth it’s just not, and we all need to remove this phraseology from our vocabularies. It just gins up needless controversy. Several New Testament verses warn us against that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that the whole “war on Christmas” thing needs to go away. Though I think that Christianity itself is under attack these days, we must remember that it has (mostly) ever been so.
        And if my comment seemed more antagonistic than supportive of your point (which was not intended) I chalk it up to not enough coffee.)

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  3. Well put. I do believe that there is a certain segment of Christians who need to feel that they are being persecuted for their faith. Unfortunately, I think they are immune to any rational discussion of the subject.

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  4. loneprimateinto says:

    I think you’re right on every count, Jim. I hadn’t fully realized just how modern the centrality of Christmas to the year actually was. If anything, people should be happy it’s become the fixture it is, instead of worrying about it disappearing.

    I tend to say “Happy Holidays” to people I don’t know, because there just are so many (both people and holidays!) at this time of year and it’s just an inclusive way of being seasonably social. “Merry Christmas” is meant to be implicit in that, if the person I’m speaking to is Christian (or like me, culturally Christian).

    I guess even I feel kind of ambivalent about the elimination of Christmas from official public life. On the one hand, when I was a kid in the 70s, every elementary school had its big Christmas pageant for the parents, and we’d all practice for weeks and we’d have this big, shared production. I don’t think participation was compulsory even then but it’s hard to imagine any kid stepping aside and ostracizing himself, and I think a lot of parents with different convictions went along with it uneasily not to make waves. I went to school with kids who were Hindu and Jewish who were kind of glommed on, and I guess the point in easing out of that so no one’s put in that position. Like you’ve said, it shouldn’t be insisted upon anyone. I’m glad society has reached the point where it isn’t.

    All that said, I think I’m on solid ground if I wish you and your boys a Merry Christmas, Jim. And the rest of gang here at DTR. :)

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    • I wonder how much of this comes from a feeling that we’ve lost being a “Christian nation,” a time from perhaps 50-60 years ago where the church and its trappings were more central in society. Those days are over. I say good riddance; Christianity works best I think when its counterculture. But some Christians are afraid of that and want to go back to time before when things made more sense to them.

      Merry Christmas to you, too, LP!

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  5. Andrew Dreves says:

    Nice post as always Jim. You are an excellent writer. I recently read your post from last year on Mrs Cole’s bell ornaments (I still have mine) Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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  6. Christopher Smith says:

    Interesting post Jim. all I know is that I believe in Father Christmas and love going to midnight mass by candle light and the celebration should be of love and goodwill to our fellow human beings no matter what religion and a time for sharing.
    a Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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  7. Hi Jim. I am not a Christian, but I have a fundamental problem with non-Christians celebrating Christmas in the context of Christian faith. My feeling on the matter is that a Christian celebration (whatever view some might have of Xmas itself as Christian event) should only be observed by practicing Christians. All else is hypocrisy I think. My views ont he matter reflect largely the views of the Reformation in Europe of a back to basics approach. Here is Australia, our education system is made up of public state run schools, and private, usually Christian denomination schools. Both draw subsidies from the Government, but my view is that private schools should be entirely self funded and only for people of that denomination. Of corse, private schools here, apart from drawing heavily on the public purse, also allow non Christians to enrol in the school. I think it’s just plain wrong and hypocritical. The publis state run system here should be the most heavily publicly funded entity and heavily resourced. It should be the model system. I have no problem with private religious schools per se, but they should be standing on their own. Instead, we now have a flawed view here where rich private schools (funded by the Government AND wealthy parents) have the best resources and nurture the public view that they are superior to public schools. I think that is just backwards.

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    • I can see that you really prefer religious and secular to be segregated. It’s an interesting take. It does sound unbalanced an unfair that Australian religious-based schools get public money that lets them have better resources than straight up public schools.

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      • I think that in a multi-cultural society like Australia, it makes complete sense to have a strong line between religious and secular. There are often cries about Australia being a Christian country by those who don’t want immigrants to enter the borders or to practice a religion they don’t understand. A Government’s job, in my view, is to administrate, provide and maintain needed social infrastructure, collect and administer taxes fairly, and act as a beacon of good behaviour (idealistic I know). People are entitled to believe in and practice any religion, but to be as even handed and as consistent as possible, I don’t think it should have any role in Government policy. Governments administer public education and provide a state owned environment (essentially publicly owned since our taxes pay for it), where children can be educated. If a private school wants to setup outside of that system, more power to them, but they should live or die on the vine through their own means. If there’s a Lutheran school down the road that struggles to enrol Lutheran students because Lutheranism just isn’t practiced a whole lot anymore, then why should they be receiving extra funding? Is that not an excessive waste?

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        • Your thinking seems logical. I don’t think private church-related schools here get public funding, but I do know that there’s a push toward “school vouchers” through which families can get money to go to the school of their choice, whether public or private. That’s causing quite some dissention.

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