Saturday, December 3, 2011

Merry Christmas: The Great Debate

2000+ years ago Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day...or so the song goes. The reality is slightly different. Yes, Jesus was born, but on Christmas Day? That's a little lot less likely. That there was a man named Jesus born in Bethlehem, who then lived in Nazareth, and travelled around Galilee healing people and pissing off the ruling class is undisputed. Why we celebrate his birth on Christmas Day is an interesting story.

Christianity wasn't always a predominant religion--with approximately 2 billion adherents worldwide, I think it is safe to call it predominant. However, initially it was a band of 12 ruffians (well, maybe Matthew wasn't a ruffian...but Peter, James and John...definitely unrefined, red-necks). How they were able to spread Jesus' teachings in their lifetime and then have that teaching carry on so that 400 years later it became the state religion of Rome is beyond the scope of this post...however, it was at about that time that "Christmas" started.

As Christianity grew, it was brushing up against paganism and many folks were still celebrating some of the old pagan holidays. Old habits die hard, so a move was made to have a "Christian" celebration fall at the same time as an old pagan party so that rather than give up a party, the purpose would shift. (Click here for a great discussion on the history of Christmas--I don't agree with everything...but it is in depth.)

And, really, isn't that sort of what's happened in culture today?  For Christians, since about 400AD, there originally had been a focus on the actual event of Jesus' birth. However, as our society has become increasingly secularized, the meaning of the celebration has changed. For some, Christmas is about family. For some, it's about gifts. For business, it's about profit.

Some Christians think that we should fight back and demand that people say, "Merry Christmas" and not water down our holiday with "Happy Holidays." Historically, it is interesting that the predominant cultural norm has always won the day. The December holiday originally was a pagan celebration of nature/sun/solstice. As Christianity became dominant the pagan holiday was co-opted and given a new meaning. Now that commercialism is the predominant force (religion?) of our culture, gifts are taking precedence.

Fighting over a greeting isn't going to win the culture war. Christians should remember that the magic of Christmas is that the King of Kings was born in a manger demanding nothing and giving everything. Christians should be counter-cultural and should be known not for what we are against, but for the love that we show to others...whether they say, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays."

And, for those that wish folks wouldn't say "Merry Christmas," my suggestion is that, if someone does greet you that way, you simply wish them a "Happy Boxing Day." Or, simply say "thank you" for their wish that you would have a special day, celebrated however you choose to celebrate that particular day.

This post is now up for discussion.


  1. I have to fight every year to remind my family and friends, who continuously stress over shopping and money, what Christmas is really about. I don't force my religion or beliefs on anyone but I do have strong views. I would never get offended by someone wishing me a merry "whatever" and, instead, thank them and wish them a wonderful day too.

    Great post... and Merry Christmas.


  2. Merry Christmas to you too Darren. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  3. I honestly think people need a reality check if they object to the term "Merry Christmas". In all honesty, it's not like the term really carries any significant spiritual weight with most people these days anyways; it's more of an expression than anything.

    And besides, North America in general is basically accepted to be a "Christian nation" by the general populace, so it should be understood that obviously, the Christian holiday is going to be the one that most people see around them.

    Move to Israel, I imagine Christmas is a much less popular thing.

    My personal recommendation to people who think it's rude, is that they should just relax. Otherwise, if it's your idea that it's your right to object to any religious holiday people choose to celebrate, then you should expect people to give as much fervor in objecting to your choice NOT to celebrate it... and that, really, doesn't make a lot of sense.

    After all, it's not like people are forcing you to celebrate it. I don't celebrate Halloween, I think it's one of the most inane things in our calendar. Yet I find no need to go to people and chastise them for saying "Happy Halloween" to me.

  4. Thanks for jumping in Akron. Like you, I have a feeling that most folks have no issue with "Merry Christmas" which then makes me wonder why some folks are so militant in insisting that everyone say "Merry Christmas" and "take back our holiday"? Seems to me the message of Christmas is "peace on earth, good will go all." Peace--not fighting. Good will--regardless if you have Santa in your celebration or not.