Every year, as soon as the stores begin to display Christmas themed products, some people begin to whine about how Christmas has been commercialized. Why, they seem to be asking, can’t we just celebrate the birth of Jesus without all the ‘pagan nonsense’?
Like C. S. Lewis I used to think that the way we celebrate the birth of our Savior was pagan and wrong. If we search history, we can, I think, find some answers. In addition, I think we will also find some help from Holy Scripture. But I suspect, if you are one to moan and groan about how we’ve ‘destroyed Christmas’ then you won’t like what I’m about to tell you. Because, you see, I think the way we celebrate Christmas is God’s plan! Like many, I used to think we had let our sinful natures destroy this beautiful Holy Day. Now, I think otherwise.
My first encounter with this argument occurred many years ago when there was a huge outcry about people using “Xmas” or “X-Mass” instead of “Christmas”. I was amused to learn that the “X” was a traditional Christian way of writing “Christ”. That’s because the ‘X’ stands for the Cross. So, “X-mas” means more than just ‘Christmas’, it incorporates the concept of the Cross. This gave me much amusement, because I love to burst the balloons of people who issue much ‘hot air’ concerning topics of which they know very little. (I think Jesus did the same thing…if so, then He is a good role model…I just hope I’m not spouting ‘hot air’ when I know very little!)
Therefore, I was very interested to read somewhere about how the Reformation Protestants inadvertently set up the commercialization of X-mas. (I’m not sure where, because I did not record the reference.) It seemed to me that it was the descendants of the Reformation Protestants who were bellyaching about how Christmas was being destroyed by commercial enterprise. It would be fun, I thought, to pop their balloon. And, at the same time, I also thought I could propose a strategy to make Christmas a Christian holy day once again… But God popped my balloon!
The tale I read somewhere was that it was a longstanding tradition for Christians to exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day. Then, when the Reformation came along, the reformers tossed out all that they deemed ‘Catholic’. This included saints’ days. The Roman Church celebrated St. Nicholas on the 6th of December by exchanging gifts, among other traditional activities. With the tossing out of the saints’ days the celebration (and the exchange of gifts) on St. Nicholas’ Day was no longer permissible for the Protestants.
Imagine telling your 8 year old this, “Well, last year we were Catholic, but this year we are Presbyterian and we no longer do Catholic things.” Therefore, according to the tale I read, the Protestant leaders agreed to move the gift giving to Christmas Day. And then the merchants and the media took over. So we have all the commercialization associated with Christ instead of St. Nicholas. Oh, yeah, we still have St. Nicholas. Only we know him by his mispronounced name “Santa Claus” (‘Saint’ becomes ‘Sant’, the ‘Ni’ becomes an ‘a’ and ‘cholas’ becomes ‘claus’.). And he got moved from Asia Minor to the North Pole…
Well, I’ve been doing some research. It is confusing. No one actually knows why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on 25th of December. One reference will claim that it has something to do with Saturnalia. Another reference seems to think that it was a tradition in a few churches back in the first or second century AD. What’s important is that we do have some date, accurate or not, for Jesus’ birth.
As for Santa Claus, well, that seems to have been a result of New Yorkers trying to promote their city in the early 1800’s. They revived a Dutch tradition about St. Nicholas. That’s one story, anyway. Has to do with the Knickerbockers and even Washington Irving. But I didn’t record that because I wasn’t engaged in formal research. I just read it somewhere and vaguely remember it. What is important is that, over the centuries, many Christians began to exchange gifts on Jesus’ birthday and somehow St. Nicholas was incorporated in the festivities.
Perhaps, with some diligent research, combined with accurate reference notes, I could make a definitive statement. But I think I’ll look to the Bible for the answer. And I find it in Philippians, chapter one. St. Paul is discussing how some are preaching the Gospel in an attempt to make things more difficult for him. His response to this is that he is happy for Christ to be preached.
Now, suppose that we did exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day? The commercialization of that day would really promote ‘Santa Claus’ and there would be little cultural recognition of Christmas. It would probably be a Christian Holy Day on par with Pentecost. As a culture, we would celebrate “Santa Claus Day” and not “Christmas”. No one could say, “The reason for the season” and mean Jesus. No one would put on fancy light displays with a Nativity Scene and a Santa Claus with reindeer. It would be the Santa Claus, the reindeer, maybe Frosty the Snowman, and the “Grinch”–only he would have kidnapped Santa or Rudolph. We would sing about a ‘White Santa Day’. No manger, no shepherds, no Magi, no Christmas.
I think God wanted us to have Scrooge and the Grinch. He wanted us to have Clement Moore’s poem and Rudolph. He wanted us to have Charlie Brown’s tree and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. They help to spread the Joy. Because it will always be called “Christmas” and the story of God becoming one of us will always be told. I think St. Paul was right in his assessment. So, as a Christian I am grateful to any and all who assisted in making Christmas what it is today. I think it is proof that God really and truly does know what He is doing.
Looks like we have a choice: we can be modern-day Pharisees and denounce people for not obeying our laws…or…we can decorate a tree and hang up colored lights and wrap presents and do our very best to celebrate the birth of our Savior.
Because it is not in denouncing the sins of others that we proclaim Christ; it is the way we live our lives as a reflection of His Love.
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