It seems every year at the end of December, I read or hear a reference to the “true meaning of Christmas.” This year, I saw a sign in front of a store that said something like,

“Let’s not forget the true meaning of Christmas…the birth of Santa.”

I suspect they were poking fun and trying to get people’s attention about the holiday. Of course, Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Jesus. Right? Remember the three wise men?

I am sure you have heard this one: Jesus is the reason for the season. True. But sometimes I feel that this time of the year is not really about a holiday, but about the clash of secular and religious cultures. Religious people commonly say, “Merry Christmas.” Non-Christians tend to say, “Happy Holidays.” Christians play music about Jesus. Non-religious folks play music about Santa, jingle bells and winter wonderlands.

There is no question that Christmas had origins in religion. And yet, now it seems that everyone wants to jump in and make it their holiday. But why?

And I’ve also been wondering if Protestant Christians really need to continue recognizing it as a religious holy day?

Well, let’s spend a few minutes reflecting.

Christmas comes from “Christ Mass”

Each Sunday, the Roman Catholics have a church service, which is called Mass. In addition, some special Mass days are on a specific date, not just on Sundays. The Christ Mass is one of those special Mass services on December 25 each year. Sometimes the 25th also falls on a Sunday, but regardless, they celebrate a Mass. It’s the one service each year when the Catholic Church takes time to remember the birth of Jesus. That’s it. That’s all Christmas is. Or was.

Interestingly, the Protestants have almost universally adopted this tradition from the Catholic Church (along with the traditions of the Canon {Bible}, the Trinity, worship on Sunday, and Easter; plus 3 of the 7 sacraments: matrimony, baptism and communion). And yet, Protestants also have special Sundays to pray for the persecuted church, to focus on missions, as well as a day for the unborn. Curiously, none of these later days have widespread appeal outside the church…at least in no way like Christmas does.

Science tells us that Jesus was probably born in September, so we likely can’t truly try to project our winter wonderland on the story of Christ. And snuggling up by the fire is only relevant in the Northern hemisphere, since of course in Australia, Christmas comes in the heat of summer.

George Barna (and others) have written how the Christmas date of the 25th was just applied by the Catholic Church, to give Christians something to celebrate instead of the winter solstice holiday. He goes to great lengths to explain what he considers the pagan heritage of Christmas. That all probably happened, just like he says. But once it became official in the Catholic Church…well, let’s just say it’s been a designated Mass day for centuries.

So, to summarize, one meaning of Christmas is the special Mass in the Catholic Church.

But why then does it seem that everyone celebrates Christmas, even when only such a small percentage are Catholics?

Well, the first of all, the Catholic Church is everywhere and has historically taken their special Mass services with them. And yet today, most people who celebrate Christmas do not attend Catholic Mass. So how do the rest celebrate? Why, by giving gifts to each other. And so, for most of the world, Christmas is reduced to merely a day to give gifts. And why does everyone do it? Tradition. (which for me is almost always a bad word)

St. Nick

Of course, for True Christians who also recognize the holiday, they usually want to retain the idea of the birth of Jesus. They are commonly known to spiritualize this day by saying God gave Jesus as a gift to the human race. But in truth, the actual story of gift giving has nothing historical to do with Jesus. The practice comes from the real St. Nicholas, who was known to give gifts of food to needy children on cold winter days. (“Santa” means “saint,” so “Santa Claus” is a reference to St. Nicholas.) Did he give fruit and small gifts ONLY on the day of the Christ Mass? Very likely not. Because way back then, no one gave gifts on Christmas. (It would be just as odd as if today you started exchanging gifts on Missions Sunday.)

Gift giving as we know it now is almost completely a modern-day invention of merchants. It’s basically an effort to get people to spend money. Even 100 years ago people didn’t buy and exchange presents. Rather, Christmas in times past was more about a milestone Mass on the calendar. Just as there was the special Mass for St. Michael…or what was known as Michaelmas on September 29.

Anyway, what started as a special Catholic Mass on December 25, has morphed into a secular tradition of buying and exchanging gifts with friends and family.

For me, I would like to have nothing to do with either traditional practice. First of all, I am no longer Roman Catholic, so I obviously do not celebrate Mass. And I don’t really need a special church service to remember the birth of Jesus. Rather, I can read about that story on any day of the year. And secondly, I don’t relish spending money to buy a bunch of stuff when most people I know do not need more stuff. The gifts part is now just the secular side of it, and I don’t want to be secular. I mean, I love to give. But I resent having to give store-bought gifts at a certain time, just because of the tradition. Plus, when I buy and give at Christmas, I feel that I re-affirm the secular holiday that has replaced the simple act of remembering the birth of Jesus.

As to going to church with family, that’s something that can be done any Sunday. For people with distant relatives who want to gather at Christmas, I have no qualms with that custom for those who desire it.

On another note, as a Protestant, I do not want to get into a culture war to try to wrestle Christmas back to its more religious heritage. I will let the Catholics try to do that. Even so, that seems a losing battle.

December 25 has always been a Catholic thing anyway…so not my thing. And amazingly, nowadays, many Protestant churches do not even have a service on Christmas day. For whatever reason, in many instances, the service has been moved to Christmas Eve. Maybe they are trying to distinguish from the Catholic Christ Mass, or maybe they are realizing that it is not much of a Protestant “holy day” at all.

I believe that the holiday is all vastly overrated. In fact, I am giving up giving gifts at Christmas. If I want to attend a Protestant service on December 24, fine. However, if I instead want to skip the holiday altogether, I have no remorse whatsoever.

If my options are to either have a mostly Catholic Christmas, or mostly secular Christmas, I will be thoroughly content to ignore it entirely.

Thankfully, if I shun Christmas, I know that God is in no way slighted. And its not like Jesus is waiting for me to show up to church so that he may blow out his birthday candles.

No, the only ones who might be disappointed are the retailers, who might earn a bit less this year. And to them I say Bah Humbug.

© 2019, Alignment Life

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