Why I Love Christmas

Like many families of all faiths and none, we’ve enjoyed celebrating Christmas this year.

We celebrated with a buffet of cultural and religious elements.

We began with Advent, with the opening of an advent calendar, and the burning of candles.

We put up a tree, decorated with lights, baubles and sentimental ornaments. This year our tree had no specifically Christian symbols on it. It had a robin on top, a “Father Christmas” (the original British faery version) hanging from it, and various stars and snowflakes.

We celebrated Yule on the solstice, with the singing of Yuletide songs, lighting candles on a log (and eating a chocolate log). This year we moved home, so we no longer have a woodburning stove, so we couldn’t do what we did in previous years where we made and decorated a log and burned it.

We celebrated Christmas with carols and lessons at the two churches in our small village, and we went to church on Christmas morning and saw lots of friends.

We gave and received presents, enjoyed a feast, and shared drinks with our family.

Christian elements are important to our celebration of Christmas, but I’ve noticed more this year, just how many of the things I love to do at Christmas are part of a wider culture of midwinter celebration. Though I’ve been aware of the dividing line since my teenage years, this year I felt Christianity’s offering has sat in equal status alongside other sources.

Religions have always accumulated elements from the faiths around them. We call this process ‘syncretism’, and while it is condemned as heresy by many religions, its creeping tendrils are inexorable.

And this makes me wonder about post-religious culture. I can’t help but think it will be, and perhaps should be, as syncretistic. It should draw in religious symbols and traditions, it should free us to participate and enjoy them, without concern for what is says about our religious identity (just as most Christians erect a tree without undue angst).

I’d be very happy to live in a society that had shed its theism. But it would be a loss to lose the traditions and celebrations that were inspired by it. Just as it would be rotten to celebrate Christmas with all the pagan and non-religious elements removed.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Why I Love Christmas

  1. TWF

    I’d definitely agree. Even if they are known to be vestigial, there is something about myth that truly enjoyable; making special out of the mundane, being part of a group experience, taking time to appreciate different aspects of life, etc.

    Merry (belated) Christmas and Solstice!

  2. “I’ll take the gifts; I just don’t care for the giver.”

  3. Ian

    What do you mean, Mike?

  4. Is it really that perplexing?

  5. Ian

    No, but by unstating what you’re actually stating, it is difficult to reply to you without making a straw-man of what you’re saying. The post was about religious syncretism, which you’d surely agree is a feature of Christian celebrations of Christmas (and easter). So unless you can make your comment specifically about what I wrote, am I justified in reading your response as completely missing the point? Or should I try to read into it my best counter-argument to my own argument? Or should I read it as a facile attempt at an insult? I understood its meaning, I didn’t understand its purpose.

  6. Its purpose was to call attention to the God from whom good things come, and, in so doing, give you occasion to reconsider Him as a reality and a worthy recipient of appreciation for the good things we experience in life.

    I realize that you don’t think you are rejecting God, because you don’t think there is a God there. I’m merely reminding you that He is.

    I trust you won’t think that an inappropriate use of your comment facility.

  7. Ian

    “I trust you won’t think that an inappropriate use of your comment facility.” Not at all, you can say what you like here, Mike. You’ve more than earned a full listening to through our previous engagements. I only get annoyed at those kind of comments from folks who are drive-by-evangelists with no desire to engage.

    Thanks for the clarification. You comment says it all – you summarize my view perfectly.

    I have one genuine question though. I assure you I’m not setting up a comeback here: I’m just interested in where you’re at. Assuming you celebrated Christmas in some way (correct me there if not). Do you personally try to minimize the non-Christian symbolism in your celebrations? Do you try to add on Christian symbolism onto the things I’ve here identified as pagan (or do you reject that they were originally pagan)? Or do you just let the other stuff be, as long as you keep the main focus on Jesus?

  8. It’s a thoughtful question; I’ll try to give a succinct answer.

    Aside from the great joy of having our children and grandchildren with us, the Christmas season has hardly any impact on me. One of the ironies of your original post is that you engage in far more “Christian” Christmas rituals than I do. I don’t go to church at all, even at Christmas, because I don’t believe the Bible calls for it. Nor do I believe that the BIble calls for any celebration of Christ’s earthly birth. I’m always happy when Christ is acknowledged, so I certainly don’t object to people celebrating His birth, but I.do think it’s more pertinent to honor and obey Him as Lord than to merely sentimentalize His earthly infancy. And insisting that all of society celebrate December 25th as His birthday is clearly off the mark.

    My wife likes to decorate the house for Christmas. That includes, among many other things, a Christmas tree,and manger scene, so it’s typically syncretic American. We draw the line at Santa Claus, however, as we were unwilling to ever tell our children or grandchildren something was true that we knew to be untrue. We don’t rail against Santa; we just never talk about him. I am supportive of my wife’s decorating because I love her, but if I were to outlive her I cannot imagine that I would continue any of it.

    For me, the Bible testifies to God having come to earth to live as one of us, setting for us an example as to how we should live in this difficult world of beauty and temptation. While you seek a post-religious world, I seek a post-ecclesiastical one where the ever-present reality of a living and loving God is continually a part of our thinking – independent of what seasonal celebrations might be coming or going for this part of the human family or that. Jesus Christ is about all of life – not just some portion of it.

    Sorry I failed at being succinct.

  9. It would be sad to lose rituals, foods, celebrations and sharings based on seasons. In Japan we did this without any clear religious elements where it is known as Japanese. I agree with you — losing rituals would be sad, but losing religion (or even traditions) does not bother me.

  10. Ian

    @Sabio – thanks. Was there no overtones of Buddhism or Shinto in the rituals? Or had they basically become purely cultural?

    @Mike – thanks a lot, I very much appreciated the detail. The only bit that made me wonder was “I don’t go to church at all, even at Christmas, because I don’t believe the Bible calls for it” – Presumably you don’t go to church also because you don’t enjoy it. I don’t think I’m required to go to church at Christmas either, but I do because I do enjoy it. How much of you not going to church is a lack of desire to go, and how much is a theological objection? Again, not a trick question, just a thought.

  11. Ian,

    I find enjoyment in doing what God commands, and in not doing what He does not command. If I put myself in your shoes I can imagine finding some enjoyment in occasionally going to church. And I certainly like it when people go to sincerely engage God and/or to hear His word. However, having been a pastor I could not go to church now without thinking deeply about the discrepancy between its self-proclaimed sanctioning by God and its actual lack of such sanctioning.

  12. Ian

    Thanks Mike.

  13. Marko

    Great blog thanks Ian. I have been coming here regularly for sometime but never yet got round to joining in. Thinking about the last couple of paragraphs of this post, I couldn’t agree more. Have you read Alain de Botton’s ‘Religion for Atheists’? I found it very thought provoking.

  14. Ian

    Marko, thanks for commenting, and welcome.

    No, I haven’t read it. I saw some talk of it when it first came out, but then forgot about it. Its good to have a recommendation. I’ll add it to my book list.

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