Take Christ Out of Christmas

There is an old Gene Autry version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” with a lyric that says, “And let’s give thanks to the Lord above because Santa Claus comes tonight.”  This is a blend of the secular and religious that belongs on Anderson Cooper’s “RidicuList.”  Another disappointing example of blending religious themes with non-religion was posted on CNN’s “Belief Blog,” written by Tangela Ekhoff, “My Take: Being poor on Christmas.”  She said, “As our family awaits the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we anticipate and long for a better world not just for us but for others who suffer in the ‘new’ economic reality: poverty.  My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially.”  (The full column can be read at the following link.)


The lead paragraph of Ekhoff’s column talks about the purchasing of “the Showstopper” gift for her children as the highlight of Christmas.  The inability to purchase a “Showstopper” gift is not poverty.  Not being able to buy groceries is poverty, and that’s for the working poor.  How about not having drinking water readily available?  There are millions of children around the world who do not long for a “Showstopper” Christmas gift, but a meal and a drink of water.

All those Christian fanatics complaining about putting Christ in Christmas need both a history lesson and to take a look at their own congregations.  The Christmas season has become a shopping holiday.  Secular capitalism owns the season from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to after-Christmas sales extending to Martin Luther King Day in January.  Even King is losing his day to shopping, as dead presidents do in February.  Occasionally there is some Secular Humanism mixed in the holiday season and some attention is paid to charitable gifts and actions.  However, Christianity does not have exclusive ownership of those activities either.

My friend Kathleen (I’ve mentioned her before-she’s the smart science teacher) reminded me that Jesus’ birth was not observed by the early church until hundreds of years after he died (Rome c.336, Oxford Dictionary of World Religions).  For those of you interested in the life of Jesus, he spent his time with the poor and disenfranchised.  When the Christian Bible talks about gifts, it is usually referring to the gifts that enable Christians to serve the needs of humanity.  By the way, I also don’t think Jesus expects Christian households to have a birthday cake and sing him Happy Birthday.  (Yes, I do know people that do this.)

Before any of you get all uppity about having Christmas swiped by consumers and non-believers, bear in mind the Christians stole this holiday from the pagans.  There is no record of Jesus actual birth day and the December observance coincided with winter solstice parties – which were not to be missed.  In other words, the early Christian church was having trouble hanging on to members so they adopted Saturanlia and transformed it to fit their own mythology.  So it should not be shocking to anyone that the run-away capitalism of this country would do the same thing in this century.

Santa Claus and Christmas gifts are no more Christian than July Fourth or Thanksgiving.  Both of those are secular holidays with non-religious traditions.  You can still go to church on these holidays and your religion can adopt its own interpretation of the holidays in keeping with its ideology, but in a pluralistic society, it would be ridiculous to impose those interpretations on everyone else.  In fact, trying to impose your personal beliefs on others is inherently un-Christian.

None of this means that Christians can’t enjoy a Christmas tree or gift exchanges – though I’d skip the birthday cake because that is over-the-top trite.  The point is that those activities, while pleasant, are essentially not related to Christianity.  So what?  There’s nothing wrong with secular rituals.  These help us connect with other people, which is what Jesus did all the time.

Consider Habitat for Humanity.  This is an openly Christian organization.  They offer houses to qualifying families, regardless of religion, and accept donations from religious and non-religious organizations and individuals.  They may have some religious expression, but conversion is not required to receive a home or to help build one.  One volunteer said, “Hey atheists don’t pool together and help build houses for poor people – we’ve got to go somewhere,” (p.211 Habitat for Humanity, Jerome P. Baggett).

Putting a nativity scene on your front yard does not keep Christ in Christmas and the compassion of Christianity is not a seasonal activity.  Enjoy the gifts, the food, the parties, and even the family – if that’s possible.  But consider my thoughts on how little of this season is related to the life work of Jesus.  Christmas is not an opportunity to bully people into the same interpretation that you have.  It could be the opportunity to share traditions in a pluralistic society in a way that we can learn from each other, rather than force a false theology.

What would Tiny Tim say?  “God bless us, everyone.”  Yes, everyone.  Even the pagans.

Happy Holidays Everyone! -J.B.

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  • Carol Jean King Vorhees  On December 22, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Couldn’t have said it as well as you, but AMEM to all of your thoughts! Enjoy your holidays and hug someone today!

    • allthingsreligious  On December 23, 2011 at 6:38 am

      Thanks for reading and taking time to reply Carol Jean! I hope your holidays are good ones. I know we all await Beki’s safe return to the “mainland”! -J.B.

  • Mkay  On December 22, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Another dead on post. I love reading your blog. It always interests and educates me.

    The more the stores push their wares this time of year, the tighter the hold I keep on my wallet. This time of year makes me want to do more for the animals I love. The humans in my life have plenty.

  • womanwhorunswiththegoats  On December 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Bravo! As my mom said above, I could not have said it better. I plan to repost this on my wall. I posted my blog today — not nearly as eloquent as yours. But it does contain a fun baby goat video. And 2 more kids were born today. The miracle of new life and all of that. It’s the season of hope and light. Enjoy.

    • allthingsreligious  On December 23, 2011 at 6:54 am

      I loved your blog, too! I can’t wait to watch the goat video. I need some cheer. I didn’t put the details on Facebook, but there’s a chance Sunny is quite ill. (I’m just going to stay in denial for a while. We’re trying meds for a month and I will deal with it then.) All that said, you know me well enough to know that my column was not coming from my discouraged attitude about Sunny but my genuine desire to disconnect the garish aspects of Christmas from what is otherwise a pretty and pleasant holiday. By the way – can’t believe you had time to read this, write your own blog, and still take care of all those goats! You’re amazing. Thanks. -J.B.

  • Kathleen Geist  On December 23, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Bravo! Nicely written. Here’s to a season of remembering the essential messages of love, peace and caring for others – and keeping well away from soul-sucking consumerism!

    • allthingsreligious  On December 25, 2011 at 10:47 am

      Thanks for all your e-mail comments that inspired this blog! I appreciate you taking the time to read these columns and I always value your feedback. -.J.B.

  • frmichelrcc  On December 24, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Nicely done and timely for many parishioners, and myself, who have felt disconnected from the “spirit of the season” on a holiday level, even as we engage more fully in the spiritual aspects of the Holy Day. I’ve felt out of sorts, rather like Scrooge throughout this Advent season because I just could not buckle down and get swept away by the shopping bug and decorating frenzy. I felt like I was perhaps letting my parishioners and family down by not doing the expected things….thanks for the reminder that my soul was guiding me all along, much like the mythical star led the wisemen. Peace to you and yours!

    • allthingsreligious  On December 25, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. It is my belief that by being aware of the distinctions between secular and sacred people of faith can find both a deeper personal spirituality as well as enjoy secular ways to connect with those of different faiths or no faith. For me, this was a smaller Christmas when measuring by the cultural expressions I usually enjoy. When my resources are meager I am forced to find more humble ways to express compassion. It’s humbling, but not without value. Shalom to you as well. -J.B.
      P.S. If the “rcc” in your e-mail address means Roman Catholic, I would be interested in your comments on my column on “Everyday Saints.” I have a “saints” category and you can click on that to find the column. Thanks for reading.

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