This week, as we creep closer to the 25th of December, we’re
running a daily excerpt from Jason Boyett’s article “Stealing
Christmas” (which appeared in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of RELEVANT).
In it, Jason takes on some of the traditions we associate with the
birth of our Savior and finds that some of them didn’t start out so
“Christian.” So, since we live in a culture that often defines this time of
year by a “War on Christmas” or a “War Defending Christmas,” we thought
it would be fun (and informative) to look at where some of our most
beloved traditions really come from. We’ve tackled the Christmas tree, mistletoe, gifts and the date. But in the end, what do our traditions really say? Can the "stolen" be redeemed?
What does this all mean? That we shouldn’t decorate trees, kiss under the mistletoe or exchange gift cards because doing so is somehow a nod to paganism? That by eating Christmas dinner on Dec. 25, we’re affirming Mithraism? That we should feel bad for stealing all the best pagan traditions from the years before Christ?
No. Despite my humbuggery, I love Christmas. I love evergreen trees and kissing and presents. What I don’t love is the assumption that, as Christians, we own this stuff. What I don’t love is the attitude that cries foul the minute someone removes the cross from the top of the department-store Christmas tree, or that gets upset at the “Happy Holidays” banner outside Wal-Mart.
We call it Christmas and have named it after our Savior, but let’s not be so arrogant as to suggest the holiday is exclusively ours. A better perspective is to admit we have co-opted the season, along with many of its traditions, for the purpose of pointing toward Bethlehem.
Christmas is the story of the Incarnation—of the insertion of Christ into the dust of humanity, of the infusion of grace into something worldly and pagan. In the process, mankind was redeemed. If so, then our theft of these solstice traditions is no crime against history. Instead, it’s yet another picture—a beautiful, generous, peaceful, evergreen metaphor—of redemption.