A Pagan Holiday
By The Rev. Dr. Tom Pace
Christmas is, of course, an American pagan holiday. I don’t mean that disrespectfully – I love Christmas in all of its spiritual depth and with all its theological meanings attached. By pagan I mean that it is not a peculiarly religious holiday. Everyone – Christian believers and unbelievers and all the variations in between – celebrate Christmas. Of course there are those devoted to other faiths who do not celebrate the holiday at all. But the irreligious in America almost always celebrate Christmas. Most can tell you what the day commemorates, and most folks will explain to their children that it is the day Jesus was born. This phenomenon happens whether they believe Jesus is God incarnate or a good teacher or a fictional character or a symbol of the best of humanity. What makes it pagan is that its celebration is in no way unique to the Christian community.
Actually, Christmas has made a rather dramatic 360 degree journey. The celebration began when the early church chose to claim the feast that surrounded the winter solstice – the darkest day of the year – as the day the light of Christ came into the world. They claimed a pagan holiday and made it Christian. Now it has come full circle to being a secular holiday again. Maybe turnabout is fair play.
I suppose we could gripe and whine about this. I hear lots of folks doing so. There are a few churches that don’t celebrate Christmas because of this very reason. But too often our “Keep the Christ in Christmas” campaign is really driven by our elder son attitudes toward those who don’t come around the rest of the year. What if we could see it as a golden opportunity that comes ‘round every year, a day when we come right alongside others who don’t yet know of God’s redemption? What if we seized the day and reached out to those who don’t yet know that God knows all of our human pain and fear and struggle, because God chose to become one of us? Christmas is a time when it is harder for people to shun our overtures to show them love in Jesus’ name. They are more prone to let us both share the good news and be the good news for them, because their decision to celebrate a holiday that bears Jesus’ name gave us tacit permission to love them like a brother or sister in Christ. And who knows, maybe this year it will sink in, and hearts will be open, and Christ will be born into their lives, maybe even for the first time. I sure hope he is born anew in mine.
Dr. Tom Pace
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Houston