Is Jesus the Reason for the Season?:
Many conservative evangelical Christians at this time of year want to “put Christ back in Christmas” and insist that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” With these slogans, they hope to remind people that Christmas is a Christian holiday and that without Christ, there would be no Christmas in the first place. Such Christians are offended that so many people enjoy the holidays without any reference to Jesus or Christianity and want it to stop. Unfortunately, they don’t have much of a case.
Not having a case doesn’t seem to matter, though, and conservative Christians have been pursuing their so-called Christmas Wars with great vigor. A few influential conservatives are using Christmas as a political weapon against liberals, secularists, and non-Christians by claiming that a secular, anti-Christian conspiracy has removed Christ from Christmas.
Pre-Christian Reasons for the Season:
If Jesus is the Reason for the Season, why are so many aspects of the season pre-Christian and pagan? Christians took over the Decemer 25th Roman holiday of Natalis Solis Invicti, festival of the birth of the invincible sun, as well as Saturnalia. Christians took over German mid-winter festival celebrations which used evergreen trees and holly as symbols of eternal life. Where is Christ in all of this? How is Jesus the reason for the season of mid-winter festivals that pre-date Christianity?
Pagan Christmas Trees:
The most central and recognizable symbol of Christmas today is the Christmas tree — and it has nothing to do with Christianity, Christ, or Jesus. It’s a purely pagan symbol taken from ancient German mid-winter festivals. Even if people hang religious ornaments on the tree, the hanging of ornaments is originally pagan, not Christian. The practice of cutting down trees and taking them home to decorate them with gold and silver is even condemned by God in the book of Jeremiah.
Christian Aspects of American Christmas:
Christmas as it is celebrated in America has just two Christian elements: nativity scenes and Santa Claus. Nativity scenes are unquestionably Christian, but their role is smaller than symbols such as pagan trees. Only Christmas carols which reference the nativity continue to be very important. Santa Claus is central to Christmas, but while his roots are Christian, he has become completely secularized – there is nothing recognizably Christian about him anymore.
Secularization of American Christmas:
Christmas as we know it today is not at all like how Christians used to treat the holiday — for most of Christian history it was a minor holiday, if celebrated at all. Contemporary Christmas has become so secularized that it’s difficult to find the Christian elements sometimes, and this means that for most people Jesus just isn’t the reason for the season today — if he ever was. Christmas is more about a secular Santa than Jesus the Christ and Savior.
Commercialization of American Christmas:
Christmas is more a commercial enterprise than a religious observance – Jesus isn’t the reason for the season, buying consumer goods is. Heavy commercialization of Christmas took off in WWII when people had to buy early to get gifts to troops, but the early shopping season didn’t end with the war. This was when campaigns to “put Christ back into Christmas” started, and look at how successful they’ve been: the buying season is not only longer, but more central both to Christmas and the economy.
Christmas Doesn’t Need Christ or God:
It’s true that for many Christians, Christmas is so religious that there would be little point to the holidays without their religious perspective. At the same time, however, there are millions of non-Christians and godless people who celebrate and enjoy the holidays without much problem. It’s possible to go through the whole Christmas season while encountering few, if any, significantly Christian elements. There is nothing odd or difficult about having a Christmas without Christ or God.
Atheists Celebrating Christmas:
The fact that Jesus is not the Reason for the Season and that there is no particular place for Christ in Christmas doesn’t mean, however, that all atheists are comfortable with celebrating Christmas. Some argue that it would be better to ignore the holiday. Some continue to celebrate it because they aren’t out as atheists or don’t want to rock the boat among religious family members. Should atheists celebrate or ignore Christmas?
Jesus is not the Reason for the Season:
What is most mistaken, and even offensive, about the slogan “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” is that Christians are attempting to claim ownership of and priority over the entire holiday season, not just Christmas. There is, however, no reason to imagine that there would be no mid-winter holidays in the absence of Christ or Christianity.
Modern Christmas celebrations have little or nothing to do with Jesus, the Feast of the Nativity, or the Incarnation. Consider some popular Christmas traditions: erecting and decorating a tree, hanging wreaths, sending cards, drinking eggnog, giving presents, hanging mistletoe…where is Christ in all of this?
Thus we also have slogans about “putting Christ back into Christmas,” but it’s difficult to see how Christ was ever central to Christmas. When Christians celebrated it at all, it was about the nativity of Jesus, not the salvation from Christ. Today, even Jesus has receded into the background.
Our modern Christmas is a large number of ancient pagan practices, a few pieces of Christian traditions, and a large number of modern creations which are almost entirely secular in nature, no matter where they got their inspiration from. I see little room and little need for any “Christ” in all of this – but more importantly, I see little place where a “Christ” could be put back into the mix.
This is why Jesus is not the reason for the season for non-Christians. Whether non-Christians celebrate some form of Christmas or something else entirely, the reason for the season is whatever meaning they invest in their holiday — and that is up to them, not to Christians.
To put it simply, Christians who insist that Jesus is the reason for the season and that Christ needs to be “put back” into Christmas are seeking to assert their cultural superiority over everyone else. It’s yet one more example of attempts to reassert Christian privilege in an America that has moved on to religious pluralism.