Friday, 25 December 2009

My Christmas Wish

Being Christmas Day, it's customary for my atheist, agnostic and theologian friends to make mention that December 25 is more closely related to Saturnalia than Christ's birth, that there are similarities between Horus and Jesus, that Christmas trees are pagan, and so on. The trappings of a ritual are all too easily the focus of the discussion.

But suppose that we leave them to one side for a moment. Suppose we simply say that it's appropriate for Christians to remember that Jesus was born and lived among us. And it is quite appropriate for that. Would it matter which day was used to celebrate it? If the Christian celebration was divorced from the pagan influences, it could be any old day.

On one level, I wish this would happen. Leave the shops and the tree and the public holiday where they are, and put the Christ Mass somewhere else in the year. Separate the two. People could give each other gifts for whatever reason they liked. They could take a day off work and decorate trees for their own reasons. More importantly, Christians could have a genuine holy-day on which to remember Jesus' birth.

I've asked before, in other places, whether anyone would celebrate Christmas if it wasn't a public holiday. I suspect that if it were not at the end of the calendar year (perhaps sometime in May?), it might be more like the Muslim observation of Ramadan, or the Chinese New Year. People who believed in it would take the time to observe it and proclaim it. It may even regain something of its authenticity.

Who knows, even the practice of giving gifts to the poor (rather than to our own families) may be associated with the Christian Christmas.

But just in case you think that I'm a grinch, that I despise Christmas, rest assured I don't. Rather, I believe that it's important for Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It just so happens that this celebration has picked up some baggage along the way.

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