Monday, December 06, 2004

Christians are Pagans, Too

You know, sometimes the Christian community needs to step back, take a deep breath, and think about the things they are thinking and doing.

I was reading this article in the New York Times this morning about a controversy going on in Denver over the city's annual holiday parade.

"This was always just supposed to be a cutesy parade, for the kids," said [Downtown Denver Partnership] president, Jim Basey. "The purpose was to get bodies downtown."

Now, I ask you: what the hell is wrong with that?

"We just wanted to come out and show them the love of God and what Christmas is all about," said Laverne Gillespie, who was leading the line with a thermos of chocolate.

It seems to have started when the Denver mayor's office decided this year to change the banner that hangs from the City and County Building to read "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." So here you have a gesture that was intended to be sensitive and respectful to people who like their Xmas without the Christ, and naturally the Christians are offended, even though "Happy Holidays" certainly includes them, too.

It's not as if Denver banned religious association with the holiday. If you want to show people what the love of God is all about, you have 365 days in the calendar year to do it. Let's just let people have their secular holidays, okay?

Secular? Am I nuts? you must be asking. Look people, scholarly research indicates that in all likelihood, Jesus was born in the fall. It's almost certain that December 25 was chosen as the day of observance to replace the annual pagan winter solstice festival which, in the Roman calendar, was celebrated on December 25. While the church fathers almost certainly chose the date to replace celebration of the solstice, many of the traditions persisted. For example, the Druids used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life, and placed evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits. Medieval Germans decorated their homes in winter with evergreen boughs to remind themselves that spring was coming back. (Trust me; having spent a winter in central Europe, you do begin to wonder if you'll ever see the sun again.) Ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice by decorating with the color green and exchanging presents.

Every year we see a news story or two about some yahoo objecting to Halloween because of its pagan origins. Frankly, the people who worry about this sort of thing have no faith in their children, their parenting skills or the power of the Lord. But isn't it odd that you don't see Christians picketing Christmas tree lots or burning holly bushes? Far from it. Most churches put up a tree or two, and the advent candles are always incorporated into an evergreen wreath.

For that matter, no one warns against the evil of Easter Eggs, boycotts the Paas company or melts down rabbit idols made from chocolate. No one reacts in horror to a bride swathed and veiled in white bearing a bouquet as they toss fistfuls of rice in her direction.

And why not?

Because no one worships a Christmas tree. It's that simple. People are able to enjoy it, even during a religious holiday, with out attributing some sort of power to it. It's just something pretty.

Look, winter sucks. The days are short, dark and cold. The weather can be downright dangerous, when it's not just merely inconvenient. It can have such an effect on our emotions that psychologists have identified an actual syndrome called "Seasonal Affective Disorder." It's well-known that suicide rates are highest during the holidays. Christmas is a break from the routine. If winter drives you insane, then Christmas is the chance to go a little crazy without anyone noticing. Is there any other reason for people to go out in the frigid cold in the dark and stand on the corner singing? You get to give and receive presents, visit with family you don't normally get to see, and put up decorations around your home to mark a special occasion.

Christians need to ask themselves if it really matters what day of the year Christ was born. We should celebrate the Gospel every day. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a secular holiday. This is not to say that we should not try to keep the Christ in Christmas, but merely to suggest that we put things in perspective.

What makes you angrier: that there's a secular holiday parade in Colorado, or that, by the Government's own ungenerous standard, 36 million Americans are living in poverty this Christmas?

What would Jesus protest?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are "Right On" as we used to say in the sixties!
Jean from Portland