Saturday, December 24, 2005

Why Christmas Belongs in December

In a strange way, we can be grateful for the recent uproar over the purported "war on Christmas," because it refocuses our attention on what the holiday's self-anointed defenders call The Reason for the Season.

We have no idea when Jesus was born. We aren't even sure of the year, let alone the season or the day. The early church established the feast of the nativity at the end of the year in order to diminish the influence of traditional pagan winter rituals. It only half-succeeded; only scholars remember what the pagans were celebrating, but the red and green trappings of evergreen boughs, holly, and mistletoe remain with us to this day.

Despite all of that, I can't help but think that there is no better time for the focused observance of Jesus' birth than the first week of winter. Life is so much safer in this modern world than it was in the days of our ancestors. Sure, we might worry about accidents in inclement weather or slipping on an icy sidewalk, but for our forefathers the onset of winter presented a dire threat.

Most of us live comfortably, confident in the knowledge that the grocery stores will be stocked through the coming months with all the things we need and desire, fresh meat of every variety and fruits and vegetables harvested from around the world daily. But only a few centuries past, people watched as the crops withered and died and disappeared under a blanket of snow. Careful planning and rationing was required if the food was to last until spring. If we're cold, most of us can simply adjust a thermostat. But the frigid weather brought with it the onset of diseases that today we regard as minor inconveniences, instead of the death sentence they might have been.

Even today, in this life of comparative ease and safety, the plunging temperatures and short dark days bring on widespread despair and depression. The traditional winter solstice celebration, seen in this context, can be viewed as an act of defiant rebellion, an insistence to bring lightness and cheer and merriment into a dying world.

Faith is a defiant act of rebellion; the firm determination to choose to be joyful, the willingness to believe in things unseen, and the reliance upon hope that better days are coming.

And so despite an utter lack of any evidence worthy of positioning "Christmas" in December, I say there's no better time for us to affirm the meanings of generosity, family, beauty and a light spirit in the midst of the darkest days.

7 comments:

Aethlos said...

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

Matthew said...

Merry Christmas, Andy!

(we'll have to a proper discussion sometime on why Christmas is in December. Has to do with the Winter Solstice being taken over by Christians, etc.)

Andy said...

Gee, um, I kind of thought when I wrote "The early church established the feast of the nativity at the end of the year in order to diminish the influence of traditional pagan winter rituals" that I had sort of acknowledged that...

Jeff said...

I actually wish the lights and decorations would stay up through February, or at least through January. December is all festive, and then suddenly it's January 1 and the trees are on the curbs and the lights come down and there's nothing ahead but a long, dark winter.

Andy said...

Well, if the oil had burned for 90 days instead of a measly 8...

Jon said...

Aww, that's one of the nicest writings on Christmas that I recall reading. Thank you!

Steve said...

Andy,

I am glad your Christmas was a good one.

Jeff... evidently you have never been to parts of Ohio and WV. The Christmas decorations there stay up until May. UGH!