Christmas is a hodge-podge of about four celebrations. And I think we do Jesus a disservice if we try to claim otherwise. Let’s tease the strands apart and examine them.
Long before Jesus arrived on earth the ancient Celts celebrated the change of the year. The winter solstice was when the planet aligned with the sun in such a way that days were the shortest they would get. It’s usually either the 20th or 21st. This year the solstice is December 21.The day after the solstice meant that the sun was returning after a long winter. The days would get longer and the air warmer. They would be able to plant crops and have food to eat. It was a last gasp celebration until work in the fields must begin. The Winter Solstice was a time for debauchery and merry making. Kind of a precursor to the office party.
Then the Christians arrived and the party was over. They were upset at all the merry making and debauchery. They might have been a bit jealous, too. Either way, they wanted to put a stop to it. So they invented Christmas to celebrate the birth of our Savior. No one had ever celebrated the Christ’s birth before. No one even knew when he was born. The Christians, ever the damper of any good spirits, attached the birth of Christ to the Solstice and insisted the merrymaking stop.This was not the rounding success the church fathers expected. We just invented the Office Christmas Party and resumed merry making but in the name of Jesus this time.
In truth, no one actually knows when Jesus was born. Certainly not in December when it was cold and rainy in Judea. All those shepherds watching their flocks by night would not have been there watching outdoors in the bad weather. Some people say Jesus was born in the fall. Some say in the spring. There's also a calculation that dates the birth of Jesus based on the conception of John the Baptist. I know Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and I say that aloud every Sunday in church but I'm a little hesitant to get into Elizabeth and Zechariah's personal business so I haven't followed up on that theory.
So now we have two separate events for different reasons but celebrating at the same time. Let’s factor in the economy and the fact that December 25 comes at the very end of the fiscal cycle. Christmas has become an annual Festival of Purchasing, a celebration of the American Economy.
What better time to get inventory off your books than the end of the year just as your financial statements would get evaluated? It’s a common trick of companies to get their inventory out of the building on the last day of the month so they could count it as a sale and prop up their income. Most months they send it out the doors to drive around on the freeways in an 18-wheeler until the new month when it can be unloaded on another company’s books as a purchase. For Christmas they send it into your home while you pat yourself on the back over what a great deal you got.
Then there is the Annual Family Reunion when you get everyone together whether they want to be there or not. You might have extra vacation time you need to burn off or maybe you just really do want to go see Grandma. You consume massive amounts of food and drink to numb yourself out of the memory of the time your brother-in-law didn’t return the tools he borrowed. And he’s off in a corner drinking, too, except he’s only more obnoxious than you are. And if you think Grandma doesn’t notice you’re crazy. She’s muttering under her breath that it’s just not worth it.
What are our options? Move Christmas to another date? Lift it up out of the end of the fiscial year, out of the solstice? Maybe we could name a new National Family Reunion Day and make it in better weather when air travel is easier, when you can celebrate outdoors and give yourself a little breathing room? June already has Fathers Day, July already has Independence Day. Maybe we could put it in Spring and let those shepherds go back to keeping their flocks by night in comfort.
We would certainly have a better atmosphere for celebrating Peace on Earth Good Will to Man.