Keeping Santa in Christmas but dropping Jesus

Christians typically every year take up the cause of keeping Christ in Christmas.  The American Atheists organization has taking up the cause of keeping Santa in Christmas and dropping Jesus.  Here is a sign they put up in Times Square:

atheist christmas billboard

Steadfast Lutherans » Keep the Merry…and the Myth.

Similarly, Christians regularly decry the commercialization of Christmas.  Ayn Rand,  conservatives’ favorite atheist, says commercialization is the best thing about it.  From Michael Schmitz:


“The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”

-Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Calendar, December 1976

The date of Christ’s “genesis”

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson has started a fascinating series on why the church celebrates Christmas on December 25 and when this started.  He includes a number of links and references, and he critiques the notion that Christians co-opted a pagan holiday.

I was fascinated by the evidence he offers about the Feast of the Annunciation (when the angel appeared to Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit), which was celebrated on March 25, a date established before  200 A.D.  The church added nine months from that date, which gives us the Baby so conceived being born on December 25.

I have heard it said that the date of Christ’s birth was once considered to be March 25, but that claim is based on a mistranslation and misunderstanding of “genesis.”  Rev. Abrahamson quotes Clement of Alexandria, in his “Stromata,” dated between 193 and 215 A.D.:

And there are those who have determined our Savior’s genesis
not only the year, but even the day, which they say took place
in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon.

Rev. Abrahamson comments:

The important line is “our Savior’s genesis.” The month of Pachon in the Egyptian calendar at that time corresponded to March in the Julian Calendar.

Christ’s genesis, or conception on the 25th of Pachon was in what our calendar would equate with March 25th. The celebration of Christ’s birth would be nine months later: December 25th, in our calendar. ANF 2:333 translates “birth” rather than “conception”. The translation of “genesis” as conception is consistent with Clement’s usage of this word in other contexts, for example:

“It is not therefore frequent intercourse by the parents, but the reception of it [the seed] in the womb which corresponds with genesis.” (Clement of Alexandria Stromata

via Steadfast Lutherans » Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas.

So the early church believed that a person’s “genesis” begins with conception and not with birth.  That’s an important point for the pro-life cause today.

Old Calendar Protestants

Eastern Orthodox folks celebrate Christmas on a different day than we Western Christians do.  They don’t go along with the change in the calendar that was orchestrated by Pope Gregory XIII back in 1582 in order to re-align our calendar with the motions of the solar system.  The so-called Gregorian calendar was accepted throughout the European-heritage nations by 1752.  But the Eastern nations remained under the old Julian calendar.

What I didn’t know is that some Protestants also kept using the Julian calendar.  They could be found in Appalachia as late as the 20th century.  From the Kairos Quarterly, a publication of an Orthodox monastery in West Virginia, via Trystan Bloom at First Thoughts:

As a Russian Orthodox monastery which observes the Julian, or “old”, calendar, we were surprised to learn about Appalachian “Old Christmas”, which is a most solemn and reverent time for families living in the mountains. The initial change-over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by the British Empire and the American colonies in 1752 caused a difference of eleven days. Thus, the date of “new” Christmas on December 25th was eleven days ahead of “old” Christmas, which fell (at that time) on January 5th. Some Protestants refused to honor the new calendar because it was decreed by the Pope, so their celebration of Christmas remained on the Julian calendar – which now falls on January 7. In the Appalachian Mountains, the celebration of Old Christmas remained until about World War I. Though they might also observe ‘new’ Christmas on December 25th, the festivities were very different. December 25th was marked with revelry and parties and visiting, but January 6th was primarily a reverent family observance.

via Old Calendarists in Appalachia » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

I’m fascinated by such living relics of past history.  One of these days I intend to get on a boat and travel to Tangier Island here in Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay.  This island was settled by British colonists in 1686, and the people have been so isolated that to this day they still speak the English dialect of that day.  Which means they talk pretty much the way Shakespeare did.

He comes to us

advent (n.)

“important arrival,” 1742, an extended sense of Advent “season before Christmas” (Old English), from L. adventus “a coming, approach, arrival,” in Church Latin “the coming of the Savior,” from pp. stem of advenire “arrive, come to,” from ad- “to” (see ad-) + venire “to come”

via Online Etymology Dictionary.

We are now in the season of Advent.  The word derives from the Latin venire (“to come”) + ad (“to”).  So the word can be rendered “He comes to.”  Advent is about Christ coming to us.

Luther said that it isn’t enough to believe that Christ died.  We need to believe that Christ died for us, for me, for you.  Christ rose from the dead for you.  When we realize the “for you,” we have gone from historical information to saving faith.

Similarly, God became Man for you.  Christ came for you, and He still comes to you, and He will come again for you.

May you have a blessed Advent!

Shopping as ritual

John Hearn recalls shopping as a child in a family that didn’t have all that much money.  He reflects on what shopping has become today and reminds us of the true meaning of shopping:

We shopped rarely and with forethought and together. Shopping was a social ritual, a group activity that followed a set procedure. After the tax refund check arrived, usually in late March, when the cold ocean winds still swept the hills south of Boston, my mother gathered the four of us for our biannual trek uptown. Each of her three boys would get a pair of trousers, summer sneakers and a Red Sox cap, all at least a size too big, to better accommodate growth spurts. She feared the prospect of a child who had outgrown clothes that could not be easily replaced. “Don’t be so full of yourself,” she would admonish, after I complained that the new pants bunched up or the inexpensive sneakers turned skyward at the toes. “Do you really think everyone is looking at you?” . . . .

At Christmas, we received things we needed: socks and underwear, a sweater to grow into. When Frankie got a paper route and hired me as his helper, we would put aside money so we could buy gifts for our parents. The Friday before Christmas, after delivering the last of the newspapers, we’d walk by the shops, assuring each other that we’d find perfect presents, ones they needed and wanted too. But they needed everything, and what they may have wanted we couldn’t afford and they never would have mentioned anyway. . . .

I hated shopping. It was an activity filled with anxiety and embarrassment and guilt. It required that I deny myself: that I sit down, don’t fidget, listen, stop complaining, say thank you, shut up, don’t interrupt, stop staring at my brother, walk in the freezing cold and subdue the desire stimulated by the new and shiny to the modest reality defined by my meager paper-route profits. As an adult, though, I understand that neither the quantity nor the quality of the gifts really mattered. It was those social rituals I reluctantly shared with my family that remain a fundamental source of meaning. Shopping was all about the social processes that, like a shared meal or religious service, reminded us that we were together, as a family and congregation and neighborhood. We were embedded in a web of interdependence, a reality greater than ourselves, one in which we had to sacrifice our individual whims and desires.

via When shopping was a family ritual – The Washington Post.

When to fast and when to feast

Walter Isaacson has written a fascinating column about Ben Franklin’s view of America.  He quotes from an essay Franklin wrote about Thanksgiving.  I have never heard this detail about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving.  Perhaps it’s apocryphal.  But still, it reminds us of a common confusion and perhaps can give us perspective on other things that make us feel gloomy:

Franklin’s optimism about the American experiment is reflected in an essay he wrote about our first Thanksgiving. The early settlers, “their minds gloomy and discontented,” frequently fasted to seek relief from their distress, he recounted. Just when they were about to declare another day of fasting, “a farmer of plain sense” pointed out that “the inconveniences they suffered, and concerning which they had so often wearied heaven with their complaints, were not so great.” Instead of another fast, the farmer argued, they should have a feast to give thanks. Writing a century later — in 1785, a period when both the economy and political system looked fragile, rather like the present — Franklin assured his fellow citizens that thanksgiving was still warranted. “Let us take a cool view of the general state of our affairs, and perhaps the prospect will appear less gloomy than has been imagined,” he wrote.

via Walter Isaacson: The America Ben Franklin saw – The Washington Post.