Another Kind of Christmas

Another Kind of Christmas December 20, 2018

Editor’s Note: Here is Chris’s second gift: a short reflection that is more along the lines of the nature-focused essays that Chris loves to write (and we love to read). Starting with a mellow woodland walk, we savor the solstice before getting caught up in the commercial and religious Christmas that’s inescapable, except in the woods.  /Linda LaScola, Editor


By Chris Highland, Solstice Season 2018

On a wintry walk along the brow of the Blue Ridge today the scent of woodsmoke was wafting through the chilled air, snow still blanketing the quieted land.

Hearing a murder of crows above I looked up to see them loudly squawking a hawk out of a treetop. The white-tailed deer I saw the other day was not to be seen though most leaves are down and the forest is the most open of the year. The last trimmings of the fall were waving and rustling in a gentle breeze. I enjoyed the natural decorations and ornaments like the snowcap on a small fir and delicate ice on the edge of the pond.

December makes for poetry as well as advent—the expectation of autumn’s conclusion and winter’s commencement. A tentative transition for each and all.

Maybe it’s a holiday every time a new baby is born, and, in some places, a holiday when no more children are born. Could believers learn to tell the story as a secular tale —complete with a young, poor, vulnerable refugee family of color? What if the storytellers could stick with one story at a time? How about we refuse the rush and the crush to kill and consume, whether we’re talking turkey, time, savings or saviors. Why not be good for goodness’ sake!

Followers of The Baby, please leave the cross out of the holiday—let it be Chris-mas again! Not just for me, born on Chris-mas day, but all of us. I’m not advocating to “taking Christ out of Christmas” and not interested in fighting any battles in the fictitious “war on Christmas.” (Holidays have a way of generating lots of wild imagination).

What I am urging is taking more of Christmas out of Christ and Christianity. Take more of the infant and less of atonement. Sure, it’s a Christian holy day. No one is disputing that or trying to end that. But the goodness of the season does not belong to any religion. So, in a sense, I’m suggesting the rest of us “take back Christmas,” that is, take back the best of the season that belongs to all of us and none of us. Nature “owns” the season along with any births and wondrous stories that are born across the globe.

Put a cross in the middle of my December 25th birthday and we have Chris-T-mas, right? For a good portion of my life I viewed Jesus through the red-stained, cross-shaped window. When I discovered that tree was the most distracting (and dead) tree in the freshly-scented forest of faith, I set about trying to follow the living message of the grown up Galilean, one of compassion, justice and peacemaking (without the rotted logs of the forest-fiery judgment parts). After leaving the forest of faith altogether, I found my own trees to hike around, snowshoe into or climb—much more uplifting!

Perchance there are snowflakes or stars in my eyes, but I still have a touch of that childhood imagination. I see myself running down on Chris-mas morning to see what good tidings of presence unwrapped await under the (living) tree.

Be Merry anyway!


Bio: Chris Highland was a minister and chaplain for many years in the SF Bay Area.  Now teaching courses on Freethought in Asheville, North Carolina, he writes a weekly “Highland Views” column for the Citizen-Times. His new book, A Freethinker’s Gospel, is now available from Pisgah Press.  Chris has been a member of The Clergy Project since 2012. To learn more, see

>>>Photo Credits:  All photos by Chris Highland

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  • When I was a Christian, Christmas was a secular holiday. (Religious holidays were the product of the apostate Catholic church, after all. The New Testament didn’t authorize any!) So it was all presents and wishing for snow (almost never in Houston) and ho ho ho! Now, as a non-believer, I want it to be about being good to our fellow humans.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Interesting — what denomination were you? I’ve heard of fundamentalists who don’t put up Xmas trees because they are pagan, but never heard of Christians who did’t celebrate Jesus’ birth.

  • Scott Stahlecker

    It was a nice walk, Chris and an interesting play on words. May you have a nice birthday on Chris-T-mas.

  • Church of Christ (the so-called “non-institutional” group). My family did Christmas, but we knew people who thought that any celebration of it was implicitly condoning the “Catholic holiday” and that you shouldn’t do it. In fact, my wife’s father was a minister, and they made sure their Christmas tree wasn’t visible through the windows! Most people celebrated it, but there were enough hard-nosed folks that they may have given him grief about it. By the 1970s nobody tried to hide it, I think, but you could still count in a sermon the Sunday nearest to Christmas (and on Easter) explaining that there are no such things as Christian holidays. I bet some CoC preachers still do that. In the mainline CoC they probably actually celebrate it!

  • Linda_LaScola

    Thanks — the few CoC people I know of seem to celebrate like everyone else — at least on the surface.

  • Thanks for that, Scott, and take a walk in Nature’s solstice. Lots of gifts out there!

  • Wouldn’t that be something, if people took to your simple–back to the meaning–attitude. As I used to say, even as a Christian, may every day be a holiday. . .

  • Muirman already

  • Jim Jones

    > wishing for snow (almost never in Houston)

    I remember FW in Dec 1980. Holy crap it was cold.

  • ElizabetB.

    I have a greeting card “Sunrise on the Equinox,” photo Jim Brandenburg —

    ‘And so, do not forget:
    every dawn as it comes is a holy event
    and every day is holy”
    White Buffalo Calf Woman
    as told by Black Elk
    (this image is from Minnesota Dept of Natural Resources publication 2008)

  • Linda_LaScola gg