“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped Him in a blanket and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
In sooth, we do not know the date of Jesus’ birth. The Bible does not give a date. Not even a month to narrow it down a bit. The date of December 25th was chosen centuries ago by Rome to bring some of the pagan folks into the fold of the Church. It coincides closely with the Roman festival of Saturnalia from December 17th-23rd. For that reason, our Puritan forefathers did not keep Christmas. Nor did their Congregationalist and Baptist descendants. It was a Papist festival. And, because it tied so closely to the date of Saturnalia, they did not even acknowledge the date as anything special. Diaries and journals kept by New Englanders up until the mid-19th century recount business as usual on December 25th (Kelliher).
That being said, in other parts of the U.S., Christmas celebrations did take place. In the larger cities, like New York, Philadelphia, and even Boston, congregations of Episcopals and Catholics held Christmas services/Mass and many rural New Englanders would venture into their parishes to witness the festivities…even if they didn’t participate themselves. So New Englanders knew about Christmas. They just didn’t keep it. Not until waves of Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, French Canadian Catholics, German and Scandinavian Lutherans, and the Dutch, who brought with them Santa Claus, arrived did we find a greater number of Christmas celebrations. This is, roughly, around 1850 or so…a whole 230 years’ after the Pilgrims first set foot on Plymouth Rock.
So, now that I, a born-again Christian, have debunked the argument for “Merry Christmas” as being part of the foundation of our country, let me go on to explain why, despite these much later traditions, December 25th is “Merry Christmas”.
First of all, while New Englanders may have been slow to embrace any Christmas remembrances, other parts of the world did celebrate it. Again, the Roman Catholic Church decreed December 25th as the birth of Christ hundreds of years’ before this country was settled. It is a holy day within the Christian community and, as such, should be respected. Our modern tendency to substitute a greeting of “Merry Christmas!” with “Happy Holidays!” is not just disrespectful, but actually hurtful to those who still keep Christmas. Of course, I can hear the inclusion/exclusion argument coming out: What about those who don’t share your/my beliefs?
What about them?
What if Hanukkah couldn’t be called Hanukkah anymore? Or Ramadan, Ramadan? What if it wasn’t a Yule log anymore but a holiday log? We can wipe away any direct reference to any holy day within any belief system with that inclusion/exclusion argument. Maybe instead of reading an offense in these direct references, we could take the time to learn about each other, our beliefs and our traditions, without feeling threatened by them. Everybody is Irish on March 17th–even if no Gaelic blood runs in your veins–and greetings of “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” ring out along every main street in America as the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade marches by. What is it about Christmas that makes it so offensive?
Is it the name “Christ” within it?
He came to save the world. He took the sins of the world onto His shoulders and died for us. Maybe to the person reading this, that seems incredible, unbelievable. How? Because maybe that’s not what you believe, or were taught, within your community. Maybe to you, Jesus is simply a prophet but not the Son of God; I respect that view. Maybe you don’t believe in any Supreme Being at all; I respect that, too. When I wish you a “Merry Christmas!” I am not trying to convert you to my way of believing. The greeting of “Merry Christmas!” is simply a wish for peace, joy, and hope to the person being greeted with “Merry Christmas!” There is no requirement to be Christian to be wished a “Merry Christmas!” the same as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. When I greet you with “Merry Christmas!”, I am wishing you all of the best that life has to offer. There is no offense intended.
Yet, today I, and fellow Christians, are greeted with offense, with contempt, with downright hostility for wishing someone joy, peace, hope, and even love. If I ever had any doubt that the Adversary is present in this world, it flies out the window in the face of such contempt and ridicule. It is the same sort of hate and ignorance that murdered 11 people in Pittsburgh this past October and all but annihilated the First Nations’ tribes of this country for their beliefs and traditions. In the end, we all bleed and we all hurt.
Wishing you peace, hope, joy and love sounds infinitely better.
Kelliher, Tom. “Christmas by Candlelight Training Materials. Old Sturbridge Village.