We’ve been looking forward to this long Christmas weekend, though we have to note that last year we had two days off, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day both falling on weekdays.
Say, why not have Christmas on Friday every year? The feds moved Abe’s and George’s birthdays (does that make them twins?), so why not Jesus’ birthday?
Nobody really knows when Jesus’ birthday was, anyway. Likely, it was not in the dead of winter, if we accept Luke’s statement that the shepherds were “out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night,” as Bethlehem is in the Judean hills, where it’s cold and rainy and occasionally snows in the winter. In any case, it’s true that the winter solstice was celebrated long before Christ.
Maybe Christians should relinquish the claim to that holiday and pick something in, say, August, bereft as that month is of holidays, to honor Jesus’ birth. And maybe, leave out the gifting, and make it a day of contemplation, instead. But who are we to buck centuries of tradition?
It sometimes seems the winter holiday tradition has become its own end today, regardless of origin. For many people, the holiday is merely commercial, devoid of any particularly spiritual significance, and that’s too bad. Santa Claus makes a shallow, bureaucratic god, exposed as a hoax every year to new millions of children.
But organized religion itself gets in the way of faith. Does it really matter when Jesus was born? Or even if his conception was virginal? What matters, for those who believe it, is that Jesus rose from the dead – that’s what makes him unique among all other spiritual leaders. Of course, organized religion can’t get the date of his resurrection right, either, as Easter wanders from March to April and back again, depending, literally, on the phases of the moon.
No, these externalities don’t really matter to the core messages of Jesus: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” and “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” God loves us because of who he is, not because of anything we do or don’t do.
So Christians can enjoy this season as a reminder of their savior Jesus – Merry Christmas! Non-Christians can enjoy the season for reminders of their own, too, and everyone can enjoy, as mankind has for millennia, the anticipation of newly lengthening days. Merry Solstice!
This column first appeared in 2006