By Matthew Clark
Christmas is the start of the tale of God the Father sending his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, to earth to live as a mortal man. Jesus purpose is to spend his short life teaching the divine word of the Father, then to die on the cross so the sins of man(kind) can be forgiven. Therefore Christmas, like God, will never die.
Christmas celebration is another kettle of fish altogether. Christmas celebration is how human beings choose to observe the birth of the 'Saviour.' Throughout the centuries the practices of Christians towards the nativity have ebbed, and flowed, from the extremes of debauched frolicking, as in early 17th century Western Europe, to the somber responsibility exercised by the Puritans of England, and Atlantic America. To the Puritans Christmas was a workday, acknowledged by going to religious service, yet in all other respects treated as a period of labour, with no frivolity conducted.
Throughout the history of Christmas the theme of religion prevails. Not only is there the story of the creator taking on mortal life, there is also the tale of Saint Nicholas throwing a bag of gold down a poor man's chimney, or him giving children of the poor a Christmas gift. Good King Wenceslas, on the feast of St. Stephen, bringing the peasant food, and fuel, is one of the most popular Christmas carols.
Our Lords nativity, St. Nicholas, Good King Wenceslas, and others, are stories which inspire hope in most people. Hope causes human beings to be happy. Happy individuals often celebrate in boisterous fashion. Thus, during the Christmas season, there are energetic, enthusiastic parties, and other merry social gatherings. Nevertheless Christmas is all about the beginning of God's journey of saving our souls by allowing himself to be mortally killed. This is the somber end of the Christmas message, demanding a limit to our joviality, focusing on a spiritual message of Christianity, for at least part of the day.
Since the 19th century there has been an incremental, over time noticeable, transition away from this balanced approach to Christmas celebration, to one that accentuates secular practices over religious. At it's most extreme this trend is exhibited by commercial advertising campaigns for Christmas gifts that start in October. A less substantial, yet still indicative action, is the refusal to wish someone a 'Merry Christmas,' opting instead for 'Happy Holidays.'
How did this start? Perhaps with the American writer Clement Clarke Moore, who published in 1823 a poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," more popularly known as "The Night Before Christmas." Maybe the German custom of putting up a Christmas Tree, or the Dutch tradition of 'Sinterklaas' giving gifts to children, is responsible for the growth in a secular Christmas. Perhaps the move towards globalism, starting as early as the beginning of the industrial Revolution, is a factor.
In Japan, where only 1% of roughly 120 million people are Christian, December 25 sees millions of Japanese exchange 'Christmas cakes.' As a result of a successful 1974 marketing campaign an estimated 3.5 million servings of Kentucky fried Chicken are served at Japanese dinner tables.
In Vietnam, a Buddhist country, Christmas eve sees city centres closed to auto vehicles, so there can be firework displays while young people throw confetti in the air. Thankfully some people go to church, attracted by the nativity scene. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, where only0.3% of the 170 million souls are Christian, celebrate with decorations, Christmas Trees, and an exchange of Christmas cards. Taiwanese, very very few of whom are Christian, put on Christmas plays at school, wear Santa Hats, and exchange gifts, while citizens of Singapore have Christmas Eve fireworks, and Christmas trees decorated with Teddy Bears and candy. Some Singaporeans, even though they are not Christian, mimic the Japanese by going to church to see the nativity display. These international Christmas customs are a sign of Western soft power, yet they are not a meaningful Christian Christmas practice. In fairness these Christmas traditions by non Christian nations, while adding to the momentum of secularism on December 25th, are not the cause of it.
How the movement toward a secular dominated Christmas started is open to debate. Still the foundation of the contemporary Christmas (non-religious) celebration is obvious. It is a rejection of Christ, and any association of Christianity (i.e. as in transforming St. Nicholas into Santa Clause) with December 25th.
Modern carols, such as 'Jingle Bell Rock,' 'Baby it's Cold Outside,' are completely devoid of religious reference. Christmas movies like 'A Christmas Story,' 'Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer,' 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,' often do not even have the word "Jesus" in them.
So what will be the likely result of this trend away from a religious Christmas? Given that this behaviour has been transpiring for quite a while it means most probably that within a short period of time the secular Christmas will die! The evidence for this conclusion presents itself before our eyes. When the Covid panic occurred in 2020, Western governments included Christmas gatherings in their shutdowns. Christmas markets in Europe were a particular casualty of government decree. Despite the opening up of society during the past year Christmas has not regained it's past popularity. In North America once busy stores, flush with Yuletide shoppers, were half empty during the past festive season.
Christmas is becoming an inconvenience. In a diseased world(?), suffering economic contraction, gifts, elaborate meals, stocking stuffers, are unjustified expenditures. A responsible individual does not embark on financial impoverishment in order to have a good party. As economic dislocation continues, discretionary spending on gifts, food, trees, at Christmas time will continue to diminish. Once the habit of commercialization is broken it far from a given that it will be re-adopted, when/if economic prosperity returns. Thus the secular Christmas is, in the long run, self destructive.
Conversely a religious celebration on December 25th which stresses the 'Saviours' birth, will always have a reason for celebration. History has shown our species that this type of spiritual participation also spawns modest practices, such as a single exchange of a gift, or a family gathering together for a tasty, affordable meal. Instead of a weeks holiday, and months long festive season, there is one day of rest, with perhaps a week of cheer.
As in so many other aspects of our civilization, western nations face a pivotal choice in their attitude toward the 'Saviours' birth. Do we follow recent historical trend resulting in an eventual extinction for the holiday, or do we return to the true message of hope Christmas brings? A message which, while it contracts frivolity, brings the worshipper more inner satisfaction, along with a guarantee of Yuletide survival.