Solstice Celebration or Christmas?

It seems like every year I write something on the history of Christmas.  The first year that I gave a talk on “When was Jesus really born?”, I could see the disbelieving faces betraying their certainty that I had become a heretic.  One year I wrote a column for the local paper on the origins of popular Christmas customs that got me more than a few nasty responses.   So here we are again trying to get Christ back into Christmas with little recognition that we Christians tried to take over a well established Roman solstice celebration somewhere around the fourth century, and then kept on trying to do it in the other northern cultures we encountered, each with their own solstice celebrations.  Never had much success, but we’re still trying.

I think we should give up, relax, enjoy the pagan rituals that surround us and that are not offensive to our faith, and get on with parallel celebration of our Christ’s Mass without trying to merge the two.  It’s a battle we lost centuries ago and continue to lose each year.  As for me and my household, we will observe Advent and the Christian Christmas, but we will also enjoy gifts, wreaths, trees, lights, parties, etc.  Besides, it’s one of the two times in the year when marginal and non-Christians will show up in church, and we should make the most of it with boldly inviting proclamations of the Good News of God in Christ.

5 thoughts on “Solstice Celebration or Christmas?”

  1. ah, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just enjoy the celebrations around us without trying to co-opt them. PeaceBruno

  2. I had a similar experience as yours with explaining the origins of Christmas with telling, casually, a New Testament Greek class about the pagan origins of Hallowe'en, that it originally was a Celtic celebration honoring the spirits of the dead. A French pope in the 9th century tried to combat this pagan festival by placing All Saints Day on the day following the pagan one the night before, called Samein (and still called that in France). The people responded to this effort by simply celebrating both! A student of mine, a rather rigid conservative Baptist minister, went out and forbade his little congregation to avoid letting their children go out to 'trick or treat' since it was a pagan holiday. I explained that I had not meant to outlaw it and deprive the little children of their rather obnoxious fun, but to explain the principle of \”syncretism\” that has been such a part of what we have for a long time done with all holidays; mixing the old and the new, sometimes with new meanings. (Jews in this country exchange presents at Hannukah, which was never a part of that festival; and Americans picked up the custom of having Christmas trees from the German Lutherans in the 1850s, though now believing that they had always done it!)

Leave a Reply