Xmas, Dickens, & UCG


The Wall Street Journal had an interesting excerpt article this week about why Westerners observe Christmas:

“The Man Who Invented Christmas:
How Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Rescued his Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits”
Wall Street Journal – Dec 17, 2008 Excerpted with permission from the Crown Publishing Group.

For all the strengths that are evident to the modern eye in A Christmas Carol, and despite his own confidence in the power of his tale, Dickens had at least two good reasons to be apprehensive as publication day for his story approached. One had to do with the nature of the holiday itself, and the other with the dire financial straits he found himself in.

As for the first, Christmas in 1843 was not at all the pre-mier occasion that it is today…

There were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys, no department-store Santa or his million clones, no outpouring of “Yuletide greetings,” no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no orgy of gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), no holiday lighting extrava-ganzas, and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior.

In fact, despite all of Dickens’s enthusiasms, the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far be-low Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day or St. George’s Day does today. In the eyes of the relatively en-lightened Anglican Church, moreover, the entire enterprise of celebrating Christmas smacked vaguely of paganism, and were there Puritans still around, acknowledging the holiday might have landed one in the stocks.

In fact, for much of the first two centuries of settlement in New England, Christmas was scarcely celebrated. As Yule scholar Stephen Nissenbaum points out, from 1659 to 1681 there was actually a law on the books in the Massachusetts Colony that forbade the practice and levied a fine of five shill-ings upon anyone caught in the act. Sitting down with their new native friends for a Thanksgiving feast might have been perfectly acceptable, but when Governor William Bradford discovered a few of his fellow Pilgrims trying to celebrate Christmas the year after their arrival, he broke up the cere-monies and ordered everyone back to their jobs.

Part of the reason that Puritans found the holiday such anathema lies in the holiday’s roots in pagan celebrations that date back to Roman times. There is in fact no reference in the Christian gospels to the birth of Jesus taking place on the twenty-fifth of December, or in any specific month at all. When Luke says, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,” there is not the slightest indication of what day that might have been. Moreover, as climatologists have pointed out, the typical weather patterns in the high desert region, then as now, make it difficult to believe that shepherds would have been out tending their flocks during frigid, late-December nights, when nighttime lows often dipped below freezing.

For the first several hundred years of Christianity’s prac-tice, and while the death and rebirth of Jesus were venerated upon the highest holy day of Easter, the birth of the savior was not celebrated. It was Pope Julius I who, during the fourth century, designated December 25 as the official date for the birth of Jesus, and scholars believe that he chose the date so that Christianity might attract new members by co-opting the lingering sentiments for the ancient festival of Saturnalia, held annually by Romans in honor of their god of agriculture.

Be-ginning the week before the winter solstice (which occurs between December 20 and 23 each year) and for an entire month, Romans turned their ordinary world topsy-turvy and embarked upon an orgy of drinking and feasting, during which businesses and schools were closed, the government of the city was turned over to the peasants, and slaves were relieved of their masters.

The decision to create Christmas (the term derives from the original “dismissal” or “festival,” i.e., “Mass of Christ”), officially celebrating the birth of Jesus for the first time, brought mixed blessings to the Church. Indeed, many pagans found the new religion that embraced their old customs invit-ing, and the membership rolls grew. On the other hand, Church leaders found that their new Christmas celebrations often got out of hand. As soon as services were over for the day, churchgoers in early modern Europe found it perfectly acceptable to transition directly to a drunken bacchanal, espe-cially if they were part of the disenfranchised class…

As for Christmas, which had been given over utterly to “carnall and sensual delights,” Parliament put it into law in 1644 that December 25 was from then on to be a day of fast-ing and repentance. Such legislation led to discontent and even rioting in rural corners of the land, but the ban on Christmas would stay in place until Charles II returned in 1660 and the monarchy was restored. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122953727828014791.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Of course, Charles Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” is not really about Jesus, but getting people for feeling guilty for not keeping Christmas and for not caring for others.  And while people need to love one another, it is not biblically necessary (nor advisable) to resort to pagan practices for that to occur.

UCG sent out an email last night giving ten reasons from Scott Ashley why Christmas should not be celebrated:

The Top 10 Reasons Why I Don’t Celebrate Christmas

It’s that time of year again! You are now barraged by the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. Shoppers are going into spending overdrive, and when the bills arrive, some will wonder if it’s really worth it. Here’s a list of ten reasons from one person on why they kicked the Christmas habit.

1. Christmas is driven by commercialism.

2. Christmas is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.

3. Jesus wasn’t born on or near December 25.

4. The Christmas holiday is largely a recycled pagan celebration.

5. God condemns using pagan customs to worship Him.

6. Christmas is worshipping God in vain.

7. You can’t put Christ back into something He was never in.

8. The Bible nowhere tells us to observe a holiday celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth—but it clearly does tell us to commemorate His death.

9. Christmas obscures God’s plan for mankind.

10. I’d rather celebrate the Holy Days Jesus Christ and the apostles observed.

And UCG is correct on that.  I would add that overeating and getting into debt, which happens to more than a few related to this renamed pagan holiday, are two additional reasons.

And I should add that I feel that Scott Ashley’s logic to not observe it is much better than that publicly proclaimed by WCG this month in order to observe it (see WCG, Christmas, & Biblical Logic).

Several articles of possibly related interest may include:

What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Christmas and the Holy Days? Do you know what the Catholic Church says were the original Christian holy days? Was Christmas among them?
Did Early Christians Celebrate Birthdays? Did biblical era Jews celebrate birthdays? Who originally celebrated birthdays? When did many that profess Christ begin birthday celebrations?
Is January 1st a Date for Christians Celebrate? Historical and biblical answers to this question about the world’s New Year’s day.
Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings Are traditions on equal par with scripture? Many believe that is what Peter, John, and Paul taught. But did they?
Is There “An Annual Worship Calendar” In the Bible? This paper provides a biblical and historical critique of several articles, including one by WCG which states that this should be a local decision. What do the Holy Days mean? Also you can click here for the calendar of Holy Days.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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