(Photo credit – Wikipedia)
The feast of Christmas as we generally know and observe it now in the West is a strange amalgam. Since the mid-1960s, in the name of inclusiveness and sensitivity, reinforced in the 1970s and 1980s by persistent lobbying and even legal action to remove the overtly Christian symbols and narrative around the feast from public view and even public discourse, a vaguely “warm and fuzzy” cultural feel-good hybrid has emerged. Its main narrative character is Santa Claus, an “elf” bearing little to no resemblance to his actual historical antecedent, a self-sacrificing and extravagantly generous 4th Century CE Christian Bishop from Anatolia (now central Turkey).
Because the Christian values of love, joy, peace, and compassion are universally valid in human hearts and aspirations, they are still extolled as the “true meaning of Christmas” – even by atheists and completely secular individuals who would never willingly associate them with Christianity or darken a church door.
Much effort has gone into changing the channel to replace the historical narrative about why Christmas still plays a pivotal role in the post-Christian, post-modern West’s culture. There is still an occasional, symbolic nod to Bethlehem and the stable where Jesus/Yeshua was born sometime between 6-4 BCE. After all, unless you want to ridiculously deny (as some do) that the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, actually lived and was something like the person portrayed in the Christian New Testament, he cannot be completely avoided. Our “Common Era” calendar is, in reality, dated from his birth, the event we now strive to ignore, and the whole world now acknowledges this by using that dating system for everyday intercultural concourse. The feast was first marked by solemn observance among Christians beginning in the 4th Century CE.
For two hundred years previously there had been lively discussion among Christian scholars as to the date of Jesus’ birth, and the time of year. Sextus Julius Africanus, a Roman Christian historian, calculated that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s (his mother) womb on March 25. Nine months later for the birth would be December 25, which also coincided with the old Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia. Over time, some of Saturnalia’s less orgiastic elements, such as gift-giving, crept into how the feast was observed. Gift-giving as a recognition of God’s love for each one of his children seemed like a good thing to retain and has been part of the tradition ever since. Everyone loves to receive gifts and be made to feel special for one day of the year.
The word “Christmas” comes from “Christ Mass” – the solemn observance of Christ’s birth by Christians in their worship assemblies. The adoption of “neutral” substitutes for “Merry/Happy Christmas” such as “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” across the West, formerly known as “Christendom”, is an indicator of how far a once vibrant civilization which had, until three generations ago, proudly declared its foundational values to be anchored in the life and person of Jesus of Nazareth, has fallen from its best days.
We are more than saturated with the tired, mea culpa narrative of how the Christian West systematically committed global imperial aggression and perpetrated manifold exploitation and atrocities upon the whole earth with its barbarous use of technological and military ascendancy and conscienceless capitalism. While too much of that is true, shunted to the side are many of the more positive impacts that accompanied the West’s one-time and, historically speaking, rather brief hegemony, a matter of perhaps two centuries, which, in long-term perspective, is rather short-lived. More on that to follow.
Observing and demonstrating the accuracy of such a claim is quite unpopular in the Woke-ultra-Progressive ideology that has taken hold of so much of what now passes for Western public policy-making. Instead of open, democratic debate and free discussion, we are met with haranguing, sententious, ironically holier-than-thou monologue, bombarding us from people who despise the very notion of spiritual “holiness”. Like the relentless chorus in an ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles, this ceaseless refrain has replaced true discourse. As a last resort to drown out opposition, the woke-chorus is called out to shout down the “cultural Neanderthals” who mount a threatening challenge. In Canada, among many other episodes that could be cited, we have a recent and graphic exemplar of this in the treatment of Dr. Jordan Peterson, who, love him or hate him, and despite the best efforts of the neo-enlightened academic elite, is now the most-widely recognized intellectual in the world.
But I digress. Until the last fifty years, Christmas was mainly a Western feast-time focused on the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Son of Man, the Saviour born to free humanity from its slavery to sin. No wonder it was seen as a time for joyous celebration! No wonder that, for a brief season of 12 days (the traditional length of the Christmas Season from December 25 to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany), quarrels and animosities could, or at least ought to be set aside, and, as much as possible, reconciled. The Prince of Peace took precedence over grudges and rancor.
Now largely emptied of the Christ-child, the mainstream has striven to somehow hang onto the good sentiments and message of hope he generates, This is a tall order when he is replaced by the religiously neutered term “the holidays” (a word ironically derived from “Holy Days”) and a spate of feel-good films, inundations of Holiday musak, a round of parties while running ourselves to exhaustion to meet social and gift-giving expectations. Nevertheless, the heart of the Christmas message is contagious enough that it has taken hold in many Asian countries which have no significant historical attachment to Christianity.
It would seem that the Spirit of Christmas that the Bethlehem Baby brought into the world with him 2000 years ago is working and touching many, despite all the fervent efforts of many secularists to render him irrelevant. After all, they can hardly make the Spirit invisible, since that is what He is already by His very nature. But that does not make Him unknowable or unreachable. Empty positive thought and proper inclusiveness rhetoric aside, the Spirit and the Son are far from irrelevant. Both are more relevant and more needed than ever in a world that has grown so fraught with bitter division and angry recrimination. The growing sense of disquiet and impending apocalypse is obvious now everywhere, on every continent, in every nation, whether formerly Christian, Muslim, Communist, Hindu, Buddhist, or of any other cultural identity we can name.
I am not nullifying or minimizing any of the wrongs done by Western imperialist expansion. I am certainly not excusing them, all the more when some of these things were carried out in the name of “the white man’s burden to bring civilization Christianize the the benighted world”.
Without excusing anything, let us observe that all of the sins and wrongs cited above are and historically have been endemic to militaristic and economic imperialism as far back into antiquity as we can trace. Documented and archeological historical records trace these terrible adjuncts of aggression and conquest as far back as the Assyrians (900-600 BCE). In every major imperialist upsurge since then, regardless of the religious or other aspects of the expansionist culture, the same patterns emerge. “The gods have favoured us. We are the Chosen people. Our destiny is to rule, and clearly therefore to not only dominate but subjugate and exploit.”
The works of pillage, rapine, and ruin and subsequent oppression and exploitation have been done very thoroughly in the name of the gods of Assyria, Babylon, China, Persia, Greece, Rome, Islam, and even one or another of the Hindu deities and Buddha, the ultimate pacifist. More recently all this has been done even more horribly in the name the secular religions Fascism, Nazism, and the “world-revolution” of Communism in its different shades and nuances. In fact, the slaughters and horrors carried out in the name of the ideological idols of the 19th and 20th Centuries were the most horrendous of all. So much for “established religion” being the root of all evil. The palpable ignorance of denying that all fanatical ideological commitments are indeed nothing less than religions minus a Deity (except the “Great Leader” at the center) is just willful, blind hypocrisy.
As Bob Dylan put it so powerfully, “You gotta serve somebody.”
Which brings us back to the Bethlehem Baby who grew up to be the greatest inspirational figure in all human history. Remove all the subsequent distortions of what He and His first followers said and began, and no message ever brought or still extant brings greater light and hope. Try as hard as we might, He and His Good News cannot ever be replaced with anything remotely comparable from any other source.
Merry Christmas and many blessings to you, dear Readers.
TO BE CONTINUED