The End of Christmas
[No, this is not going to be yet another rant about “The War against Christmas.”
That war is already over. We are now living in the occupation. But I’m okay with that; I no longer feel the necessity of defending the excesses of Christmas by strained appeals to the Gospel story.
It is time that we acknowledge what has already happened: the new religion of Commerce has usurped the old religion of Christianity. As its crowning achievement it has supplanted the celebration of the birth of the Messiah with the orgy of consuming and spending; just as the new Christian church took over the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which was its winter solstice feast.
We old Christians are now the pagans (we don’t believe in the religion of giving is better than receiving), just as we once were the atheists (we didn’t believe in the Roman gods of empire).
Once upon a time I envisioned writing a long treatise on this phenomenon. My heart is no longer in it. But this is how it began:]
The Long, Cold Birth of the Sacred
"The reason for the season," far from being the clincher in the argument for hanging onto the name of Christmas, instead also reminds us that the season of "Season's Greetings" is as much an underlying factor in its celebration. It is the winter solstice, it is the festival of Sol Invictus (the unconquerable sun), it is hundreds of other lesser feasts that celebrate the turning of life's axis as measured by the path of the sun. The cold, hard facts are that we would celebrate at this time of the year, with or without recognizing the birth of Jesus.
There is no need to rehearse the long story of how the Christian church chose this time of the year, the winter festival, to celebrate the 'birth' of a new age. It must not be thought, however, that some few, wizened fathers of the church, in secret sessions, made this decision, and thus set the church down the path upon which many of us still walk. The local churches, as most often is the case, took the lead. Where one began, others soon followed; until the church decreed in its solemn session that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25--which is the actual date on which daylight hours do begin to lengthen.
I cannot help but recall what was said of the first Christians by the Romans, when they refused to worship the Roman gods: they called them atheists. The Romans did not accuse the Christians of believing in another god; they accused them of believing in no god at all. The first Christians, in effect, were the secularizing agents of their era. But of course the Christians did not see it this way; nor did the Romans. The dance going on at that time had many more steps and many more movements.
Chosing the date of Our Lord's birth to be December 25 follows in a straight line from the choice of names given to Jesus in the early credal statements of the church: Son of God, God from God, Savior of the World, and so forth. These, as John Dominic Crossan so rightly points out, were titles that belonged to the Roman emperor. The early Christians made it a point to challenge the Roman emperor directly.