“And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
— Luke 2:10-11, KJV
Earlier this month, a group called American Atheists posted a billboard in New York saying, “You know it’s a myth: This season, celebrate reason!” As one might expect, this caused a bit of a stir, with the Catholic League returning salvos with a billboard of their own, saying, “You know it’s real: This season, celebrate Jesus.”
Just like that, the armistice between culture warriors on each side ended, and the War on Christmas was back on.
And at least for the moment, it seems that those who “celebrate reason” are winning.
For the past century, the Christ-centered aspect of Christmas has been steadily marginalized and forgotten while the more commercial and materialistic aspects of Christmas have been exalted.
Granted, holiday celebrations have not always revolved around the birth of Jesus. Many ancient Europeans celebrated the winter solstice and the coming of days with extended sunlight. Germans honored the pagan god Oden and Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a celebration of debauchery that would make New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration pale in comparison.
Even in Christian societies, Christmas wasn’t celebrated at the outset. Easter was the dominant holiday, and Christmas wasn’t celebrated until the fourth century. Even the date, Dec. 25, has been disputed—Pope Julius I picked it, but the Bible doesn’t give a specific date for the birth of Jesus and many believe the day the pope chose to be the wrong one.
Nevertheless, Christmas developed into a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christmas carols developed like “Silent Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Away in a Manger” that explicitly mentioned Jesus Christ, and the myth of Santa Claus was developed out of a real man, St. Nicholas, a saint renowned for his kindness.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, Christmas has steadily lost this part of its past.
It came slowly. Christmas movies, at first, at least alluded to faith. “Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings” is a famous quote from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” one of the most beloved Christmas movies in America. But the path Christmas celebrations have taken have mostly mirrored the direction American culture writ large has gone.
Christmas instead became centered around Santa Claus, and not one based on the St. Nicholas of yore. Movies were now based on him, and songs became about the winter, the cold and reindeer.
The culture became preoccupied with finding the best gift possible, giving birth to days specifically dedicated to shopping. The politically correct American culture has been replaced “Merry Christmas” with the less explicitly religious “Happy Holidays.”
Instead of celebrating Jesus, family and peace, Americans rock out to “Glee Christmas,” visit the Christmas season exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, which features such “art” as an ant-covered Jesus, and earn affection by shopping for on-sale items on Black Friday.
In light of all this, the atheist billboard in New York is simply a natural progression of what happens when Christ is removed from Christmas.
Not all is lost, though. There is still hope. For as long as there is still a multitude saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” then there is always a chance for restoration.
Merry Christmas, everyone.