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On Celebrating Christmas

Recently I came across a line from that master of paradoxes (and of Christmas essays), G.K. Chesterton.

“It is no controversial point against the Christians that they felt they could take up and continue such traditions among the pagans; it only shows that the Christians knew a Christian thing when they saw it.”[i] 

This resonates with my writer’s brain, even more so because I’ve been sweating over a project about the conversion of the Vikings from paganism to Christianity and puzzling over some of their syncretistic archeology. But now it’s Christmas again, and syncretism crops up in a new way. 

You may say there is so much that is pagan in Christmas that Christians should leave it alone. But I must wonder with Chesterton whether the early Christian missionaries in those barbaric twilight years of our faith spreading across pagan Europe knew more than we give them credit for. They coopted some of the wonders of “simple” pagans at mystical things to help celebrate for the best of reasons. And if you’d rather celebrate “non-religious holidays” to avoid any semblance of pagan traditions we’ve forgotten centuries ago, I worry you may have things turned on their head. If you’re going to celebrate something, shouldn’t it be the best news we’ve ever had (in every aspect we can think of): the glad tidings that we’ve been rescued from damnation in hell?

You may say there is no specific holy day we are commanded to celebrate other than the Sabbath, and doesn’t celebrating a religious holiday cheapen the joy we should feel every Sunday at church? Sure! But why not celebrate both? More importantly, put your heart into it! Let’s celebrate Christ every week, with all the gusto (and more) that the jolliest Christmas enthusiast spews out every 52 weeks.

We have the best news the planet has ever heard: let’s live like it! We have joy bursting from our hearts. And we have 52 days a year to go to church and remember that joy. And that doesn’t preclude celebrating it on other days (like Christmas) as well!

[i] Smith, Ryan W. quoting Chesterton, G.K. Winter Fire. Moody Publishers. 2023P. 25

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