Last week I was taken aback by this headline: “It’s time Christians waged war on Christmas.” Reading on I saw that this was an article by the journalist Tim Stanley, who was objecting to the sheer tackiness of the commercial trappings of Christmas and to the cultural appropriation of his faith by non-Christians. His suggested response is to boycott shops which overdo the tackiness, especially those which start doing so many weeks before Christmas itself.
Tim Stanley is not the first to wage war on Christmas in this country. The Puritans took an extreme position, banning all church and secular celebration of Christmas between 1645 and 1660 in England, but this joyless approach was not a popular move and led to pro-Christmas riots.
Stanley’s idea is more nuanced than a ban but even so is unlikely to have much impact, given the sheer weight of commercial interest in promoting Christmas consumption. If you feel uneasy about this excess but don’t want to wage outright war on Christmas you could support charities who provide practical support and care for those who are struggling financially at Christmas and throughout the year, such as Homeless Care Maidstone and the Trussell Trust (there is a bin for donations of tinned food etc just inside the church door).
Stanley raises another interesting point: we now celebrate Christmas in anticipation but forget the event itself once we’ve digested our Christmas lunch. This is almost a mirror image of the Christian tradition. This involves a period of reflective anticipation during Advent (the four weeks before Christmas), when we look forward to the coming of Jesus as the long-promised Messiah and also to the time when he will return to earth in power. It is a time for reflection on some big issues – life, death, accountability and judgement but it is also a time of hope.
Then, when Christmas comes and we are reminded that our hopes were not in vain, we can celebrate with the joyful exuberance expressed in carols such as this favourite, written by Isaac Watts:
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Through January the season of joyful celebration would continue with festivals on January 6th, Epiphany (commemorating the visit of the Magi), and January 9th, Jesus’ baptism, drawing to a conclusion on February 2ndwith the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas).
So on Christmas Day don’t wage war on Christmas, celebrate it! Remember that Jesus himself was no po-faced party-pooper but enjoyed celebrations, and in various parables he likened heaven to a great banquet or wedding feast.
Have a joyful Christmas and a happy and fulfilled new year.