Sunday, December 5, 2010

Seasons of the Church (Part III): Christmas

Just as Christianity is pointless without Christ, so Advent makes no sense without Christmas.  For Christ is at the center of our faith, and it is His coming, His Advent, which we eagerly anticipate in the four weeks before Christmas.

We all have things we look forward to at Christmas.  For students, it means a pause in the pace of studies, a welcome time with family.  For many of us, we have traditions with family to anticipate.  There is decorating and gift-making and baking.  If we pay attention to the messages of our culture, we should look forward to rushing about to make everything perfect, to spending lots of money on people (regardless of what they really need), and an ideal, cheery, holiday.

For centuries, the church has also provided something to look forward to  - a rich celebration of the coming of Christ.

Salisbury Cathedral
Photo Credit: Ash Mills
A brief history of Christmas
(summarized from Ireton's book)
Christmas became a Christian holy day in the fourth century, and was chosen to coincide with pagan solstice celebration.  Whatever the reasons for this choice, it is profound for us in the northern hemisphere that we celebrate the coming of the light of the world during the darkest time of the year.

By the twelfth century it was a major celebration with three masses, each celebrating different aspects of the birth of Christ.  Then, and now in some churches, Christmas was not a day but a season, stretching to Epiphany on Jan 6.

In this sense the long wait of Advent makes sense: it culminates in a season of celebration and rejoicing.  Wouldn't it be great if we could bring this tradition back?   Do you have any ideas for celebrating Christmas differently this year?

The Liturgical Colors
white - symbolizing the light of Christ, as well as his purity and innocence.
gold - symbolic of Christs  royal kingship and triumph over sin and death.

Grief in the mist of Joy
Ireton makes an interesting point: that in the midst of the Christmas season is the remembrance of the slaughter of innocent children.  The church calendar does not shy away from the reality of the world to which Christ came.  Ireton states,
Placing [The Feast of the] Holy Innocents here, in the midst of Christmas, forces us to face the wickedness of this world, which will intrude on even our most joyful celebrations, showing them to be incomplete, premature. (39)
I'm not sure that is the reason for it's placement, but nevertheless it does give us pause for thought, and lends a reality, even an audacity, to the celebrations which would not be there otherwise.  The evil and sin in the world does not make Christmas less worth celebrating - rather it is for this reason that Christ came.  And it is because of Christ's coming that we have hope of a time when all evil is truly and forever defeated and we can rejoice in endless light.


  1. A girl I work with told me her family doesn't celebrate Christmas. She didn't know how to explain why except that it wasn't in the Bible and a Christmas tree was like a god and we'd lost the true meaning of Christmas. And that celebrations were gods too. I pondered this and couldn't help but think that Advent and the Christmas season are most definitely an extension to what the Bible has to say about waiting, rejoicing, and worshipping. I also had a conversation with a young mom who wants her kids to believe in santa, even though they are christian. I couldn't help but think that a full christmas has no need for santa...

  2. It is sad when people lose touch with the Church.

    That being said, it is still important for us to be actively thinking about why and how we celebrate together. Yet I'm not sure that abandoning the church in its celebrations is a good way to do this.

    I agree, my Christmases were always wonderful without 'santa' (though we did learn about him, and St. Nicholas...)