Thursday, December 27, 2007

Is Christimas a Catholic Holiday?

In a recent discussion with Centuri0n (the wise Turk), he noted with apparent surprise my curious insistence, as a Puritan, that Christmas is a vestige of Catholicism, and is primarily objectionable for that reason, not for its more ancient connection with paganism.

Let's be clear about one thing: just because one celebrates the birth of Christ does not make one a crypto-Catholic, and Centuri0n has the honor of having his photo posted in a popular Catholic apologist's "Anti-Catholics" web page. Indeed, the Bible gives us the freedom, individually, to celebrate holy days according to our choosing.

Furthermore, let's be clear that giving gifts, spending time with family, eating figgy pudding and honey-glazed ham, and drinking spiced cider, eggnog, or (if your conscience permits) a little brandy, is perfectly fine - whether the occasion is the birthday of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II (may God save the Queen!), Independence Day, Bastille Day, International Women's Day, or a day you have set aside to remember Christ's incarnation. Those things are not religious activities. For most folks, even etymologically questionable things like mistletoe and a conifer have lost their original druidic connotation, and are essentially just winter seasonal decorations. Bereft of original pagan significance, these two can be enjoyed as God's gifts.

But Christmas was a Catholic holiday. While misguided modern evangelicals are busy trying to put the "Christ" back in "Christmas," they are joined in that task by Catholics who are anxious to put not only the "Christ" back in, but the "mass" back in as well. Why? Because it was their holiday first.

One perfectly acceptable reason for an evangelical not to celebrate the Birth of Christ on December 25 each year is to say to the world: "My religion is not Catholicism. I do not honor their holy days, and I do not follow their traditions. The Scripture alone is my rule of faith and life."

Now, I realize there is a counter-argument that we can Evangelical-ize Christmas, just as Catholics Christianized Christmas away from the pagans in the first place. I hate to be a sourpuss on this, but It's not going to work. Too many false gospels with their false Christs are willing to be a part of almost every American child's favorite holiday, and Catholicism is right there, leading the way, and pointing out that they came up with the idea of celebrating a mass to honor Christ's birth.

Furthermore, in order to outnumber those who make Christmas a holy day of obligation, we'd practically have to make it obligatory on the people of our churches as well. Doing so would violate God's law by unlawfully binding the consciences of men to a human invention.

Sorry, Centuri0n - it is a Catholic holiday, it is associated with Catholicism, and its only the influence of secularism/paganism that is likely to decatholicize it. We see that happening in America today, where the holiday is largely "secular" and humanist, despite Congressional attempts to declare it a Christian holiday (which, as you may have heard, got a surprising 9 votes against!). Feel free to celebrate it if you like, but don't insist that we join you.

I have freedom in Christ to treat the day, for religious purposes, like any other, and I plan to exercise that freedom, without stepping on your freedom to set it aside as a holy day for yourself.

May God Incarnate be glorified,

-Turretinfan

12 comments:

Albert said...

Turretinfan,

Nice blog entry again. I know one pastor who I think is as Reformed as you are, but who will disagree with some of the points you presented here.

Here is his blog entry: http://www.twoagespilgrims.com/doctrine/?p=115

The pastor is a Filipino, and is here in my country as a missionary. He is from the Escondido United Reformed Church (URCNA) and is a graduate of Westminster Seminary.

Turretinfan said...

I'm willing to agree that the reason for the selection of December 25 is not clear from the historical record.

It's a little handy that it happens to coincide with a major pagan feast day in the Roman empire.

I'm not trying to be dogmatic, just skeptically circumspect of theories that early Christians really believed Christ was born that particular day.

-Turretinfan

TheoJunkie said...

TF,

I certainly would not want to force you to celebrate Christ's birth.

However, unlike some Catholic celebrations ("All Saints Day", "All Hallows Eve", "Mary's Assumption"... and the like)... The birth of Christ is 1) documented and 2) celebrated in the bible (even with the giving of gifts, though the Puritan may want to give only frankincense, gold, and myrrh while sipping his brandy). And, of course, without the birth of Christ we could not have Easter.

Granted, December 25 is more than suspect as a date. Though, I wonder why it is the 25th and not the actual winter solstice of December 21st. That said, it is fitting in a sense that we might celebrate the entry of Light of the World on one of the darkest days of the world.

Granted, the title "Christ-Mass" is also suspect. But my point here is that just as the secular celebration of "christmas" at Victoria's Secret does not suggest the participant is catholic, neither does the evangelical celebrating Christ's birth suggest the same.

Also, TF, it seems that there are many other hold-overs from the "Catholic years" within the Church, not just Christmas. One notable would be the ever-moving date of Easter... unlikely that this holiday (holy day?!) matches the actual date of Christ's work on the Cross and resurrection.

It appears to me that the thrust of the Reformation was the soteriology behind the Gospel... ergo the term "evangelical". It does not seem to me that the Reformers were interested in throwing out everything Catholic, but indeed, "Reforming" the Church.

I would be curious whether John Calvin (and others) celebrated Christmas. Luther surely did, it would seem.

But again, I do not suggest that you should celebrate it, just as you would not force a person to drink brandy at an Elizabethan memorial fest.

I do hope you enjoyed Tuesday this year! :o)

Turretinfan said...

I read that Calvin reintroduced the celebration of Christmas to Geneva (they had abandoned the celebration prior to his becoming a significant theological influence there).

I haven't bothered to verify (or debunk) that claim, because I'm not that worried about it.

One hardly thinks that the Wise Men's gifts to Jesus were normative generally, or suggestive of the modern gift-giving custom.

The 25th is, as I understand it, the actual date on the old Roman Calendar of the feast of the Sun God. The 3-4 day offset puzzles me as well.

Easter is an interesting counter-example. Although people seem to have trouble making the appropriate calculations, we know its relative position with respect to the Passover, which makes its data calculable.

We (Puritans) hold that the proper celebration of Christ's resurrection is weekly, on the first day of the week.

-Turretinfan

centuri0n said...

(yawn)

So you're saying that with the whole world stopped and the name of Christ plasted on that day inspite of our post-Christian culture, it's just another day -- in which you may or may not be an evangelist.

I'm sure the puritans are proud of you. Paul and James, on the other hand, are probably rolling their eyes.

Turretinfan said...

Cent,

I published your comment to give myself the chance to clarify something, in case you were not the only one to misunderstand.

Cent wrote: So you're saying that with the whole world stopped and the name of Christ plasted [sic] on that day inspite of our post-Christian culture, it's just another day -- in which you may or may not be an evangelist.
I answer: No. That's not quite what I said.
a) True, it is just another day.
b) Yet normal evangelical duties apply (which doesn't mean that you hide in a tortoise shell or by your hearth cooking chestnuts).
c) The American world is stopped for the family gatherings, gift giving, and partying.
d) The name of Christ is certainly both blasted and plastered all over the place, and yet most people end up confusing him with a sort of religious Santa Claus, or a helpless infant.

Cent: I'm sure the puritans are proud of you. Paul and James, on the other hand, are probably rolling their eyes.
TF: The Puritans and the Apostles are arm in arm on this one. Paul gives me the explicit warrant to treat all days alike, and James by now knows better (even if he was a Judaizer for a time).

You just don't get it, brother Cent.

Evangelism is not about conforming to the post-Christian culture around us, but about transforming that culture. You should know that, and I've seen evidence that you do know that on your blog.

So, come on. If I want to blow of Christmas as just another day, to witness to my casting off the shackles of papist superstition, let me do so.

-Turretinfan

P.S. It seems your views are popular elsewhere (link), which should give you pause as to how effective an evangelical witness your position is.

Turretinfan said...

Cent's further thoughts on the subject:

here
and
here.

Estelieth said...

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is now the longest reigning British monarch in recorded history, interestingly:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3078465.ece

Turretinfan said...

That is an interesting fact. I wonder if there are any longer reigning monarchs in world history.

-Turretinfan

GeneMBridges said...

I believe she's the longest living (eg OLDEST) reigning monarch in the UK. She'll be the LONGEST reigning monarch of the UK in 2015, and you know that other things being equal, she'll be there; she's a tough old bird. Margaret Thatcher was NOT the Iron Lady. :p

http://my.opera.com/garydenness/blog/our-very-old-queen

Also see: http://www.theroyalist.net/content/view/1085/26/ for the answer to your question.

Turretinfan said...

Good point!

55 years of her reign so far. It will be four more before she reaches George III, another four to reach Victoria, an additional one to pass Victoria, an additional eight to reach Louis XIV, and then one last year to hold the world title.

Thus, in 18 short years, she may be the longest reigning monrach ever.

-Turretinfan

luvvom said...

I really enjoyed reading what A Puritan's Mind had to say about Christmas here