The legal and philosophical Christmas controversy reached new heights in 2004. Major news magazines have featured nativity scenes on their covers, and lengthy discussions as to the validity of the biblical story of Christ’s birth. As an extension of the effort to “kick God out of the country,” litigation has been brought against nativity displays in various instances all across the United States. Logic for the lawsuits stems from the “separation of Church and State” arguments which have become a staple in an ongoing controversy. Conventional wisdom holds that there must be an “impenetrable wall” between government and any recognition of God. Of course, that is not what the founders intended, as is plain in the language used in many of this nation’s founding documents.
As you listen to the debates currently raging, or read mainstream news articles about how Christmas is under attack, it is clear that conventional wisdom on the subject is completely out to lunch from every standpoint being presented. Conservatives in the media assume that anti-Christmas equals anti-God. They are further outraged that some department store chains are “throwing Christ out of Christmas” by changing “Merry Christmas” slogans and greetings to “Happy Holidays” or whatever. The number one cable talk show host Bill O’Reilly recently said, with tongue in cheek and utter derision, “We might as well change it to 'Happy Solstice'!” Accidental and insincere as the statement was, it’s about as close to good logic as I’ve heard in all the back and forth discussions. O’Reilly, incidentally stands by the philosophy that since Christmas is a recognized federal holiday, and falls under the protected status of national tradition, that it should be respected as such. His second most memorable line on the matter was the advice to, “Just enjoy the Christmas experience and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Liberals want Christmas banished from schools and the courthouse lawn under the logic of the “impenetrable wall” argument. Of course, there is nothing about an impenetrable wall in the language of the constitution. The concept has been established in court decisions by judges who’ve somehow figured out that God should not be acknowledged by any government related or government funded institution. That’s why it’s illegal for a prayer to be led by any teacher or official in a public school. While legal precedent along those lines is cited in case after case as various related instances come before the courts, the argument still doesn’t hold water. The intent and clear statements of the men God undoubtedly led and blessed in the organization of this, the greatest nation in the history of the world, must be ignored wholesale in order to reach such a conclusion!
It’s enough to make you crazy! How is it that these debates by well-known, highly educated, huge salaried individuals go on and on without anyone ever tumbling to the fact that an unemotional look at the undisputed historical truth underlying the matter knocks all their arguments right in the head.
First of all, Christmas doesn’t have nearly the American tradition that it’s given credit for. Some may know that its observance was considered a sin and an insult to God by the pilgrims. A fine was actually attached to the prohibition in the early colonies. Research shows that the custom didn’t gain wide acceptance until after the civil war, and was not established as a national holiday until 1890 (only two years before my grandfather was born). The Santa Claus that’s so familiar, with the white hair, beard and red suit was invented as part of a Coca Cola advertising campaign in 1930! (see middle photo above)
History relating to the practice of gathering around a decorated tree indoors undeniably dates back to pagan civilizations which long pre-date Jesus’ birth. The fact that pagan customs and celebrations have been adapted to “Christian” celebrations is not even in dispute. The encyclopedias admit as much. Even the recent (Dec. 13) Newsweek magazine article makes the case, however awkwardly. As part of a very long, in-depth look at the biblical account and numerous scholarly viewpoints, it appears to use the “pagan” aspects of what has evolved to be mainstream “Christian” practice and belief to cast doubt on the overall validity of the literal story of Jesus’ miraculous birth and, for that matter the historical accuracy of the Bible itself. “Yet, as with so many other elements of faith, the Nativity narratives are the subject of ongoing scholarly debate over their historical accuracy, their theological meaning and whether some of the central images and words of the Christian religion owe as much to the pagan culture of the Roman Empire as they do to apostolic revelation.” Yes, there it is. The problem in a nutshell.
There is no indication that Jesus, the apostles or the early church ever celebrated His birth! However, pagan cultures are replete with “Madonna and child” traditions dating to ancient Babylon and Egypt. While there is no reason to be threatened by Christmas displays, is it not logical to conclude that the true Jesus Christ and God the Father are not to be honored with the symbols and practices adopted by Rome hundreds of years after His death?
The point of this short column is not to prove that the date and artifacts of Christmas are related to pagan feasts and practices. That information is voluminous and readily available. It is rather to point out that choosing to opt out of the shopping rush, gathering around a tree full of ornaments, and a recognition that God is not worshiped or honored by an amalgamation of symbols of fertility, ancient feasts related to sun worship wrapped together with the miraculous account of Jesus birth is neither anti-God nor anti-American. To the contrary!
As is often the case, the great “Christmas controversy” of 2004 gives no quarter to the best reasoned, most logical viewpoint. For a much more detailed comparison of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth and the customs of Christmas, feel free to request Garner Ted Armstrong’s booklet —The Untold Story. It is available free of charge.