America has two Christmases

It’s that time of the year, when we start hectoring our neighbors about “Jesus being the reason for the season” and “keeping the Christ in Christmas.”

My question is whether we’ve already lost this fight.

On Monday, the Swagbucks site asked in its daily poll whether people like Christmas music. In the comments, one person complained that Christmas music is “too religious.” This was followed by some lecturing and “well duhs” from Christians.

Now, the absurdity of the complaint aside, we have to admit there are two kinds of Christmas in the United States.

Christmas House Lights

Photo by Paul Scott • freeimages.com

There’s the cultural “Christmas” in which people spend money they don’t have to buy things their friends don’t need. They litter their yards with electric lights and inflatable Santas and then rig the whole thing up to a computer to synchronize the flashing of the lights to music by Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Then there’s the actual Christmas, in which people pause in the middle of their hectic lives to ponder the humble grace of a God who put on flesh to dwell among us, and who did so not by taking on the guise of a rich and powerful man, but by taking on the guise of an infant, born to a poor couple from a tiny, ill-thought-of village.

And let’s be honest—plenty of us celebrate both kinds.

But it does seem strange that these two festivals are called by the same name. They really are two different things. And what I really wonder about is whether pagans are as pissed off about us co-opting their Yule practices as we are about irreligious people co-opting ours.


About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

5 comments on “America has two Christmases

  1. Hi Kristen. I agree for all practical purposes there are two Christmas celebrations in not only America but the whole world. And I’m actually fine with that.

    As for you question about Pagans (which sounds like it might have been rhetorical, but I’ll answer it anyway) I happen to know some modern neo-Pagans and while they like to occasionally mess with Christians by pointing out we use their symbology, they aren’t really bothered by it. Long ago December 25 was on the Winter Solstice according to the old Roman calendar. But it isn’t anymore–and it happens to be true the Pagans are still celebrating the solstice, which is now Dec 22nd. So Yule operates quite independently from Christmas for modern Pagans…

  2. In fact this “other Christmas” is going back more to its pagan roots more than many might like to admit. But why observe either? The New Testament Church and its legitimate heirs, and I mean for centuries, had something infinitely better: the Sabbaths, Festivals, Holy Days, and (while the Temple still stood) the New Moons which the righteous in Israel had been observing all along.

    That’s the example I follow, for the record. And one of the best parts is that the whole system is self-financing, according to biblical statute. One never has to spend money one doesn’t have in order to celebrate it.

    • The most likely date – within a two-week span, depending on how one does the calculation – for Jesus’ birth is the Feast of Trumpets, also the weekly Sabbath, in 4 BC. In any case it was nowhere near the winter solstice, nor yet in the spring, but in the early autumn!

      The early Church never had to invent or borrow a special feast in memorial of Jesus’ birth. They already had one, if that’s what they wanted to focus on “in season” as part of the larger picture of God’s plan of salvation. But that biblical feast was forgotten, even suppressed, thanks to certain specious arguments of the Ante-Nicene Fathers among other reasons. And those arguments were only the beginning of what ended up as force of imperial and canon law, just as specious in its foundation.

  3. This becomes more apparent every year! The chasm widens…

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