Happy, Happy Christmas
Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can
recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler,
thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!
- Charles Dickens
Every year the sort of people who are against just about everything do a downer on Christmas: “There really wasn’t a star; it was a blah, blah, blah,” “The stable was really a cave blah, blah, blah,” “Christmas trees are really pagan blah, blah, blah,” “Christmas wasn’t really in the winter because blah, blah, blah,” and a genuine lie, “Christmas is really an adaptation of the ancient Roman something or other because blah, blah.”
All of this is on the Intergossip, so it must be true.
The first Christmas logically came late in history, and since there are only 365 days in a solar year, the Nativity had to fall on one of them. And if it happens that on that day there was an older belief somewhere that a certain Sacred Lucky Rock had to be appeased with sacrificial offerings of sophomores for a good fishing season, what is that to us? If a man whose birthday is March 25th learns that the day is the Feast of the Annunciation he does not dismiss the holy day by sputtering “Impossible! That’s my birthday!”
Christmas falls at the time of the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, the point at which the light – or Light – returns. Our pagan ancestors were skilled in astronomy and would have had their own ways of celebrating the return of the sun. This does not veto the Incarnation; it anticipates it.
The external observations and cultural celebrations of Christmas change. Christians in ancient Cyrene could hardly go dashing through the snow where there is no snow, and nomadic tribes at the extremes of the empire would not sing about Christmas time in the city when they had never seen a city. A boar’s head on the table was a big thing in the province of Britannia, but not in Jerusalem. What is any of that to us?
As with most holy days, Christmas is anticipated by a time of reflection and prayer. The day itself is a religious occasion, followed by a period of merriment. That we tend to mix these events out of sequence now does not invalidate any of them. The Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Eve through the Feast of the Epiphany, are poorly served by the silly song. But what is any of that to us?
The Eastern Christian may fault the Western Christian for celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December, and the Western Christian may fault the Eastern Christian for celebrating Christmas on the 7th of January (Gregorian calendar), but neither will fault Christmas for being Christmas.
This is the month, and this the happy morn,
Wherein the Son of Heav'n's eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
- John Milton, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”