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This point that Penn makes was in his new book Every Day is an Atheist Holiday, and I have watched this video and read his transcript. So I know what he is asking, and I agree with him… however. He is starting from a wrong assumption and that incorrect starting point comes from Christians.
Penn is responding to the claims made by Christians that people want to take the “Christ” out of Christmas – or that people have lost the meaning to “the reason for the season,” and some Christians even get up in arms if you switch “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas.” But this assumes that Christmas is strictly a “Christian holiday” or that Christians “invented” Christmas.
But, neither of these things are true.
In fact, nothing in our bible mandates holidays or specific days of remembrance “for Christians” other than the observance of Communion. Or, you could say it like this… Jesus never asked us to celebrate his birth, but he did ask that we celebrate his death.
The truth is the origins of Christmas are much like America - they come from all over and the American 21st century Christmas is far removed from it’s pagan and religious origins.
In fact much of what we use as icons and tradition through many of our nation’s holidays pull influences from the pagan and secular world.
Christmas is an “American holiday.” What we celebrate today with trees, lights, wrapped gifts, mistletoe, eggnog and Santa Claus is an American invention. Yes, the word “Christ” is in the word “Christmas,” but it has about as much meaning as the word “dog” in Hot Dog.
So, if I say the words, “Merry Christmas” to another American – it doesn’t come with a message of religion behind it. Nobody needs to say, “well I am Jewish.” In fact, I don’t see any reason why Jewish people can’t celebrate the holiday with the same decorations.
You see the magic of Christmas is that we each “adopt” it and lay our “skin” on top of it. Each of us receives Christmas with our own memories and traditions and the holiday “transforms” into something sacred.
My house has a Christmas tree and lights and garland just like yours. I have stockings, Christmas cards and all sorts of plush animals around… but… midst that, I also have my Christian imagery. I have 4 manger scenes in my house, multiple Christian tree ornaments as well as lots of other reminders that I celebrate Christmas for Jesus.
But that’s how “I” celebrate Christmas, that’s how I choose to remember the holiday. But as Americans we all have the privilege to celebrate as we see fit.
Penn says, “I would love to take the Christ out of Christmas. I mean, I would love that. I would love there to be a time of the year where everybody came together.”
But before you pick up that stone, listen to what he is saying, he’s asking that we be ecumenical at Christmas time. In other words, that each of us lay aside our preferences for how we celebrate and we instead break through traditional barriers and embrace hands.
Well if that’s not already what we are doing at Christmas time – it should be!
What is the joke in Church? People only come 2 times a year – Easter and Christmas. What does that mean? It means this is the time to turn the “insider language” off and to look for ways to be more inclusive.
Christmas is a time for evangelism. Christmas is a time to share the love and message of Jesus Christ, and you know, the truth is, Jesus spread his message and his healing forgiveness without a trademark or a “brand.”
It can be done.
Christmas can exist without labels and motive.
In fact, if Christians can learn to “go forth and do likewise” as Jesus instructs, I think more and more Americans will celebrate Christmas for “Christ.”