If you take “season” to mean the season of winter, the period of the year, in the Northern Hemisphere, between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, characterized by colder temperatures and fewer hours of daylight, then the season is the result of the 23 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to its orbital plane. Jesus is neither the source, nor the cause, nor in any sense the reason for this season.
If you interpret “season” to mean the season of celebration surrounding the solstice in late December, then it is the result of virtually every culture throughout Europe and Asia marking the time of the solstice as a significant annual event. Many of these cultural celebrations predate Christianity by hundreds or thousands of years, and most have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. Even the connection of Jesus to Christmas is questionable; Christians take the day to mark his birth, but a careful reading of the Biblical account suggests his actual date of birth was during spring or summer. The Christmas celebration was established in late December to replace the pre-existing pagan celebrations, including Saturnalia, which were already popular in the Roman Empire before its conversion to Christianity.
So if I want to celebrate a non-religious holiday in late December, why bother with Christmas at all? There’s Yule, which is a major donor of traditions and trappings to modern Christmas — why don’t I trade in the tree for a log, and call the family to feast in honor of Thor? Because I don’t want to celebrate Yule. It means nothing to me. I want to celebrate Christmas. What the evangelical “Jesus is the reason” crowd hates to admit is that, while they weren’t looking, especially during the last hundred years or so, Christmas became a secular holiday.
Some Christians, I know, object to Christ-free secular celebrations being referred to as Christmas. “Put the Christ back in Christmas,” goes another popular slogan. But the word, like the holiday itself, has evolved beyond its origins. Modern Christmas is no more limited by the original conventions of Christ’s Mass than modern Halloween is by the Catholic celebration of All Hallows Eve.
I also don’t believe there is a war on Christmas. I’m not an officious alarmist who sees department stores and local governments wishing people “Happy Holidays” as part of an insidious scheme to delete Christmas from the public consciousness, like a certain television and radio host whom I shall not name, except to state that his initials are “Bill O’Reilly.” I know that many public schools no longer allow their show choirs to sing Christmas carols, and are even afraid to label their Christmas pageants as such, but I chalk that up to misplaced, overboard, however well-meaning, political correctness rather than some nefarious desire on the part of teachers and administrators to disenfranchise Christians.
I have no problem with schools holding Christmas assemblies, with the local, state or national governments hanging Christmas decorations on public property, or with the mayor or the governor or the president wishing us all a “Merry Christmas,” so long as we’re talking about the secular Christmas that virtually everyone in the United States, regardless of cultural or religious background, celebrates, even if only a little, and not the self-righteously pious Jesus-fest around which many church calendars revolve.
Not that I’m the type to brag about this sort of thing, but the Supreme Court agrees with me. In 2001, the highest court in the land upheld a lower court’s ruling in the case of Ganulin v. United States that Christmas served a legitimate secular purpose. It is not an exclusively religious holiday, and it hasn’t been for a long time.
Secular Christmas isn’t perfect. I’m as put-off by the commercialism and materialism surrounding it as anyone. I don’t want it to be an occasion for overindulgence or conspicuous consumption. I hate the emphasis on shopping that dominates the season, kicking into high gear the day after Thanksgiving and enduring for a solid month. Christmas is a sacred day to me. It’s a day for family and friends, for sitting around the table and eating great food, for gathering in the living room to watch Miracle on 34th Street — hell, if Dad wants to, I’ll even hold my gorge down long enough to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Making it a secular day shouldn’t make it a cheap day, a commercial or tawdry day.
For me, it’s always been the most wonderful time of the year, and it’s never had anything to do with the birth of Jesus. If you and your family treasure your religious Christmas, if you look forward to attending church services early in the morning, if you proudly display your illuminated plastic crèche in your front yard, more power to you. You have a right to your Christmas, just as I have to mine.
Anyway, whatever your Christmas looks like, whether its central figure is a child in a manger or a fat, bearded fellow on a sleigh; whether your tree is topped by an angel or a star; whether your yard is adorned with a nativity scene or a giant inflatable snowman; whether you believe in Christ, or Santa Claus, or neither one; whether you adore it or couldn’t care less, have a good one. Merry Christmas.