A recent letter to the editor in *The Dalles Chronicle* contained a sincere plea that Christians should not make so much of Christmas. The reason given is that the winter solstice was a pagan celebration before Christians began celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th, and besides that, we don’t really know exactly when Christ was born anyway. He made note that the tradition of the decorated Christmas tree also seems to have roots in the pagan solstice festival. The writer also said that it’s more important to celebrate Jesus’ death upon the cross than His birth.
I’d like to point out a few things here, all centering upon one main point: the Christian Church has decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, and there’s nothing wrong with that. She has also decided to incorporate various customs in various places, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. In fact, many of those customs have been filled with rich meaning relating to our salvation. If such a tradition still has roots in some ancient pagan tradition, yet we are not holding the tradition *as pagans*, then where is the problem? Our salvation does not depend upon particular traditions like these, but upon our Lord’s Gospel and Sacraments, and the Spirit-worked faith that trusts in them. Our salvation depends upon the historical events that we remember every year, from the resurrection of Christ, back through His death, passion, ministry, and even to His birth and conception. That’s why the Church has chosen a day on which to celebrate the birth of her Savior.
Certainly, the death and resurrection of Jesus are of the greatest importance, and we could hardly call ourselves Christians if we neglected to mark them on our calendars. (By the way, the exact dating of those events is also somewhat inexact in modern calendars.) By celebrating Christmas too, we recognize that the incarnation of the Son of God was the miraculous and necessary requirement that made His death and resurrection possible. The name comes from two words: “Christ Mass,” showing that December 25th has become an important festival in the liturgical church year, when we gather for a “Mass,” or a Divine Service of Word and Sacrament, in celebration of God the Father’s greatest gift to us all: His only-begotten Son in human flesh.
The exact calendar date doesn’t really matter. If you were born on February 29, would you age at one quarter the speed of other people, or would you celebrate your birthday sometimes on March 1 or February 28? In the same way, the date we use merely provides an opportunity to mark the passing year, and remember what is important.
It’s true that Christians often become distracted from the most important aspects of Christmas. That’s not because Christmas is unchristian, but because we are prone to error. As a preventative measure, we could ask ourselves why we hold the traditions we do. If we have forgotten, then the tradition exists only for its own sake, and we could end it with no harm done. But if the tradition still has a reason or a meaning connected with our Savior — even if that tradition also resembles things done by pagans — then it’s best to keep and use it to help teach and remember the most important things.
This issue will be addressed in more detail in the December issue of the *Lutheran Sentinel.* When it arrives, you will find copies laid out on the narthex table.