Anticipation of Christmas

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like………


Last week the European Commission was obliged to withdraw its guide to internal communication which was accused of trying to cancel Christmas. The guidelines proposed substituting the “Christmas period” with “holiday period” Many leading politicians and church leaders termed the document an attempt to “cancel” Europe’s Christian roots. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, responded by saying “Of course, we know that Europe owes its existence and its identity to numerous contributions, but we certainly can’t forget that one of its main contributions, if not the main one, has been Christianity itself.”


Is this a case of political correctness gone mad? Many will be aware that this is an argument that has been going on in the US for some time where the phrase Happy Holidays has all but replaced  Happy Christmas as a common greeting at this time of the year. I can’t help but wonder how we make anybody feel better by disavowing those things which are dear to our hearts. Surely it is more respectful to acknowledge the deep roots and heritage of others rather than cancel or ignore them. I would have no difficulty in wishing a Jewish friend a Happy Hanukkah or a Muslim friend a Happy Eid. I am reminded of the words of the writer Marianne Williamson who said “You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


It all just seems like another bid to remove God from the public square. I find it interesting that civic leaders can issue messages at Christmas and Easter with no reference to the events that these celebrations commemorate, much less the importance that they hold in the hearts and lives of believing people.


Interestingly enough the celebration of Christmas was not an important event for the first four centuries of the early church. It was during these centuries that the church focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus. This made Good Friday and Easter Sunday the most important events for the church during the liturgical year. Christmas was recognized during these centuries, but to a much lesser degree. There was no common understanding among the various churches on how and when to celebrate the birth of Christ. Therefore, the Christmas Day celebration took place on various dates throughout Christendom. How these dates were selected varied from church to church.


The date eventually selected was December 25th. A reason for this date, and the reason you may be most familiar with, is on December 25th there was a great secular celebration in honour of Sol Invictus, who was worshiped as “The Invincible Sun.” Sol Invictus was the sun God of the Romans. The celebration of Sol Invictus went far beyond mere merriment to actually debauchery. The church leaders knew they needed to draw Christians away from this secular pagan holiday, and determined that celebrating Christmas was one of the best ways to do it.


St. John Chrysostom delivered a well-known Christmas sermon in Antioch in the year 386. By this year at the end of the fourth century, it had become universally accepted that the celebration of Christmas would be on December 25th. In his sermon Chrysostom expressed the joy we all feel on Christmas morning. Chrysostom preached, “God was seen on earth through flesh and dwelt among humankind. So then, beloved, let us rejoice with great gladness. So now we, much more, must leap, rejoice, and be full of wonder and astonishment at the grandeur of God’s plan which exceeds all thought. Think how great it would be to see the sun coming down from the heavens, running on the earth and sending out its beams on everybody from here.”


Christmas did not really become secularized until the middle of the nineteenth century. In the mid-nineteenth century Christmas began to acquire its association with an increasing secularized holiday of gift-giving and good cheer. This view was popularized in Clement Clarke Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, (‘Twas the night before Christmas), in 1823, and Charles Dicken’s story A Christmas Carol in 1843. These are stories that we love to hear during Christmas, but the emphasis on the birth of Jesus was shadowed as benevolence became the theme. Christmas cards first appeared in 1846, and from there one secular tradition after another was added. It is not wrong to participate in these secular traditions, but let’s not allow them to overshadow the real reason for the season.  Chrysostom preached in his sermon these sobering words, “He will reward you for this enthusiasm. Your heartfelt zeal for this day is a great sign of your love for the one who is born.”


Fr. Brendan Quinlivan is Communications Director for Killaloe Diocese

Clare Champion article 10th of December 2021