“Keep Christ in Christmas” read the sign posted beside the Nativity Scene in my wife’s hometown. I have to admit that I involuntarily roll my eyes when I hear that phrase. It’s not that I have anything against celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas. I actually think we couldn’t have picked a better season! I just think that sentiment misses the mark and causes us to be blind to so much of the gift of this blessed season.
A little history might be helpful before moving on. Despite popular folklore, most scholars do not believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. The most common theory I have heard is that He was born sometime in the Spring.
You will read a variety of narratives if you google, “Origin of Christmas on December 25”. Each of them–while varying in detail–paints a picture that might help us understand this season a little better as we (Christians) celebrate Advent and the birth of Christ.
Before Christianity claimed this season for itself (or even existed), most of the known world celebrated the mystery of the longest night of the year, and the rebirthing of the light–Winter Solstice. It’s one of the ways that we see a deep connection between spirituality and the natural world in human history.
Some Christian streams have maintained this deep connection with Creation while others have dismissed it as “Nature Worship” and heretical. The impact of the latter has helped create the current above referenced sentiment around Christmas–dismissing all other seasonal celebrations and making it all about the birth of Jesus.
Celtic Christianity stands in the gap as a stream of Christianity that embraces a deep connection with Creation as an essential part of human spirituality. There doesn’t seem to be a desire to totally do away with the Paganism of the ancient Celts. Instead wisdom led many Celtic Christians throughout the centuries to marry the truth of Christianity with the truth of their Pagan ancestry. It is through the lens of this rich tradition that I have experienced this Advent/Winter Solstice–and it has truly been a gift!
There is something beautiful about celebrating Christ’s birth around Winter Solstice. Jesus is often called the “Light of the World”. When we consider that mystery alongside the mystery of Winter Solstice we witness a beautiful dance between Creation and Creator. Life is born out of darkness throughout all of Creation. Consider the baby in the womb, seeds in the earth, birds in the egg, etc. It is from within the darkness that Jesus–the Light–is born into the human story. In that sense, Winter Solstice is the perfect time of year to celebrate the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation–God becoming flesh.
That simple intentionality around considering nature as I engage with the season of Advent has deeply impacted how I experience and celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.
I wonder what other gifts exist at the heart of other traditions if only I stop fighting against them and choose to learn their wisdom? I wonder what gifts of wisdom could be offered to other traditions from within Christianity?
Please keep Christ in Christmas if you are a Christian! Hold the mystery of the Incarnation with the utmost conviction! But also remember that long before Jesus was born, this season was sacred for humanity and there is a deep gift in learning the wisdom of those traditions while practicing our own.
Happy Winter Solstice / Merry Christmas