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The various enemies of Christmas have managed to remove from the public gaze most of its once common external signs. We see few mangers. Everything Christian is swept out or sanitized. What Christmas is finds itself removed. One might argue that things like the Christmas tree itself, the Yule log, or even sentimentalized snow are, in fact, steps to remove any specific Christmas meaning.
Christmas has become a “winter festival,” whatever that is. “Dreaming of a White Christmas” shifted attention from the feast to its atmosphere. “Adeste fideles” and “Silent Night” we still hear, of course. We try to be “joyful and triumphant,” as if the event of Christmas had nothing to do with what causes the joy. We are to be festive without a reason. The increasing emptiness of the feast gnaws at our souls.
Christmas is now a feast without a cause. Folks do not, however, want to give up the days off, the presents, the good feelings, the “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” So they are kept without the religious mood that caused them to come about in the first place. We have gone through this elimination of the Christmas theme before. But what interests me is why Christmas in particular, by all odds the most popular of Christian feasts, has found itself under such attack? We cannot even have symbolic signs of its significance or meaning. Why is Christmas feared? Why is it dangerous?
One reason is, supposedly, that it “offends” the sensitivities of those of other religious persuasions. They have delicate consciences. The older notion of “I will tolerate your quirks if you tolerate mine” is not present here. Christmas is what offends. Why is this?
Chesterton’s poem, “The Wise Men,” reads: “Step softly, under snow and rain, / To find the place where men can pray; / The way is all so very plain / That we may lose the way.” Christmas is feared because it is true. If true, it is dangerous. We cannot just ignore it, much as we try. “So very simple is the road, / That we may stray from it. / … And the whole heaven shouts and shakes, / For God Himself is born again….” We may stray from the road.
How odd to have a plain road on which we can lose our way. This not-wanting-to-know about “God Himself” born again is a voluntary act. We do not want to be reminded of the manger. We do not want to see those who actually rejoice in the Christmas Mass, in the family unity about the Holy Family.
We have instead warm colors, winter fests, animals, snow, presents. We do not have the manger, the angels singing on high. And the Word made flesh to dwell amongst us? This we do not want to reckon with.
No fear here: “The Nativity with God the Father and the Holy Ghost”
(Giovanni Battista Pittoni, c. 1740)
If Christmas is just a myth, we can let it alone. But what if it is a history, an event, an account of what happened in the time of Caesar Augustus, “when the whole world was at peace?” We do everything possible to prevent ourselves from considering the implications of this fact.
Christopher Dawson once remarked that, on the morning after the Nativity, the leading papers of Jerusalem, Rome, or Athens – had there been such – would not have announced it. It was not important. From the beginning, the Nativity was only known by a few. It is an event that is “too good to be true.” But that is precisely what it is not. It is true. Its good is something we should know and want to know. Indeed, within the Christian corpus is the sometimes upsetting mandate to make this event and its consequences known to “all nations.” Even if they do not want to hear of it? It seems so.
The fear of Christmas is something even more basic, or perhaps more sinister. Why is that? It is one thing simply not to know something because we have never encountered it or thought about it. It is another thing when, having heard of it, we refuse to allow it to be known. We organize our polity in such a way that every obstacle is put in the way of knowing it.
We are not yet like the countries which seek to prevent private expressions or celebration of Christmas. But with developments such as our increasing denial that marriage is of a man and a woman, we belong to the same mentality. We have taken the first step, and perhaps more than the first.
Christmas is a dangerous feast. We fear it. We do not allow ourselves to consider it. Yet, somehow, we still envy those who know this feast of domesticity. “Unto us a Child is born.” “What Child is this?” If this Child is indeed “Christ the Lord,” what happens to us who make every effort to prevent its truth from being known?