Why I Feel Sorry for Christians at Christmas
So here it is, two days before Christmas, birthday of Christ the Savior, etc., and I am feeling sorry for the Christian clergy, at least some of them.
Along with Easter, this is their big religious holiday. The Incarnation of God—in their theology. And they have to beg people to put down the presents and turn off the flat-screen television and come to church.
“You don’t even have to get dressed up for the Savior of Humankind,” they cry. “You can come in your jammies!”
Forget the “War on Christmas,” that is a big concession right there. White flag, don’t shoot! We know the prezzies are more important, but can’t you just tie your bathrobe and come to church for a little while?
True, some of the Anglicans and Catholics and those Orthodox who observe December 25 try a little harder. And a good Midnight Mass on December 24th appeals to the “imagistic” rather than the “doctrinal” mode of religiosity. You remember it with your body, with all your senses—the darkness, the candles, the music, the physical presence of other worshipers.
(But the talky-talk Protestants and the “we don’t really commit to anything” Unitarians can’t go there.)
We have a 4:00 p.m. Pajama Mass on Christmas Eve. It’s a service dedicated to and directed by children from the congregation and from the community. We have a very cool combination of the very elderly, who don’t like to be out late, and the very young.
Because church is mainly for the very young and the very old?
The other thought haunting some Christians is the whole “Pagan customs at Christmas” issue. A reporter for a Christian news site interviewed me just the other day about that.
What I did not tell him was this: Your whole ritual calendar is a mess. If we contemporary Pagans know anything, it’s calendars.
Consider that if Jesus was born when shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night, he was born during lambing season—in the spring. His execution and resurrection also occur in the spring, during and after the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach)—and its history includes the Jews in Egypt daubing lambs’ blood on their doors. There is this whole sheep thing going on.
So to avoid the spring-spring clash, the birthday is moved to the winter solstice—and I don’t care if the Christians copied Pagans or the other way around, really.
Mapping Jesus’ life on the annual cycle makes for an odd calendrical cycle. He is anticipated during Advent (late November-December), born at Christmas, shown forth at Epiphany (Jan. 6 in the West), killed on Good Friday, and resurrected on Easter Sunday. Then he hangs around for forty days, only to vanish on Ascension. After that, his disciples experience mystical illumination on Pentecost—celebrated a few days later.
And that is it—nothing for the next six months except various saints’ days, etc.—if you are in a liturgical church. For the talky-talk Protestants, there is not even that—in fact, not much after Easter.
Even in my Christian boyhood this arrangement struck me as poor planning. Why cram all the good stuff into less than half of the year?