How Christian Is the “Christmas Spirit”?
A BOOK entitled “All About American Holidays” says that, although the commercialization of Christmas is undesirable, this negative feature is “offset” by “the fine spirit of friendliness . . . also the feeling of generosity” shown at Christmastime. This is commonly called the “Christmas spirit.” But is the so-called “Christmas spirit” really all that good? Does it make up for all the many negative aspects of Christmas? Is it Christian, if not in the religious, at least in the moral sense?
Let’s examine this matter in the light of qualities that the Bible shows to be characteristic of God’s spirit, and which should therefore be characteristic of the lives of true Christians. These qualities are highlighted in the boldface subheadings that follow. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Are they characteristic of the “Christmas spirit”?
Love and Kindness
If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, then it should be characterized by love and kindness. Is it?
One might argue that the giving of gifts at Christmastime is in itself an indication of love and kindness. This is true, however, only if right motives are involved. Are they? Are those caught up in the “Christmas spirit” mainly interested in giving, or is the selfish motive of receiving very prominent?
If unselfish giving is the main consideration, why are not “Christian” businessmen influenced to promote increased giving by dropping their prices at Christmastime instead of raising them? Why do prices, at least in some places, tend to go sky-high at this time of year?
An Awake! correspondent from West Africa reports that the people living there love to receive gifts. Although about 60 percent are “non-Christians,” at Christmastime they are all caught up with the “Christmas spirit.” Moslem beggars, hands outstretched, greet passersby with a “Merry Christmas.” Workers in public services and public offices expect to receive gifts from their clients and customers and even remind them of this, lest they forget. Some postal workers have even refused to handle mail belonging to persons who would not participate in this custom of forced Christmas giving. This is more than opportunism; it is extortion.
A week before Christmas of 1977, the Toronto Star issued a warning about “purse-snatchers, shoplifters, pick-pockets, forgers and burglars. And . . . con artists with phony charities.” The article also mentioned that “shoplifting picks up pace at Christmas.” In fact, in the United States, a nationally known authority on security states that “almost 40 percent of each year’s inventory losses take place during the 10-week pre-Christmas season.”
If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, why does it fail to deter, or at least cut down on, selfish, unloving and unkind acts at Christmastime?
Goodness and Self-control
If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, then it should be characterized by goodness and self-control. Is it?
Think of the overeating, overdrinking and overindulgence connected with Christmas. How often Christmas parties degenerate into drunken bouts and revelries that encourage loose conduct and immorality!
These influences are aptly described by the Boston Sunday Globe in connection with a group of persons who are particularly susceptible: “For a recovered alcoholic, or a person actively struggling against the disease, the holidays offer a test of will that few people could pass without support. It’s a time of year when people are expected to drink, when even social drinkers find themselves tipsy (or worse) more often than usual, due to a pervasive social ethic—eat, drink and be merry—that’s as much an imperative as an invitation.”
If truly Christian, why does the “Christmas spirit” fail to deter this loss of self-control, which is good for neither one’s health nor one’s pocketbook, and can actually be dangerous?
If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, then it should be characterized by joy. Is it?
An article by I. R. Rosengard, M.D., in the 1977 December issue of Science Digest, said: “You’re not alone in feeling a ‘holiday depression.’ It’s a neurosis of epidemic proportions . . . and here are a doctor’s rules for avoiding the Christmas Blues.” He continued, saying: “Not everyone feels joyful on holidays—and some people feel far worse than usual . . . At Christmas time, unhappy people feel even worse because they are ashamed to be miserable when everyone else seems to be happy . . . Many of us . . . feel disappointed in ourselves because our Christmas emotions are something less than joyous.”
This explains why a medical doctor and doctor of philosophy quoted in a German religious journal said “that the number of suicides piles up on Christmas Eve.” If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, why does it so often fail to make people really joyful at Christmastime?
Peace, Long-suffering and Mildness
If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, then it should be characterized by peace, long-suffering and mildness. Is it?
Of course, there is much talk at Christmastime about “peace on earth and good will toward men,” but the reality is that strife and family arguments become common at this time of year. The Sunday Oregonian newspaper reports that before Christmas “some parents and relatives are working up to fights that will make Christmas Eve one of the worst shifts of the year for policemen.” Explains a sheriff’s deputy: “Relatives get together and drink, and they start discussing past problems they’ve had and they begin digging up hatchets that had been buried and should have stayed buried.” And among low-income families, “the stress of providing a good Christmas for children increases tensions and tempers heat up,” says the Oregonian. “Sometimes a home’s Christmas can be destroyed in a marital melee, with packages used as projectiles and the Christmas tree left in a shambles.”
As regards peace on a global scale, a story is often told with misty eyes about Christmas Eve in 1914 when a British sentry heard the sound of voices singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” from German trenches 100 yards (91 m) away. British troops sang back: “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Then both sides left their trenches to sing carols together for a few brief hours. But they quickly returned afterward to the slaughter, so-called “Christians” all! Does this event reveal any truly peaceful “Christmas spirit”? Or, rather, does it not highlight a spirit of hypocrisy, in this case, carried to a chilling extreme?
If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, then it should be characterized by faith. Is it?
Christian faith, according to its definition at Hebrews 11:1, is based on realities or facts. Since Christmas is based to a large extent upon tradition, myths and falsehoods, how could we expect it to promote strong faith?
A parish letter published in Germany said, in speaking about Christ and the early Christians: “His teaching was much more important to the people than the date of his birth.” It added: “The first Christians did not know such a thing as a birthday celebration.”
Of what benefit is it to believe that Christ was born if we neglect to believe in what he taught or to exercise faith in the value of his ransom sacrifice? Not much faith is needed to believe that Christ was born; much more is needed to believe in the value of his ransom sacrifice and in his position of kingship in God’s established kingdom. If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, why does it do little more than boost church attendance at Christmastime, and yet not succeed in motivating church members to bring forth real works of faith in imitation of Christ throughout the entire year?
In summary, if the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, then it should be characterized by the fruitage of God’s spirit. Is it? Galatians 5:22, 23 tells us that “the fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” Is this what we have observed to be the spirit of Christmas? Or, as we have noted, are the works of the fallen flesh as described in the same chapter of the Bible, verses 19-21, more likely to fit what actually prevails during the Christmas season? “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these. . . . Those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”
Viewed from the overall standpoint of global and general celebration, rather than from the standpoint of possibly sincere individuals who may conduct themselves quite decently when celebrating Christmas, what do we find? It is apparent that the “works of the flesh” are all too often manifest and the “fruitage of the spirit” is all too often lacking.
Perhaps you can now better appreciate why persons interested in showing forth the fruitage of God’s spirit and avoiding the works of the flesh try not to get caught up in the “Christmas spirit.” We hope that these facts, when considered prayerfully, may help you to decide in a way pleasing to Christ, the Founder of Christianity, how you will be spending Christmas.
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If the “Christmas spirit” is truly Christian, it should be characterized by the fruitage of God’s spirit. Is it?