If Christmas is just cultural, celebrate (or don’t) however you want

It is the 1st December, which means this morning many people were getting up and opening the first door on their advent calendars. And that means that many people are now beginning to properly and actually think about Christmas. For most people, the Christmas season has begun because they are now, literally, counting the days to Christmas.

I know the very mention of advent with 1st December will send some people into a froth. Anglicans and know-it-alls love to point out that Advent is not determined by the doors on a Cadbury’s advent calendar. It is the Church calendar wot decides it, which they are quick to point out officially begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas. So, technically this year, it started last Sunday.

But as I mentioned in this post last year, the point is moot. For the whole Christmas period is, as far as I am concerned, a cultural festival that we are free to enjoy or not. I noted:

For what it’s worth… Christmas is effectively a secular festival for me. It has nothing to do with the church and isn’t demanded of Christian people in the Bible. But it is fun and I like it. What is more, I am always glad to have an opportunity to think more about Jesus. If a culturally appointed time of year helps me do that, I have no problem with it at all. I’m glad to do that. But I don’t feel I love Jesus more thinking about him then than I do, say, every other day I think about him too.

Which, when you think about it, makes it quite fitting that a company with a nonconformist history have managed to broadly win the culture on the start of advent by setting their advent calendars to begin on the 1st of December.

But this is your friendly reminder that Christmas is not in the Bible. Of course, the birth of Christ is in the Bible. Of course, the incarnation matters and is important. But there is no command to celebrate it particularly, unlike the ordinances we have to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. Christmas, as far as celebrations go, is an entirely cultural affair.

For that reason, I do not get overly worked up about people getting more taken up with presents than they do about Jesus at Christmas. If they’re not believers, of course they have no thought for Jesus. That’s no different for them the other 364 days of the year than it is on Christmas Day. Of all the sin and rebellion against God for which they ought to repent, we don’t need to go making stuff up that isn’t in the Bible to hold over them. They will answer to the Lord for rejecting Jesus and for having no thought for him in their lives generally; he will not be holding them to account for failing to celebrate a birthday he has asked nobody to celebrate.

By the same token, because Christmas is fundamentally a cultural festival no different to Bonfire Night in import, Christians shouldn’t get worked up with other Christians for how they celebrate either. Your spirituality is not determined by how well, or badly, you celebrate Christmas nor even if you celebrate it at all. Your love for Christ is not defined by whether you make every bauble and table decoration reflect something of the gospel. Your love for Christ is demonstrated in whether you keep his commands. That is specifically what he says about whether you love him or not. And it pays to remember, he did not command us to celebrate Christmas or mark his birth by chomping on turkey and pulling crackers. In the great assize, these things will not have any bearing on matters of themselves.

If you want to use the opportunity of Christmas to think about Jesus and the incarnation in a special way, have at it. But if you just want to celebrate Christmas as a cultural festival because it’s fun, that’s perfectly okay too. if you think Christmas is some pagan invention and you want to check out altogether, that is also fine. We do not celebrate Christmas because Jesus has told us we must. We celebrate it, ultimately, because it has become a cultural thing to do. Such as we don’t make Bonfire Night a marker of anyone’s spirituality, we do well not to make Christmas any sort of marker either.