Maybe It Wasn’t The Grinch Who First Stole Christmas

by Curt Kovener

A law was passed requiring everyone to pay a tax in his hometown. That was the law decreed over 2,000 years ago by an occupying Roman government authority. So without government involvement, Old Testament prophecy would not have been fulfilled and Jesus may not have been born in Bethlehem.
Think of that next time someone shouts government should get out of our lives.
And if conservative anti-tax politicians were alive then maybe they would have been responsible for prophesy not being fulfilled. And what if that caravan of taxpaying immigrants were crossing boarders today…what would believers do?
It could be said that government historically has been involved with religion since before Christendom. In judicial circles that is what is known as a precedent.
Much breath has been expended on what some claim is an attempt to de-Christianize Christmas. “Merry Christmas”: the seasonal greeting must not be “Happy Holidays”.
It is hard to believe in this season of love that Christians want to fight a war over the proper way, in their view, to celebrate. So much for embracing “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
And a Christmas tree should not be called a holiday tree, they say. I have a friend who has a small artificial tree in the corner of her family room and it gets decorated with hearts of Valentine’s Day, flags and red, white & blue festooning on Memorial Day & 4th of July; pumpkins and things that go bump in the night for Halloween, turkey and harvest ornaments at Thanksgiving and Christmas lights and ornaments in December: a true holiday tree.
Other than Old Testament prophecy and the Scriptural notation of Jesus’ birth, there is no Biblical directive to celebrate His birth. Scholars are not really sure of the date of Christ’s birth. So our December celebration is not historically nor theologically accurate.
Christmas or celebration of Christ’s Mass came about as the result of an early church takeover of the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. In ancient Rome, the December holiday of Saturnalia was celebrated by a time of drinking and merry making. The Druids in what is now the United Kingdom had similar celebrations using evergreen trees. They would bring evergreen conifer trees into their abode to signify the renewal of life even in the winter. Thus the insistence that “they are Christmas trees” have their beginnings in pagan religious observance.
These non-religious observances were embraced by early church leaders and eventually, over time, were cleaned & laundered to “Christianize” the observance.
So it could be said it wasn’t the Grinch that stole Christmas, it was the post crucifixion believers who, in a sense, violated the “Thou shalt not steal” commandment.
Over the centuries, history and folklore from a number of countries and cultures melded together so that today it is difficult to sort actual events from the church’s re-written history and tradition.
The early church ministry of Saint Nicholas sought to provide food to poor children. He was also the patron saint of virgins and was an intercessory to help encourage purity. (Could it be that this is where the ‘naughty and nice list’ had its origin?)
As word spread over time, other countries developed their own kind of gift-giving Saint Nicholas.
The concept that Saint Nicholas was garbed in a red suit and white fur has been modified over time from a tall, thin character to short, round with elfin characteristics. His appearance, name and paraphernalia such as sleigh and reindeer evolved over the years as writers put pen to paper.
In 1823 C. Clement Moore wrote A Visit from Saint Nicholas which we know more familiarly from its starting phrase “’Twas the night before Christmas…” Based on Moore’s literary description, the contemporary image of a rotund jolly character continued to be modified and was made internationally familiar beginning in the 1920’s through illustrator Haddon Sundblom’s annual winter advertising for Coca-Cola.
It is interesting to note that as fervently as fundamental believers today insist that nonbelievers are attempting to remove Christ from Christmas, early Hoosier Christian fundamentalists were just as fervent in their opposition to celebrating Christmas.
Since no Biblical reference was made that believers should celebrate Christmas, early Christian settlers declined to observe the day claiming if it wasn’t scriptural to celebrate Christ’s birthday, then it was secularly inspired.
How’s that for ironic holiday twists? Some Christian fundamentalists today becoming militant insisting on keeping Christ in Christmas while some of our founding Christian leaders opposed its celebration as having no scriptural basis yet centuries earlier other church leaders took a purely pagan observance and stole it to make it Christian.
I’ll leave you to meditate on that and wish you a Merry Christmas.