Why is it to hard for the Christians to capitalise on Christmas?

Why should we take down our Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (January 5th)?  According to this website it’s because the wood spirits will bring us bad luck otherwise.

Christmas is the second most important festival in the Christian calendar, and it has become the biggest festival in modern Western society.  But Christianity plays a diminishing role.  In the many-layered concoction that Christmas has become, Christianity has left a number of distinctive strata.  The carol service, the children’s nativity play, concerts of sacred music and midnight mass.  These come on top of European pagan strata, and underneath more recent secular ones (Father Christmas and all that).  And as this website shows, more secular types sometimes try to escape the Christian nature of Christmas by appealing to the more ancient traditions.

By and large Christians seem to be accepting this retreat with good grace.  We did get a grump from the Pope about excessive commercialisation, but that was about the only grumbling I picked up this year.  The Archbishop of Canterbury was on the front foot and positive.  This is wise.  The trouble is that the Christian Christmas message has diminishing evangelical weight.

Christian Christmas (it’s a stark sign of the retreat that I have to call it that given that Christianity is embedded into the festival’s very name) is about the fact of Jesus’s incarnation.  It’s about who he is, rather than what he said.  And this takes us into the areas of Christian doctrine that resonate least with the modern world.  “God sent his only Son to save the world” is an expression of faith has become a meaningless string of words to people without faith but with a modern understanding of the Universe.  You are not a Christian because you believe this; you believe it because you are a Christian.

And it shows.  Those carols and nativity plays are distinctly unthreatening to the modern secular sensibility.  The words of the carols have become meaningless, if charming images.  There’s a lot about Kings and Kingdoms, reflecting political arrangements that we now consider to outmoded, and indeed illegitimate as anything more than a token figurehead.  The Virgin Birth is clear nonsense to the modern mind (What does God’s genome look like?).

There is much in the Christian message that resonates as powerfully today as it did 2,000 years ago.  But these Christmas trappings get in the way to the non believer.  To the believer it might be different – they serve as link to the ancient past.  They might help deepen faith, but they will not broaden the appeal.  So Christians at Christmas are best off preaching to the already converted, and watching the evolution of the secular festival with amusement.

6 thoughts on “Why is it to hard for the Christians to capitalise on Christmas?”

  1. I’ve had a Twitter response from @LoveBattersea1: “The Christmas message isn’t lost even amidst the commercial blizzard, and Santa Claus is St. Nicholas who was very real”. I’m afraid Santa’s link to St Nicholas is rather tenuous – don’t think he was associated with reindeer, elves and all that. But it’s true that Christians do use Christmas to chime into the general message of love and goodwill. And this post does show that Christians are keeping a positive attitude amid it all – so much better than the grumpiness that I remember in the past. She/he also points out that the cribs aren’t done with until today, Epiphany (and when I used to go to church, longer than than). No concessions to the wood spirits there.

  2. I think you’re pretty much right, but I must point out that there is no such thing as a “modern understanding of the Universe.” There are a few theories about the big bang and evolution knocking around, which even if they were proven wouldn’t give us the right sink back in our armchairs and say – “Good, the universe is understood at last!”. I think the modern ‘understanding’, should be exposed as the articles of faith that it really is – and in that form it may not look that much more sensible than the Nicene Creed!

    1. I think there is such a thing as a modern understanding of the universe, even if it is mythical in basis. Almost every modern person accepts the idea that Earth is a tiny, peripheral part of a massive cosmos, most of which is unknowable. In the ancient understanding, the world was quite big, but altogether on a more comprehensible scale, and with our world at the centre of it. The idea of of God as a sort of super-person watching over us is much more comprehensible in that light. I see that it is a real challenge for evangelists, and they are better off starting somewhere else. But that may have been true even in ancient times. It’s a bit ironic that in modern eyes those ancient rather fawning prayers to God’s greatness were truer then their utterers could possibly have realised. But that brings its own problems of comprehension.

  3. We are very small, in a very large universe – which may have implications for our importance in the scheme of things. So goes one modern myth. But there is another one, for some reason less well-known, although it si about 80 years old now. We have from quantum physics that the unobserved world is not only a single unknown reality but a heady mixture of a large number of unknown realities, as determined by an every developing probability wave function. So, for instance, an electron is somehow smeared over a large area, until an observer looks, and finds it in one place. This act of looking causes the wave function to collapse, and behold, the electron is in one place.

    What does this mean? What is an observer? There are some physicist who try to escape the problems with a many-world view, but this doesn’t wash (as pointed out by Penrose). Others say that the collapse of the wave function is a mechanical process, and the conscious observer is not the crucial factor – but this lot are very short on evidence. The work of Von Neuman is important – he shows that the quantum theory works if the wavefunction collapse occurs at any point between the original event and the registration of the event in consciousness. Henry Stapp uses this conclusion to develop the idea that the collapse happens at the very interface of the mind and the brain.

    Be that as it may, quantum physics in not just about to go away, and it seems to suggests that the world as we know it wouldn’t exist without consciousness. Which puts us (or God?) right back at the centre of the Universe, however big it is. How’s that for a modern myth?

    1. Well, not all that surprising that the implications of quantum mechanics hasn’t caught the popular imagination in the way that the vastness of the universe has. I struggle with the implications myself. And I’m not sure I recognise the god that comes out of it. The big question for religion is not whether God exists, but who he is. And the best way for religions to persuade us that their version is the one we should follow is to convince that their message as a whole is true. Sort of the inverse of how it is usually presented. We don’t follow Jesus’s teachings because they are from God; we follow God because we think Jesus’s teachings are true. Hence Christmas is an unpromising place to start the journey.

  4. I absolutely agree that quantum physics does not point to Christianity. My point is only to resist the assumption that the modern materialist view is more factual than other belief systems.

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