Like Button

Monday, December 12, 2011

Keeping Christ in Christmas

We've heard this battle cry for decades: "Keep Christ in Christmas!" Often it's due to ignorance that produces moral outrage that those dirty rotten secular businesses would substitute "XMas" for "Christmas" and, "Look! Christ has been removed from Christmas!!" Piffle! The origin of the concept is seen in those handy dandy fish stickers on your local Christians' cars. You know, the one that includes "IXOYE"? That series of letters originated as a secret identification for persecuted Christians and stands for "Jesus" (I) "Christ" (X) "Son" (O) "of God" (Y), "Savior" (E), taken from Greek. Note that the "X" was "Christ". Thus, "XMas" is not the removal of Christ, but the secret identifier for those who really know Him.

Still, the cry has continued beyond this little bump in the road. It's a cry against the commercialism of the season, a cry against the materialism and the paganism (real or perceived) of the current culture's Christmas. It is a reminder. Christmas is first and foremost about Christ. We've pretty much forgotten that.

Ask anyone what Christmas means to them and you'll get a lot of standard answers. It's about "white" and snow. It's about decorations and lights, shiny baubles and animated snowmen. It's about Christmas trees and Christmas wreaths and Christmas mice. (Okay, maybe not that last one. I just know that we have Christmas mice.) It's absolutely about Santa Claus. No one can deny that. It's about TV specials and those classic shows that have survived the decades. It's about Christmas songs and Christmas cheer. It's about time with family and friends, gift giving, and, perhaps most importantly, gift getting. (Why else are there riots and fights that breakout on Black Friday every year?) Obviously, then, it's a time of debt, but delayed payment puts that off, right? Oh, and it's a time of food, to be sure. Yes, we know what Christmas is all about. So we cry, "Keep Christ in Christmas!"

There is a more accurate measure, however, than all of this as to whether or not our message is getting out there. This year Christmas falls on Sunday. Will your church have its Sunday services? The last time this happened was 2005. Big churches like Willow Creek didn't even open their doors that Sunday. One study reported (unofficially) that 20% of churches closed their doors for that day and 100% of them modified their Sunday routine. Drop extra services. Don't have Sunday School or the like. Shorten the service. That kind of thing. Certainly no evening service (like that's big news ... how many have evening services anyway?). All researchers agree that, while Christmas typically packs the house for churches, a Sunday Christmas has the opposite effect. The Chreaster Christians (those who only show up on Christmas and Easter) don't bother, and a good number of the regular attenders don't either. (Catholic churches, it seems, don't have the same losses on Sunday Christmases.) So it begs the question: "Why is it that sincere, weekly, church-going Protestant Christians (not just those nominal or marginal members) don’t show up at church when Christmas falls on a Sunday?" "What is more important than celebrating the remembrance of Jesus’ birth on Sunday – the Lord’s Day?"

This phenomenon of closing shop on a Sunday Christmas and seriously decreased attendance for those who don't tells us the sad fact that our churches are not getting the message out. We'll say we want to keep Christ in Christmas, but when push comes to shove, to many of us it really is more important to gather with family, get and give those gifts, have that wonderful meal ... do just about anything but recognize the real point of Christmas. So, as we wag a finger of rebuke at the world around us from the stores and the materialists and the TV ads to the "pagan influences" on Christmas or whatever other pet peeve we may have, perhaps it would be wise to check our own eyes for logs. It appears we have a big one right here in our own midst.


Jeremy D. Troxler said...


My family and I will be in the church building on Sunday morning (Lord willing) worshiping collectively with our brothers and sisters in Christ - New Year's too.

Thanks for the post and for the challenge.

Craig said...


This is an interesting topic, and I definitely see two sides. In theory I agree with your point, in reality, I'm not sure it's that cut and dried.

One aspect you may not be considering is the effect of the church staff and their families.

To be fair, my wife is a church staffer, so this is a little personal.

But, how many folks (both paid and volunteer) need to give up Christmas (or at least a significant chunk of it), in order to have a service on Christmas day? How many of those same folks have spent most of Christmas Eve participating in services? What sacrifices is it reasonable to expect from those in the ministry? Is someone who attended church on Christmas Eve, really going to be back 12 hours (or less) later? Now I'm seeing services on the 23'rd, so that folks who travel for Christmas can also worship at their home church. Is three consecutive days too much for those in vocational ministry?

Again, in theory I agree with you, but in reality this is asking a lot of a lot of good folks.

Stan said...

"how many folks (both paid and volunteer) need to give up Christmas (or at least a significant chunk of it), in order to have a service on Christmas day?"

I get that it's personal and so I'm asking you -- someone who can give me an answer with meat. What is "Christmas"? Is it a time with family, opening gifts, eating, gathering, etc.? Is being in church "giving up Christmas"? What, in your view, is Christmas (in light of this question you asked)?

Craig said...

Christmas is the celebration of Christs incarnation. IMO this celebration should be celebrated more than once a year, and I see no reason to limit the celebration to church.

I just think that we need to ask what we expect from others in order to have a service on a Christmas Sunday.

Stan said...

Well, I'm still unclear on what "giving up Christmas" means. The concept that church staff and workers have to be there when people attend (along with those attending, of course) is the reason that many churches aren't opening their doors Christmas Sunday. Maybe church and Christmas ought not be connected? Indeed, since we don't even know when Christ was born, I'm not tied to December 25th. I'm just trying to understand.

Craig said...

When I say "giving up Christmas" I'm talking about families who have to forgo their Christmas plans in order to make a church service happen. Maybe "giving up" is too strong, but certainly these folks are subordinating their family to their job on a day where the vast majority of folks don't work.

I'm not sure what your point is about separating Christmas from church, since your post seems to be critical of churches who choose to eliminate or modify their Sunday morning schedules once every 7 years.

"Why is it that sincere, weekly, church-going Protestant Christians (not just those nominal or marginal members) don’t show up at church when Christmas falls on a Sunday?"

The answer is that they all were at church celebrating the incarnation on Saturday night (Christmas Eve). Both the church I attend, and the church where I work part time are doing at least 5 services on Christmas Eve. I could be wrong, but it seems like that should be enough for one weekend.

"What is more important than celebrating the remembrance of Jesus’ birth on Sunday – the Lord’s Day?"

Where is it written that one must be in a church building in order to properly celebrate either Jesus birth, or the Lord's day?

Sorry, I really don't mean to rant, but this just sounds like a knee jerk reaction to a situation that is fairly rare.

David said...

Maybe for practicality sake, Christmas should be on the last Friday of December, or something.

Stan said...


By "separate Christmas from church" I meant exactly that. Is there really a connection between "celebrate Christ's birth" and "church"? (By the way, the two questions you addressed were quotes from the study I referenced, not explicitly my own.)

On one hand, perhaps David's suggestion would be a good one. Like Thanksgiving, make it the last Friday of December or something like it. So little is tied to "December 25th" these days (He wasn't actually born that day, schools no longer take "Christmas vacation", work schedules are not necessarily keyed to Dec. 25th, etc.). On the other hand, Christ is so far from Christmas that I personally don't care one way or another. The fact remains that the world will not keep Christ in Christmas and the church has not overcome the world in this regard. Meeting on Christmas Sunday is not the problem; it's the symptom.

Craig said...


I would agree, I think, that for those who are believers Christ will stay in Christmas no matter what, and for those who are not believers they won't.

I guess in this case I'd lean toward giving our staff folks the day with their families.

Stan said...

It's interesting (at least to me) that Christmas was actually outlawed in our country at one time. Oh, sure, it only lasted a few years, but the Puritans believed that the celebration of Christmas was not pious enough, so they banned it. I wonder ...?

Stan said...

And, of course, you would lean toward giving staff the day with their families because it's your family in question. ;)

Would you say, then, that to you an essential component of Christmas is family gathering?

Craig said...

Actually, I'd lean toward giving staff the day off no matter what. I've seen how hard these folks work and it seems like the right thing to do.

Yes, for me, spending Christmas is a very important componant of Christmas. Obviously, not mandatory, but very important.

starflyer said...

For whatever it is worth, spending time with family during/on Christmas is also very important to me. Gift giving and food happen to be a part of it, so I wrestle with the whole "excess" part of it. But I love being around family during this time because for me it falls under fellowship, and is a glimpse of what heaven will be like: worshipping the Lord alongside the ones I love. I feel the same about Thanksgiving.

Craig said...


Sounds good. I would say that as someone with older kids, it's maybe not as big a deal than for church staff and volunteers with younger kids.

It seems like all of these are to some degree or another a significant part of Christmas.

starflyer said...

Funny, when I made my comment earlier I was thinking of extended family gatherings, not just with my kids. I love getting together with my in-laws (except Stan, who won't come to CA for Christmas as a matter of principle).

I'm kidding Stan, don't reply!

David said...

And I think that goes to Stan's post, Christ is no longer in Christmas, if spending time with natural family is more important than spending time with spiritual family. For some that's the same thing, but for most, they go to spend Christmas with non-believing family members. For them, how are they celebrating our Lord's birth with family, if the rest of their family doesn't recognized it for what it is? It seems to me that you are loving your family more than Christ at that moment. I seem to recall Christ saying not to do that.

Stan said...

No, it's not a matter of principle not to go to California at Christmas. It's a matter of principle not to gather with you at Christmas! (And, like you, I'm kidding. Or, maybe more so. You might have had an ounce of reality behind the jest. ;))

Craig said...


I think I acknowledged that fact earlier. For folks who are believers the whole celebration is (or at least should be) centered on Christ. My point is that it is possible to keep a Christ centered Christmas, without necessarily having a church service on Christmas when it falls on Sunday.

It seems to me that this is one where it should be left to each church as to what makes the most sense without being critical of those decisions.

David said...

Craig, it just seems backwards to celebrate the birth of our Savior away from those that love our Savior. I know there are families out there that a bulk of their family is Christian, but that is not the case for most, and by closing your church doors on Christmas, you rob those people of the chance to celebrate Christ's birth with their true family.