Is Christmas merely paganism wrapped with a Christian bow?

I recently read an article in which a Christian critic of Christmas quipped that Christmas is no more than “paganism wrapped with a Christian bow.”

The case is made that the celebration of Christmas is an unworthy activity for Christians since it originated, they say, as a pagan holiday.

The case is made, yes, but it is not a strong one.

Modern Christian critics of Christmas watch how our culture has hijacked Christmas with Dionysian materialistic passions from which obsessions we are urged to separate.

This case is stronger, but not persuasive.

Some who want to hold onto Christmas, but are put off by the pagan and secular intrusions labor to “put Christ back into Christmas.” I wasn’t aware that he ever left.

I understand that our culture wants to enjoy certain trappings of “the holiday season” without acknowledging the Christian footprint on it. I accept that and work with it.

When Wal-mart began setting up its Christmas displays (April, wasn’t it?), I wandered around the store like a drunken man wishing all the employees “Merry Christmas.”

The family is thrilled they were not with me.

I understand the critics. But I will still revel in Christmas as the point in the year when knowingly or not, properly or not, our whole culture spins into a frenzy acknowledging God’s sending us a Savior and a King.

I grew up loved and safe and had nothing to run from or of which to be publicly ashamed. I was such a good and fortunate kid that a friend in drug rehab expressed puzzlement over my Christianity.

She could see why she needed Jesus. I was a mystery. Therein lay the problem.

Embracing the external trappings of Christianity, I neglected its essential core. I could “do” the right things and not know that I needed God’s mercy.

I found my security and hope in doing good things, and not in the mercy of a holy God. I worshiped an idol of moral rectitude, but love for God was only a formal, not a real, expression.

Christmas marks the event in human history when God brought to historic reality his eternal plan to create a home for a self-righteous and undeserving rebel like me, as well as for my drug-addicted friend.

There in the squalor and obscurity of a Bethlehem stable began God’s project of the redemption of a people which mercifully included me.

Such mercy demands worship and produces celebration.

So by all means, get thee to a church!

But as well, let us celebrate.

Let us feast.

Let us give gifts.

Let us laugh.

And let us revel in the mercy of God.

Rev. Randy Greenwald, senior pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, 4455 30th St. E., Bradenton, writes a blog at For more information about the church, visit Faith Matters is a regular feature of the Herald, written by local clergy members.