Christmas as Old School Presbyterianism’s Coexist Moment

Mustafa Akyol’s column on Christmas in Turkey revealed that paleo-Calvinists share much in common with conservative Muslims and Jews during the holiday season:

Islamists in Turkey, every year, come out on the streets or in their media with the slogan, “Muslims do not do Christmas.” Of course, they have every right to not to celebrate a religious feast that is not a part of their religion. But they not only refrain from Christmas; they also protest it.

In fact, those Islamists of Turkey, and other likeminded Christmas-despisers, often “do not know what they are doing,” to quote the noble words of the very person whose birthday is at question here. They typically condemn Santa Claus costumes and Christmas trees as signs of “Western cultural imperialism.” But Christianity is not merely Western; it is also African, Asian and, in fact, global.

Hmm. Christmas as a global solvent of local Reformed Protestant teachings and practices. Go figure.

Jews — ya think? — have similar problems with Christmas.

Israel, too, seems to have a similar problem.

I read about this in an Al-Jazeera English story titled, “Israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree.” It reported how the Jerusalem rabbinate issued a letter warning hotels in the city that “it is ‘forbidden’ by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage New Year’s parties.” In Haifa, a rabbi, Elad Dokow, went even further, called the Christmas tree “idolatry,” and warned that it was a “pagan” symbol that violated the kosher status buildings.

At a time when New Calvinists heighten their sensitivity to Muslims and Jews, when will they show a little concern for Old Calvinists?

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3 thoughts on “Christmas as Old School Presbyterianism’s Coexist Moment

  1. Keep the holy in sanctification of the Lord’s Day:

    Traditional Protestants take a dim view of the Judaic echoes in Catholic Christianity. The Mass is especially scandalous to them, given its ambiguous relationship to Temple sacrifice, which has been superseded by Christ’s shedding his blood on Mount Calvary — that’s the theology, anyway. I won’t rehearse here the ancient bitter arguments of church against synagogue and, later, of Reformers against Rome but will only point to the irony of being pure in your Protestantism while insisting that everyone recognize “Christ-Mass” by that name.

    A few people who avoid saying “Merry Christmas” may do so out of scruples passed down to them from John Knox, but these days that’s rare. More common, sad to say, is the fear that public acknowledgment of a holy day peculiar to a particular religion will be interpreted as a dog whistle to imaginary theocrats plotting to overturn the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Some people outright hate the particular religion and therefore any proper nouns that are sacred to it; although the separate elements of “Christ-mas” are muddled when glued together in that composite, they’re still discernible, and those who loathe the faith tend to be rigorous, no less than those who hold to the narrower doctrine of strict religious neutrality.

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  2. Putting the antithesis in Christmas:

    Now in a way, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with these ideas and sentiments. Who could possibly be against treating others with respect, offering forgiveness for offenses, and caring for those in need? And I certainly don’t blame President Obama for making these remarks. Both Democrat and Republican presidents, in their capacity as chief magistrates of the civil religion, have expressed similar convictions for many years. What does bother me, however, is reducing Christmas to a level so low, so banal, that the great Christian feast is offensive to precisely no one. If President Obama is right, even those who profess no belief in God should welcome Christmas with nothing but enthusiasm! But this sort of reductionism is, in fact, directly repugnant to a feast which, in its essence, is revolutionary, subversive, and, if properly understood, offensive to just about everyone.

    What could I possibly mean? Well, if we take an honest look at the Biblical texts dealing with Christmas, we will find that they have precious little to do with sentimentality, or the embracing of a common morality, or the cultivation of a “let’s all get along” attitude.

    So putting Christ in Christmas isn’t good enough. Why not simply leave Christ out of Christmas? Be a Reformed Protestant.

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