What if Christmas is exactly what it claims to be? What if Christmas is nothing less than the birthday of Jesus Christ?
And what if Christmas does not need us? What if we need Christmas?
Modern men shudder at the thought.
Enlightened men want Christmas to be anything other than the birthday of Christ. They want Christmas to be a commercial racket, a Catholic superstition, a hollow symbol emptied of meaning centuries ago, an embarrassing relic of a purely hypothetical Christian envy of pagan holidays.
For starters, because the Christmas season inspires men to profound generosity and there is simply no satisfactory rational explanation for this fact. But also because during the Christmas season even people who hate God nonetheless sing His praises and they even enjoy doing so. What is more, modern men don’t like Christmas because they hate tradition and Christmas is the single greatest cultural repository of tradition there is. The zeitgeist is always vexed when people looked on the past with pleasure and reverence. Somehow Christmas has miraculously resisted attempts at secularization and yet holds out as a distinctly Christian holiday, which is why secularists are so fervent in their attacks on the legitimacy of Christmas.
Over the last six years, I have made it an annual habit of writing a handful of new essays defending every traditional aspect of Christmas there is: Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, candy canes, It’s A Wonderful Life, the December 25th date of Christ’s birthday, the giving of gifts, even secular Christmas pop songs. This year, I have collected the best of those essays, refined them, significantly expanded a few, and also written several new essays, and collected the whole lot in The 25th. The essay I wrote six years ago which inaugurated my annual defense of Christmas—an essay defending the traditional date of the holiday—has been given a deluxe treatment and is now more than three times the length of the original and presents a much more thorough synopsis of the academic, theological, and cosmological arguments that underwrite a confidence in December 25th as the actual, factual date of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Among the new essays featured in December 25th is “On Grinches,” which aims at explaining why some people—even some Christians—simply do not like Christmas. Elsewhere, “A Better World” explores the curious universality of Christmas, for Christmas is not simply an ornament on our culture. Rather, Christmas is nearly its own self-contained culture, a colonizing power that departs our world in early January and returns every November to transfigure virtually everything about us: our music, our food, our clothes, our economy, our prejudices. Finally, “The Leavetaking” uses W.H. Auden’s “For The Time Being” to examine the emotions and disappointments that attend our hearts when Christmas is finally done and we must begin the uphill struggle of fulfilling the austere resolutions we have made for the new year.
The 25th makes a fine accompaniment to the daily Advent readings prescribed by any lectionary. My goal in writing about Christmas has never been to reform the holiday, to reimagine it, to fix it, to add to it, or to show readers how to make Christmas “their own.” Rather, my goal is to vindicate the holiday, to reveal how sublime Christmas already is, and to show readers just how badly we all need Christmas.