A merry (Calvinist) Christmas to one and all
If you are reading this on Christmas Day, Happy Christmas.
Now get off your computer or phone and go and do something less boring instead, like eating turkey, watching the Queens speech or washing those dishes.
Christmas is not universally celebrated. If you are a Jehovah's Witness then today is just a normal Monday. If you are in a Christian school in India you were warned last week by extremist Hindu nationalists that you celebrate Christmas at your peril.
And there are a small number of Christians who will not be celebrating today as a matter of principle. Why? Because they don't believe it is a Christian festival and they celebrate their freedom not to celebrate something that God does not require them to.
There was a time when Christmas was either banned or hardly celebrated in Scotland. It was the Scottish Reformers who banned it as a Popish festival in 1560. Although the ban was lifted it was not until 1958 that it actually became a public holiday. But it wasn't just the Scots. In 1644 Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans banned it in England as well, ordering that its 'carnal and sensual delights' (I think they meant Brussels sprouts) be stopped.
This ban, by the way, led to the development of a character now considered essential to the days celebrations. A satirical pamphlet was published in 1652 which showed Christmas as an old man with a long beard. In 1658 another satirical pamphlet gave the old man a name – Father Christmas!
Of course it is easy to mock from a safe distance. The situation is not quite as black and white as we like to assume. The late Christopher Hitchens argued that the Scots banned Christmas because Scots Presbyterians were so against partying and drinking. He clearly had never been here on Hogmanay! I remember as a child thinking that New Year was far more important and exciting.
The paradox is that we did celebrate Christmas, but more as a secular holiday than a Christian one. Christmas is primarily seen as a time of being with family, giving gifts and feasting, and there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes when I see the exploitativeness and farce of much of today's Christmas celebrations I am tempted to think that our forefathers had a point. To have the birth of Christ associated with such excess, greed and materialism does border on the blasphemous. To leave Christ out of such a Christmas is not a bad idea – but perhaps we need to change Christmas by bringing Christ forward as the central focus of the festive season.
It's only in the past few years that my church has had a Christmas Day service and it's very much considered an optional extra. In more recent years, though, I have come to appreciate not just the evangelistic opportunities Christmas provides, but also the refocus in my own heart on the sheer wonder of the Incarnation. I believe that our forefathers got it wrong and that Christmas is a wonderful time of year to remember the birth of Christ and to consider the light that has come into the darkness.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.
So I feel doubly blessed. I get the best of both worlds. I can still look forward to Hogmanay and New Year but now I'm off to enjoy my Calvinist Christmas – to celebrate the God who gives us all things richly that we may enjoy them, and above all to marvel at the One who is. The Greatest Gift. Go and do likewise!
David Robertson is Associate Director of Solas CPC in Dundee and minister at St Peter's Free Church. Follow him on Twitter @TheWeeFlea.