I find myself in agreement with Scrooge! You all know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a classic that has been made into innumerable plays, staged readings, movies and cartoons to retell the wonderful story of how an old miser like Scrooge could find generosity and forgiveness by embracing the Christmas spirit. Before his conversion his curmudgeonly retort to all who espoused Merry Christmas was, “Bah! Humbug!”
After some study, I now think that Scrooge was on to something! He certainly needed a change of heart, but he was right about Christmas being a humbug! Why do I say I agree with Scrooge?
I looked up the definition of Humbug.
Here it is from the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:
noun hum·bug : language or behavior that is false or meant to deceive people : someone or something that is not honest or true : a hard peppermint candy
Full Definition of HUMBUG
1 a: something designed to deceive and mislead
b: a willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person
2 : an attitude or spirit of pretense and deception
3 : Nonsense, drivel
Hmmmm. Am I saying that everyone who celebrates Christmas is ‘willfully false, deceptive and insincere?’ Not exactly. I believe that the majority of Christians are sincere in their wish to ‘keep Christ in Christmas,’ and have no intention to deceive or pretend the holiday is anything other than a celebration of the birth of our Savior. They would be, and are, offended to have their celebration characterized as nonsense or drivel.
But, and this is the hard part for almost everyone to swallow: What if the concept of Christmas is offensive to the Father? What if Christmas itself is humbug?
If you are still reading this, I guess you are willing to explore the possibility that Christmas might not be based in Biblical instructions. I am hoping you are looking for me to explain what I mean so that you can make an assessment of whether I am sincere, or a humbug.
Everyone can point to the lovely Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon where Linus reads the recounting of Jesus’ birth from the book of Luke. “That is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown;” and, for many, that is enough. It is a justification for all that Christmas has become. The fact of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds abiding in the fields by night, and the singing of the heavenly hosts is familiar, inspiring and gives us all that warm fuzzy feeling. Christmas is the memorial of this event that brought Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men, isn’t it?
We are all drawn in by our memories of movies and Christmas stories. Films like It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas and many others are perennial favorites that show the spirit of Christmas as a generous and loving heart for our fellow man. But, no story other than A Christmas Carol concentrates on the Spirits that animate our love-affair with all things Christmas.
So why did Scrooge call Christmas a humbug?
Scrooge was a bitter and disillusioned man. His spirit was so darkened that he couldn’t accept that people might actually have love and goodwill in their heart, and certainly that these feelings were not the result of Christmastime. Until he was visited by four spirits (Marley, and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future) he was unable to recognize that his misery was the result of his own heart and behavior. He became a miser that worshipped money and it cost him the love of his life. To him, all of the good cheer and love others portrayed was a deception. It was, indeed, a humbug. A spirit of deception, insincerity and dishonesty.
Let’s look again at the definition of Humbug. It is “language or behavior that is false or meant to deceive people, someone or something that is not honest or true, or a hard peppermint candy.”
Now, let’s look at the other definitions. “Someone or something that is not honest or true.” Christmas celebrations probably fall into this category. If we are honest, we must conclude that Christmas and its attendant trappings of trees, holly, mistletoe, Santa and reindeer etc., are all based on myths or ancient pagan practices. A quick search on the internet yields an abundance of evidence that places all of these things we associate with Christmas as pagan symbols and celebratory customs that we have ‘Christianized.” They are found nowhere in the Scriptures. The reason all of these pagan practices were adopted by the Christian church may sound okay to you, but it flies directly in the face of what the Father asked of us.
He said, “Do not learn the ways of the heathens and say you do them unto me, it is an abomination!” (Deu 18:9, Jer 10:2)
You will not find in the Bible, including the New Testament, an instruction to celebrate the birth of our Messiah. None of the apostles observed Christmas, and for centuries it wasn’t even on the radar screen! In fact, it was well into the 1800’s before it was even legal for Americans to erect a Christmas Tree because our founding fathers (you know, those folks who fled England because of religious persecution) understood that it was a pagan practice!
So, aside from the traditions that have been co-opted from pagan celebrations (which surely we could conclude fits the definition of a deception), the dark under-belly of Christmas is also a deception.
Why do I say that?
Sadly, the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ is not for many people. It is well-reported that there is a spike in suicides during the Christmas season. The expectation and hype associated with this holiday results in further alienating those who are alone, mentally unstable, or are experiencing a down-turn in their lives. When the magic of Christmas fails to materialize, many cannot cope with the disappointment.
Another deception is our ability to ‘rational-lies’ to our children. We tell them fantastic tales of flying reindeer, Santa and elves that bring good girls and boys the desires of their heart, and elves on shelves that watch everything they do and say in the run up to Christmas morning. We think we are creating a spirit of ‘magic’ when in fact we are just lying to our children and setting them up for disappointment and disillusionment when the truth comes out. Deception!
On every level! We all want to embrace the thought of ‘good will and peace on earth.’ And many actually attain a level of that, until the post-Christmas crash and bills for how much we over-spent in the ‘spirit’ of generosity arrive in the mail. We have substituted honest emotions of love and goodwill for Black Friday fist-fights over material goods. We feel pressured to purchase gifts for everyone we see lest we fail to embody the Christmas spirit. We strive for and expect the ‘Christmas spirit’ during December, and fall back into our everyday mode the rest of the year! If it is from the heart, it should be apparent all year round, don’t you think?
If you really examine the theme of It’s a Wonderful Life, it really isn’t about Christmas at all. Although it is a holiday classic and the climax occurs on Christmas Eve, the real story is the culmination of a life well-lived. George Bailey is a man of integrity. He honors his father and mother by giving up his dream to leave Bedford Falls in order to handle his father’s business. He lives his life with a heart to help others, and because of that, this honest, hard-working man is rescued by his community in his hour of need. Incidentally, his rescue from his own suicide was the result of a prayer for help, but it is easy to gloss over that and hang the entire ending on the ‘Christmas Spirit.’ It makes for a nice setting, but the story could have been told without Christmas in the picture and the result would have been the same.
Now I guess I have ruined your favorite Christmas movie. It shouldn’t have. It is still one of my favorite ones too, but I can see it as a reward of a life well-lived and an answer to prayer. The setting is irrelevant although the snow is nice, and the winter-time ties it all up in a neat bow. It wasn’t Christmas that caused the happy ending, it was love.
SHAMELESS PLUG: for more on It's a Wonderful Life go here
So, now that Christmas can be properly characterized as humbug (deception), what should we do with that information?
What if we love the Father enough to search out the truth? What if we discover that He instituted Feasts that He does want us to observe? What if we understand that Leviticus 23 is for all mankind, and not just for the ‘Jews?’ What if we realize that celebrating Christmas that began as a pagan festival is no different than the Israelites who built the golden calf and declared it a feast to YHVH?