The War on Christmas: Battles in Faith, Tradition, and Religious Expression Edited by Bodie Hodge
Each Christmas brings with it the fair share of holiday greetings, treats, and jolly carols. Yet, even in
the holiday spirit there is a war on Christmas going on. In steps General Editor Bodie Hodge, an author of the new book entitled The War on Christmas. What do you really know about Christmas, its origins, the birth of Jesus, and the promulgation of a jolly old soul named Santa Claus? Bodie tries to clear up the fog in our minds about the true meaning of Christmas, its beginning, and the nagging questions many Christians face when talking to others about reindeer, Santa Claus, and a supernatural birth. At the outset, I want to say that the publishers, New Leaf Publishing Group did a fabulous job with the presentation of the material in the book. The book’s images, artwork, and feel really helped me get into the heart of the material. The book is divided into 23 short chapters that deal with everything from the name of Christmas to misconceptions surrounding Christmas.
Bodie is quick to point out that the name ‘Christmas’ comes from two words, Christ and mas, that means “Christ celebration.” (10) We find out also from Early Church father Julius Africanus that Christians were celebrating Christ’s birth as early as A.D. 221 (12). The date of Christ’s birth might not be nailed down to the exact year but we do have a ballpark figure around the date of his coming into the world. Further, Bodie mentions that some would object to the celebration of Christmas based upon decorated trees in Jeremiah 10:1-6. He writes in opposition, “If someone honors God with a decorated tree (as opposed to false gods) then how can it be sinful?” (13).
I especially resonated with Bodie’s understanding of the foundation of Christmas being found not in Luke 2 but back in Genesis 3:15. The story of sin, Adam and Eve, the creation, and God’s covenantal promises puts legs on the story of Jesus being born into this world. It’s hard to understand the “good news” of Jesus without the bad news of Adam’s sin (42). There is a strong pointer in this chapter that states that ‘God is a God of grace’ (44). This message sings the message of the gospel clearly and mightily. My only criticism of Bodie’s retelling of the biblical story of redemption here is that there is little accounting here about how Christ’s coming, his death and resurrection make sense of the renewal and restoration of creation.
Lastly, I appreciated the way Tim Chaffey brought out the discussions on Christmas traditions. In the chapter on angels, he writes, “The idea of angels singing on the night of Christ’s birth has become so common that many are surprised to learn that the Bible does not unequivocally state this. This example provides a good opportunity to discuss traditions…..traditions must be based on and consistent with Scripture” (62). It is a very good reminder that some traditions we have in our seasonal happiness might/might not be in keeping with God’s written revelation. Testing these things in light of the clear testimony of Scripture is part of the Christian life. Tim wants to lead people to love God rather than just serve traditions. We need to be careful here thought, that we not muddy the waters on issues which might seem larger than they actually are.
I enjoyed reading this book but I found issue with two major things. One, Bodie and the editors spend an inordinate amount of time in the book trying to find such things as the exact date of Christ’s birth and information on the Christmas star. I’m not opposed to talking about these things but I’m not sure why they make such a big difference in understanding the incarnation. I’m still not convinced that some of the issues the authors take up are of utmost importance, but I appreciated the detailed analysis.
Secondly, the chapter on Worship: Santa Claus or Jesus is problematic in many ways. One, the author Roger Patterson assumes that the promotion of Santa (as some kind of worship) leads to a de-emphasis on Christ (127). I would say that it is the parent’s responsibility to teach children the true meaning of Christmas from a biblical witness recognizing the incarnation as a unique event in history. Talking too much about Santa Claus could lead to a moralism, but talking about Santa Claus a little bit could lead to healthy discussions about what it means to give gifts (or time, money, etc.) to others as a way of serving others. I think this chapter oversteps its bounds by claiming that talking about Santa leads to deceit and it is founded upon behavior modification. I’m not into shouting Santa from the rooftops but I think we need to be careful about helping parents rightly understand the Christmas story and use their own consciences as well.
I appreciated this book and am glad to have reviewed it. I think many will find some interesting connection points with their families around the story of Jesus coming to Earth.
Thanks to Master Books and Handlebar Publishing Group for the copy of this book in exchange for review.