Some Christians Shun Christmas and Its Trappings

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2007

For some Christians, Christmas is just another day.

For them, there will be no Christmas tree, no Christmas wreaths, no Christmas lights, no Nativity scenes. Nor will there be that rich Christmas dinner, nor the traditional exchange of gifts.

"It's not in the Bible," said Arnold Hampton, 58, minister of the United Church of God Columbia, who hasn't celebrated the holiday since 1966. "Jesus never mentioned it."

Hampton is a member of a niche of Christians who reject the traditional Christmas holiday. Like Jehovah's Witnesses and a few nondenominational churches scattered in the Washington region and nationwide, Hampton's denomination, the United Church of God, will ignore Christmas Day.

For Christians who refuse -- literally -- to buy into Christmas, the season has too many secular trappings. Some consider it a pagan holiday with no basis in Christian scripture, while others say the holiday's relentless consumerism turns them off so much that they've shut down the season altogether.

"I just don't think that this whole idea of the commercial Christmas and our American view of Christmas is what God is really asking for," said Kelvin Redmond, pastor of Body of Christ Church, a 900-member nondenominational congregation in Raleigh, N.C., that doesn't celebrate Christmas. The holiday, said Redmond, has "been gobbled up by secularization."

In fact, most modern-day Christmas customs -- Santa Claus, Christmas trees and wreaths -- have secular origins with only tenuous connections to Christians' beliefs about the divine birth of Jesus Christ, according to religious studies scholar Bruce David Forbes, author of "Christmas: A Candid History." Christian scriptures say little about the birth of Jesus, nor is there any indication of the day on which he was born.

The Puritans banned celebration of the holiday because they believed it lacked a biblical foundation and also because of the drinking and debauchery that had grown up around it, Forbes said. Indeed, until the 19th century, wide swaths of American society did not celebrate it. Congress still met on Christmas Day, and most businesses remained open.

But the holiday began to make a comeback in the 1840s, partly because of Charles Dickens's Christmas stories -- he wrote five Christmas novellas, including "A Christmas Carol" -- which painted the season as a time of warm family celebrations and imbued it with its modern-day spiritual and moral significance.

No one knows for sure how many Christians eschew the holiday, but for those who do, such sentimental depictions have little to do with the birth of Christ.

Jehovah's Witnesses -- 1 million in the United States and 7 million worldwide -- have long ignored Christmas, as well as other Christian holidays. They believe that Christians began observing the day only to compete with midwinter celebrations in the Roman Empire.

"The date is more tied to pagan observances, and the customs have pagan origins as well," said James B. Walker, a spokesman for the local faithful and a member of a Falls Church Jehovah's Witnesses church.

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