In his book, The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture, Dell deChant, a professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida contends that "the Christmas season culture has become a religion all its own." He suggests that "It's a religion complete with mysterious and powerful deities (the economy, Santa Claus), houses of worship (malls), narratives (carols) and rituals (shopping and decorating)."
"Santa, not Jesus, is the savior of the season," says deChant, "He certainly saves the bottom line for retailers across the country." Even though many of us complain about the commericialism, deChant says the "'Festival of Consumption' between Thanksgiving and the week after Christmas has taken on all the characteristics of traditional religions, embraced with equal fervor by the holy and not-so-holy among us. He calls it "a religious culture in disguise."
While in America we work to separate Christmas from the Christmas culture so we can worship the Christ of Christmas, other places in the world face more tangible problems. According to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "There won't be any Christmas [in Bethlehem this year]." Of course, he was referring to Christmas festivities in the holy city because Israel's military has closed it down for security reasons.
The vice-governor of Bethlehem, Mr. Mounir Salameh, confirmed Arafat's assertion. According to Salameh, most of the Christmas celebrations have been officially cancelled, with the exception of the traditional midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity.
I can see how leaders of both the Arabs and the Jews involved in the dispute in the Middle East would view canceling Christmas activities as the same as canceling "Christmas," but to the Christian the notion is ludicrous. Perhaps the authorities can stop Christians in Bethlehem from following their traditions in public, but they cannot stop them from looking up into the night sky and remembering that a couple thousand years ago, a bright light pierced the darkness announcing the birth of the Savior.
Matthew 2:1-6 NASB "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.'  And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born.  And they said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet,  'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler, Who will SHEPHERD My people Israel.'"
The chief priests and the scribes were referring to Micah 5:2 that says, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (NASB)
Today, as we light the Bethlehem candle, we are reminded that the Incarnation-God becoming man-this wonderful theological event that we celebrate in this season, was a historical event that took place at a historic location.
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