Time: Triumph of Culture Over Religion

Time Magazine has declared the death of religion more times than they've said "Bush lied, Children died." And that's a lot. But I think here they do have a point here although I think they overstate it by a mile.
Millions of Americans go to church on Christmas Eve. They crowd shoulder-to-shoulder in pews to sing "Silent Night" and light candles and listen to soloists belt out "O Holy Night." More than a few watch nativity plays that recreate the birth of Jesus with a cast of 10-year-olds in bathrobes. When the service is over, they exchange hearty "Merry Christmas!" wishes before getting in their cars and heading home.

And they stay home the next day. Or they drive to Grandma's, or go to the movies. But however they spend Christmas Day — "the feast of Christmas" on the Christian liturgical calendar — one way most Americans don't celebrate it is by going to church. While demand for Christmas Eve celebrations is so high that some churches hold as many as five or six different services on the 24th of December, most Protestant churches are closed on the actual religious holiday. For most Christians, Christmas is a day for family, not faith.

If that sounds like the triumph of culture over religion, it is. By the middle of the 20th century, Americans had embraced a civil religion that among other things elevated the ideal of family to a sacrosanct level. The Norman Rockwell image of family gathered around the tree became a Christmas icon that rivaled the baby Jesus. And Christmas Eve services — with their pageantry and familiar traditions — became just one part of the celebration, after the family dinner and before the opening of presents.
I know a bunch of Christian families and they all went to their churches on Christmas. Now, I've read in a number of places how some protestant churches are closed on Christmas but I hardly think it's the norm. But I do also believe that our Christmas culture owes more to Dickens and Rockwell than Jesus.


  1. Time has overplayed it here as well. The "culture" that supposedly triumphed in shaping the celebration of Christmas is, by and large, composed of English pre-Reformation and German customs. Those customs themselves were Catholic in origin.

    Dickens and Rockwell were really more restorationists than innovators.

  2. I don't know why going to Church on the Eve of Christmas should not "count" to Time.

  3. Indeed Jesse. Those who attend the Vigil or Midnight Mass on Christmas eve fulfill the Holy Day of Obligation, and when they spend Christmas Day gathered as a family, they live the mystery in the domestic church. Although, I hope no one tells Time that, for the mag is sure to distort those words into something ugly.

  4. THis whole article is strange.

    For instance how did Christmas Eve Evening Services all of a sudden not count!!!

    We see part of the problem in the article wording itself when she says "But however they spend Christmas Day — "the feast of Christmas" on the Christian liturgical calendar — one way most Americans don't celebrate it is by going to church"

    First a whole ton of Protestants are not Liturgical nor have a liturgical calender. The closest Holy Day outside Sunday and Easter Sunday many protestants have is sort of an unofficial one. That is good Friday. Now I come from the Christ soaked South that is very protestant and very evangelical. As a convert most of my family comes from this tradition.

    Among the Protestants that went to Church on Christmas (by the way I am counting Christmas Eve here) were of course Episcopalian and the Methodist usually had candlelight Communion service. Perhaps the Presbyterians that also practice a form of Advent might have something but that was still rare as I can recall.in the bigger southern cities the Lutherans would have something.

    Now this not some recent development either. I can never recall the older parts of my family talking about going to Church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. Norman Rockwell had little to do with it.

    What is missing is a important piece of history. The celebration of Christmas was often forbidden by the more puritan parts of the Christian community because well it reeked of Catholic stuff and people were not doing it in the Bible. Even today you have a fringe of Fundamentalist and Evangelicals that are "anti Christmas". Still most Protestants are well aware of the reason fore the season. They don't exactly have a Liturgical outlet in most cases to celebrate it. While Amy Sullivan dismisses kidss in Bathrobes that is still a serious attempt in some ways to mark the occasion.

    I do note that at times Evangelicals and Protestants here and there try to change this. However it is hard to suddenly do things that are not part of your Christian tradition. Plus I expect that a whole ton of Pastor's and Preachers wives's sort of put their foot down behind the scenes on this new innovation. They would like one day that is special for them and their family ..

  5. Happily, happily, happily our Christmas eve children's pageant / playlet was cancelled. This annoyance has long since become so turned in upon itself in Hallmark cuteness that it is an obstruction to worship. If people really want this, oh, activity, let it happen in the parish hall, NOT on the Altar, and AFTER Mass so that freedom of worship in the sanctuary is possible.

    No, I am not being grumpy; I teach children. I LIKE children. I LIKE watching them learn and grow and sort out the mysteries of faith and math and biology and literature. Worship, however, is to be focused on God, not on cute kids.

    -- Mack

  6. Well, our family of 7 was at Mass on Christmas morning at still-dark 7:30am. Actually it was less of a hassle to get them up and dressed since all I needed to do was whisper, "Merry Christmas," in their ear. The 6 year old had gotten up in the middle of the night and put on her dress and underpants so she wouldn't be late. Afterwards we came back home, changed clothes, and had breakfast. It made for a lovely Christmas day, much more meaningful than just ripping into gifts and eating turkey.

  7. I dunno, this piece by Ms. Sullivan was trenchant and insightful, especially, when she brings up certain evangelicals and their muddled thinking about Xmas.

  8. Catholics have been going to Midnight Mass for years, though, and spending Christmas day at home and with family. So while I think the new practice of having many Masses of anticipation before Midnight Mass is not exactly the best thing, I can't say that it's a new development for Catholics to go to Mass on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day; Catholics have always done both, and still do.

  9. When I was growing up, a lot of PROTESTANTS attended our parish's Midnight Mass --- Because it was so beautiful and solemn and Christamssy.

    Maybe more churches are having Christmas Eve services to keep their members from swimming the Tiber? =)

  10. Time on auotpilot.

  11. Time Mag may not realize this, but Midnight Mass is the first mass of Christmas Day. BTW, is no one going to step up and defend Dickens? He really doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Norman Rockwell. Dickens was not only about pretty little scenes, whatever we make of him today. His work, including "A Christmas Carol" has a powerful moral dimension, and a Christian one. That's why he was so enormously popular to his comtemporary readers, and continues to be. Anyway, Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone. Kit

  12. There is some truth to this article among Protestants. Three years ago Christmas Day was on a Sunday, and I read an article discussing the fact that many Protestant churches were considering cancelling thier regular Sunday services because, since it was Christmas Day, they were afraid that no one would show up.
    Mind-boggling, isn't it?

  13. I stopped caring what Time magazine thinks about much of anything a long time ago.

  14. Where does TIME think Dickens and Rockwell received their influence?


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