When I was younger, I remember I asked why the church celebrates Easter and Christmas when they do. And I remember it being one more question that never received the straightest of answers.
I think I know why, or maybe I’ve narrowed it down to a few possible explanations.
Reason #1. I think most Christians do not know a thing about the history of their faith (emphasis most definitely added). And why should they? Few churches offer any kind of teaching on the history of the ancient church, the teachings of the ancient church and how or why things are done somewhat differently today. Some Christians have a kind of rough general outline of the past–they have Acts, Luther and then the subsequent history of their own denomination. But as denominational distinctions continue to blur in the era of the mega-church, those few little pieces are washing out with the tide.
I think that’s sad. I believe we would better appreciate the value of our religious freedoms if we truly understood the dangerous journey made by Christianity into the 21st Century. I think we would better understand the way to live the faith in a modern society if we understood the context of its origins 2004 years ago. I think we would be better Christians.
Reason #2. Those that do know something about the history of their faith may not want to answer any subsequent questions about why things have changed so much, because I think those questions are harder to answer. Why is it that we have reduced the Christian calendar to just a few days a year? Why is it that we don’t recognize the history of our faith and honor those who have gone before?
Christmas in my church is called “The Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It is celebrated on December 25 using some calendars, and on different days on other calendars (which I am in no way getting into here). It is one of a number of major feast days giving to us by the Church to celebrate the redemptive work of our God. Some other major feasts include:
*The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross (Sept. 14)
*The Theophany of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ (Jan. 6)
History note: This feast predates Christmas, and in many ways celebrates the same things as Christmas–celebration of His birth, the adoration of the wisemen, childhood events of Christ, and His Baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Forerunner. And if you notice it is twelve days after Christmas (cue the pipers piping and drummers drumming).
*The Entrance of Our Lord Into Jerusalem-that would be Palm Sunday.
*Pascha– or known to Western Christians as Easter.
Isn’t that fantastic?! Look at all those days that draw our eyes from the mundane struggle we find ourselves in, and turn them up to our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. And that’s not even all of them! There’s many other feast days, lesser feast days, and then the days we just observe the life of a saint, or reflect on some other aspect of our faith in practice. I have LOVED getting to know the liturgical calendar, and I regret not taking full advantage of all it has to teach me. And as I’ve looked at that packed calendar, I’ve wondered why I had never seen most of this before.
My guess is that as the Protestant church pushed itself further away from the Roman Catholic Church, it shed so many of these dates like some kind of shell, along with so many other worthwhile practices. And the further away it gets from Luther/Zwingli/et al, fewer of these will remain. Maybe in a few more centuries, some Christians will just combine Easter and Christmas into one big day so they can worry about other things the other 364 days a year. It’s, sadly, probably not outside the realm of possibility. I’m sure if you told a Christian in the year 904 that many Christians in the future would not have a great use for Mary or the saints, or would reduce the Christian calendar to just a few days a year, he or she would shake his or her head in disbelief.
And by the way, today we observe Venerable Alypius the Stylite of Adrianopolis, among others. Have a blessed day!