While it may delight scholars like Christopher Hitchens to throw brickbats at Christmas, some of his information is more a reflection of his agenda then a reflection of mainstream (common) Christian practice.
1) Christmas does not celebrate the birth of a ‘Miraculous Baby.’ It is a celebration of ‘the Godhead appearing in human form.’
2) As a nation founded in large part as a refuge for persecuted Christians, Americans need not look to the Quoran for proof ‘Mary mothered a prophet.’
We read in Luke 1:46-55 where Mary herself says:
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.’ RSV
Note also Mary’s commonness. She refers to herself as a ‘lowly handmaiden,’ much as Michelle Obama refers to the White House as ‘the People’s House.’ By all means, the midwinter celebration of common people should be celebrated in the ‘the People’s House.’ It is not an accommodation to the President. Indeed, has there ever been a President of the United States who said ‘God is dead?
Christianity is a religion of the people. It makes no claim to exclusivity. Over the years, as new adherents were welcomed to the faith various trappings have been added to the celebration of Christmas. There were no carols or Christmas trees in Bethlehem in the year ‘0.’ Indeed, there was no year zero. But more on that later. Christmas trees were added by the tribes of Europe as Christianity spread there. Evergreen Trees…Evergreens/Eternal Life/Get it? It is a bit of a reach, I know, but go for it. There is a metaphor in there somewhere that makes a kind of statement on how life goes on, despite famines, wars, crime, the storms of winters and…ad infinitum.
To confront the disasters of life, some people may rely on ego defense mechanisms; others practice faith, such as Christianity preaches.
So; who says when it is Christmas? –I agree completely with Mr. Hitchens and his adherents. No one knows the exact date The Christ was born. According to the Gospel accounts of ‘shepherds in the fields,’ theologian William Barclay speculates it was likely spring–when the shepherds stood guard over the baby lambs. Attacks from predators necessitated the additional protection. This again demonstrates the flexibility of Christianity meeting the needs of common people. The Christmas celebration was established in mid winter as this is a time when people are more often in a more reflective frame of mind, as they tightened their belts, planned their futures and engaged in other such chores as are appropriate to Christmas. In the old days, in the spring, folks were too busy planting crops (and guarding lambs).
We really should explore the question of ‘When is it Christmas’ much deeper? There actually is no year ‘zero. There is only a year 1 BC and a year 1 AD. But no year zero. The Julian Calendar was not even established until 525 AD, about 100 years after the fall of Rome. The concept was simple. Basing our calendar on the birth of Jesus, the eternal king, allowed everyone to use common series of years.
Prior to this uniformity, people might say ‘in the 23rd year of the reign of King John,’ or ‘in the year King Uzziah died.’
I am however, not so rigid a Christian thinker as to NOT believe that at some future time (whether it be 500 or 5,000 years from now) some other Great Event may occur that utterly changes how we common people synchronize our calendars. I will only say this. Whatever that future event might be, it will have to be really BIG to beat Christmas.