Christmas is not Jesus’ Birthday

A growing number of churches have begun the practice of using Christmas as a time to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. They do this by singing Happy Birthday to Jesus (even in worship services) and having birthday parties for Jesus. Trouble is, Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday. It is the celebration of the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity; it is the celebration of the birth of the Son of God. But it is not Jesus’ birthday.

I think I grasp the motive behind this trend: including children in Christmas and making Jesus seem like one of us/them (children). But even from this perspective, is there any child who is not already spellbound by the Christmas story told in Scripture, with its array of interesting characters, its tension and intrigue, its sheer beauty?

The theological and spiritual dangers of trivializing and sentimentalizing the incarnation—and Jesus—are far greater than any supposed benefits of further including children and making them feel part of the celebration.

Singing Happy Birthday to Jesus would not seem to engender devotion to the One we are called to follow so fully that it might lead to death—yet the Church remembers Stephen, the first martyr, on December 26, the day after Christmas. Singing Happy Birthday to Jesus reflects an understanding of Jesus as a cute little baby or little boy who could cause no trouble and do no harm. But that is not what Herod thought, so the Church remembers his slaughter of the innocents on December 28. In other words, the shadow of the cross is present in the Scriptural Christmas narrative, and in the Church’s way of framing its celebration, but it is absent from the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” mindset.

We do not need any more Christmas customs that further divorce Christmas from discipleship. Let’s get rid of this theological error before it does more spiritual harm.

5 Responses to “Christmas is not Jesus’ Birthday”

  1. [...] admin wrote an interesting post today onCross Talk » Blog Archive » Christmas is not Jesusâ?? BirthdayHere’s a quick excerptThey do this by singing Happy Birthday to Jesus (even in worship services) and having birthday parties for Jesus. Trouble is, Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday. It is the celebration of the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity … [...]

  2. [...] Christmas time I posted that Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday, but this other liturgical error may be far more harmful, at least for Americans. So… Happy [...]

  3. [...] Christmas time I posted that Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday, but this other liturgical error may be far more harmful, at least for Americans. [For 2009: [...]

  4. Ben Marston says:

    this may be splitting hairs, but isn’t Annunciation , March 25th, the Celebration of the Incarnation, when the Theotokos responded to the Word of God with her ‘so be it unto me according to Thy Word.”?
    Christmas is known in other lands as Nativity, Natal, which is the Birthday celebration.
    What I understand is that was an ancient Jewish belief that prophets died on the day of their conception. Christ died by the calculations of the early Church on March 25, so his birth must have been nine months later, December 25th.

    Whether Happy Birthday is the appropriate song I question inasmuch as Lex Orandi Lex Credendi ought to be the guideline in any thing offered in the context of the Gathering of the Church, and Happy Birthday lacks theological content , to say the least. But then so do many of the contemporary songs that are offered in worship. Lord have mercy.

  5. MJG says:

    Ben,

    Interesting and good point, probably not splitting hairs. I was of course writing against the sentimentality associated with Happy Birthday and am willing to grant that the Latin root that yields Nativity, etc. is of course about birth. But I would still suggest that in the sentimental US environment especially, where key doctrines seldom get stressed or preached—and where March 25 means nothing in most Protestant circles—focusing on incarnation at Christmas is needed.

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