Reclaiming the Anti-State Roots of Christmas
While Christians the world over look to the celebration as a way to remember the incarnation of Christ, some dismiss it as a Christianized version of the ancient Rome’s Saturnalia. Whatever one’s view happens to be, I humbly suggest that it ought to be used by Christians and non-Christians alike as a reflection upon a collision of two kingdoms and two forms of rule. One that makes the way for life, and the other for misery, suffering, and death.
If the celebration of Christmas is an acknowledgement of the Almighty’s offering of peace and goodwill to people everywhere, then it behooves all people to remember who it is that offers universal war and ill-will. No other earthly institution has so consistently offered the latter than the state. The advent story itself reminds us in the second chapter of Matthew that it was a state actor, Herod, who aimed to snuff out the Prince of Peace in his infancy. Truly, the state hates anyone who stands to challenge to their claims of omniscience and omnipotence.
In the West, it is safe to say that most Christmas gatherings don’t include an intentional acknowledgement of the birth of Jesus. Nonetheless, these too might serve at least as reminders of the non-necessity of the state. Our networks of family, friends, and co-workers who offer words and actions of generosity, kindness, and hospitality are rightful reminders that our voluntary associations are at the center of good living. These interactions are indeed anarchic, stateless, and free from threats of violence (unless your uncle Harold has one too many).
Whatever a secularized version of a Christmas celebration might look like, the simple acts of exchanging gifts, the sharing of food and drink, and of a sense of kinship may produce – at the very least – a reflection of the goodness of productive activity that allows such enjoyment. This sentiment is abundantly shared on Ayn Rand’s comments on the American celebration of Thanksgiving as a “celebration of successful production.” It is that voluntary act of productive enterprise that offers us the opportunity to take joy in experiencing the bounties of productive activity, even in spite of the state’s efforts to squash it, or at the least to intervene to favor some at the expense of others.
As for me and my house, we’ve taken Christmas celebrations to be an intentional pause to reflect on the various meanings of Christ’s advent. Certainly, we think through the themes of mercy, grace, and love that are lavished upon God’s creatures through the Word made flesh. Yet, as with every account of the words and actions surrounding the life of Christ, there are multiple lessons for people of goodwill to walk away with. It is our traditions and practices that may serve to draw out those lessons.
With this in mind, it is a sad state of affairs to recognize that most Christians fail to recognize the profoundly anti-state sentiments that are put forward in the nativity. Whether it is a failure to recognize the profound contrast between Christ’s kingdom and the kingdoms of men, or whether it is a vague sense of sentimentality that overtakes the minds of believers, I know not. It is my contention that habits of mind can, however, be forged through the habits of action. In acknowledgement of this, we have cultivated several regular practices that acknowledge the anti-state nature of true Christian worship.
In finding ways to practically remember the anti-state meaning surrounding Christ’s birth, our household has taken up the tradition of recounting the facts surrounding the Christmas Truce of 1914. Some years have included viewing the 2005 film, Joyeux Noel. On other occasions, we’ve recalled the exchange of gifts between soldiers on the western front by passing around a precious family memento, a brass gift box from Princess Mary to the soldiers of the British empire. Still another form of remembrance has been to recite a brief passage or two from Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night as we meditate on common men’s unwillingness to murder one another (at least for a day) in the name of the state.
The point of each of these practices has been to probe our minds and hearts in order to identify our ultimate allegiance. In raising this question, it is my intention to remind my family that it is our duty as worshippers of the King of Kings to defy the tyrants of the earth, just as the wise men of Matthew 2 directly defied an order from Herod when they understood his evil intent. Their actions are certainly an apt illustration of the words of the Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer, “To resist tyranny is to honor God.”
Surely, the past several years have presented ample opportunity for Christians in the west to defy tyrants and their arbitrary edicts. While some have failed to uphold their Christian duty, others have faithfully defied the various forms of Covid-ocracy, raise our voices in condemnation of war-making and the military-industrial complex, or of the rampant cronyism that characterizes so-called modern capitalism, ultimately all of these forms of resistance and protest are an affront to the state, and an as such, are an honor to Christ. May these efforts boldly proceed.
It is because of this mixed record of Christian cowardice and courage that I suggest looking at Christmas afresh. In this season, it isn’t sufficient to think merely of how the individual Christian might look to God’s kindness in Christ to reform oneself or for the non-believer to demonstrate a vague sense of generosity and kindness. May it always include a call to all for courage, being reminded that the lowliest of people’s resistance to the power of the state is a precious offering to the King of Kings and brings a better chance for human flourishing. Further, may it serve as a reminder that the rulers of the state genuinely hate and seek to destroy all that comes from the Prince of Peace.
In this adopting this approach, both Christians and non-believers can take solace in knowing that their own voluntary associations (religious or otherwise), productive work, restful celebrations, and everyday acts of charity serve as foundational institutions that oppose the evil predations of the state. May such practices will grow ever stronger, and may the mere utterance of the phrase, “Merry Christmas” serve to remind the worshippers of the state that their gods and their traditions are truly antithetical to all human life, and as such are completely unnecessary.