Even Protestants Are Catholic Around Christmas

You read that right. I was listening to a Catholic apologist on a podcast today and he made a stark observation that I was surprised I had never made before. So many Protestants are quick to bash the Catholic Church, not on doctrine or theology that they disagree with (which they do), but are quicker to point out Catholic practices that are "unbiblical." With the veneration of saints, they will say that this is unfounded and it is praying to someone other than God. While I could easily draw out the simple and quick misunderstanding of veneration vs. worship that is not the observation that I want to make.

What is interesting is that during the Christmas season, you will find the only statues you will ever find in a Protestant Church. A nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus will be inside or outside the building and sometimes these scenes will be placed where folks stop and pray. Christian denominations that would never have a crucifix but only a cross will put their "idol worship" accusations aside and have not only full-size Nativity scenes at their church, but have personal mini-sized ones in their homes (as do I!). In Catholic circles, this could be termed a devotional or a shrine, but for them it is simply part of the Christmas decor alongside their tree.

What is even more interesting is the place that Mary is relegated to. They will admit that Mary is needed and her acceptance of what the angel proclaimed is part of the Christmas miracle, but that is all. Mary is simply the wrapping paper for the real present and can be tossed aside once her purpose is served. But, for that shining moment in the Nativity scene, she has her place. No one could imagine the presentation of Christ appearing to the world without His mother. No church Nativity scene would be allowed if only the manger and a baby alone were present. This is like Jesus without His beard, technically it would work, but it just doesn't feel right.

So why do Protestants seem to accept Catholic practices and traditions at Christmas and not at other times? Perhaps they subliminally know that the word "Christmas" comes from "Christ's Mass" and was termed at the end of Advent for the day Christ arrived and pay a little homage to their pre-16th-century roots?

Speaking of Catholic aspects to Christmas that Protestants enjoy, here are some aspects brought to you by Catholic tradition that are not found in scripture:

  • Three wise men. While the Gospel of Matthew says that the magi came to see the baby Jesus, magi is a plural word that does not necessarily indicate three. There are three gifts given (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), but two could have given these, or ten collectively for that matter. Only Catholic tradition will give you the trio and even their names. In fact, magi are astronomers or wise men, but not necessarily kings. Hmmmm.

  • December 25. Jesus may not have been born on December 25. While different scholars have tried to determine when the date may have been, it has not been settled. The date of the 25th was chosen to commemorate Christ's birth as it is the Winter Solstice and is the shortest day when all days that follow begin to increase. Likewise, John the Baptist is commemorated as being born on the Summer Solstice where all days that follow become shorter, just as it is recorded him saying "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). (I know there is even more to this when you take into account the Julian calendar debates, Egyptian festivals, and more, but you get my point.)
  • Animals. The two Gospel accounts do not list any animals being present in the area that Jesus was born. Some scholars will even argue that Jesus was not born in any type of barn situation, but rather born in a back room of a house where an animal could have been kept, or even a cave. For sake of purification, they would've removed any animals before they let Mary and Joseph back there. Nevertheless, it does not say what type of animals would've been present. Some shepherds, in one of the accounts, were told of the birth by an angel, and went to go see the newborn child. Did they bring the animals with them? Even still, neither of these scenarios account for the common conception of having an ox or a donkey present at the manger. These animals are mentioned and prominent in other verses of scripture, so it is assumed they would be there too.
  • I don't point out these things to be confrontational, but rather to illustrate a point. When we focus on the things that really are the most important (ie: the birth of our Savior), we start to realize that our differences are not so large and we are all trying to worship God and make His presence real in our lives. We do this by reading scripture, prayer, and by traditions that have been passed down. Just as so may families will watch a certain movie on Christmas Eve, or while they decorate their tree, these traditions have been passed down throughout the years. Christmas just wouldn't be the same without them. If we didn't do them, would Christmas not count? Would it not be real? Of course not. But it certainly adds to it, adds to the feeling, and helps us come together as a family, unified with our family that has gone on before us.

    Even Protestants are Catholic on Christmas. Catholic means universal. We all should be universally awaiting and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior together.