Earlier today one of my readers related a complaint that someone (she did not specify who) had about the Winter Family Weekend, a complaint that is likely to be had by at least some people, and that is that the Northwest Family Weekend that my local congregation hosts as well as other similar events around the country amount to a consolation prize since we do not celebrate Christmas. The second-hand complaint also commented that the Days of Unleavened Bread should be kept for seven days as a celebratory event as it was in the olden days, but it is hard to imagine four or five hours of services a day and the absence of any leavened bread whatsoever as something that would be celebratory for young people, or most people in general. I would like to save the discussion about the Days of Unleavened bread for later, as there is an argument that one can have about that which would distract us from our primary purpose, and I would like to talk about the aspect of consolation prizes today.
My initial comment was that the person making the argument was quite right that the Northwest Family Weekend and other winter family weekends that we operate are consolation prizes for Christmas, and that it isn’t such an uncommon issue. To be sure, we do not celebrate Christmas because of its obviously pagan symbolism and history . Yet this heathen holiday exerts a certain gravitational pull on us whether we like it or not. Whether we work or go to school, we will (generally) have off on this particular day, and so having this time off it is worthwhile to do something at this time. Without having any desire to celebrate Christmas, most people would rather come together in some sort of fellowship whenever the time is available to do so.
The gravitational pull that Christmas exercises is something that has come up surprisingly often in my blog, and almost accidentally because it has not been by conscious attention. For example, some time ago some Muslim readers of mine commented about the festival of Mawlid-Al-Nabi, which celebrates the birth of Mohammad, and complained that it was Christian converts into Islam that brought this particular festival into popular Islam and that it was not a really genuinely Muslim festival but bad bid’ah instead. American Jews view Hanukkah much more seriously than would normally be the case because of the importance of Christmas and the way that Jews have promoted Hanukkah as a substitute festival. The same could be said of Kwanzaa and Festivus, traditions that have no religious sanction but which similarly draw their inspiration from a desire to have some sort of Christmas from an African nationalist or secularist perspective. Just as the massive popularity of heathen festivals led Hellenistic Christians to create a fake birthday celebration for Jesus Christ that was three months late or so, so too the massiveness of this festival has influenced even those who do not celebrate the day itself but wish to take advantage of time off and the general celebratory mood to celebrate something.
As to whether this is right or not, it is certainly something that falls under the category of human traditions and not divinely inspired holidays. Some of these traditions have a fair amount of longevity behind them–the Northwest Family Weekend having been kept for the last fifty years or so. Yet longevity itself does not make a festival legitimate, it just makes it a sign of inertia. Yet it is clear that the traditions involved are not viewed as having any sort of biblical sanction, and the specific days each year’s family weekend falls are simply based on the convenience of the calendar. In general it is best not to be bothered too much that things happen on the same time. The fact that alternative celebrations exist demonstrate that people will take advantage of any convenient time to congregate together and celebrate. If we lived in a society that celebrated the holy days of God and had no particular time off for any sort of “winter” break of any kind, such a tradition would likely never have been created, but having the time off, it is was deemed worthwhile to do something, and I am not one to quibble with that sort of reasoning. However much we would prefer the world and its calendars to be different, we must make do with the materials at hand and work with them as best as we are able, while admitting that sometimes we just have traditions out of convenience and not because of any sort of religious warrant. If we are forbidden from adopting the ways of the heathen, we are not forbidden from using such time as would otherwise be wasted in solitude and irritation to fellowship together in a godly fashion and enjoy the company of other brethren, whether the season be a good one or not.
 See, for example: