How the Battle of Guadalcanal Gave Me Christmas

How the Battle of Guadalcanal Gave Me Christmas

I grew up in a faith tradition that did not celebrate Christmas. I grew up being taught and believing that Christmas was a pagan ritual that Christians had been duped into observing and that God was entirely put out by it all to the point that one may just burn up in a sea of fire for uttering the words “Merry Christmas.”  I was taught that Christmas was a rip off of the pagan holiday Saturnalia… and well there is a connection. Let me explain. You see Saturnalia was indeed a pagan celebration kept by the Romans in the last centuries B.C. and throughout the early centuries A.D.  Saturnalia was a time of gift giving and feasting. Families gathered for meals and to renew relationships. During the time of the Early Church Christians made every attempt to root out pagan observances so why not replace Saturnalia with a festive celebration of the birth of Jesus? Since no definitive date or time could be established for the birth of Jesus the Early Church saw no problem celebrating it over-top Saturnalia to replace the pagan ritual.

I was in my late twenties before I ever actually celebrated Christmas. It was a difficult time for me. Mythologies die hard and in the back of my mind lingered this nagging

US Marines with a captured Type 92 Machine Gun

US Marines on Guadalcanal with a captured Type 92 Machine Gun (1942)

fear that God was gonna git me. Yep, “git” me. I know… git ain’t a word but down South where I cut my teeth we don’t much care what is or ain’t a word so long as we know what we’re talking about. 🙂

In any case I struggled with the idea of Christmas as a Christian celebration. The first year of our marriage my wife gave me an early present a few days before Christmas. It was a set of documentary DVD’s about the US Marines in World War II. In one of the documentaries the narrator explained that on one particular occasion on Guadalcanal a squad of Marines attacked an enemy machine gun emplacement. Enduring the withering fire of a fully automatic machine gun these brave Marines managed to capture the gun. It was what the narrator said next that turned the light on for me about Christmas. You see the Marines, being who they are and having traditionally received the left over low-grade equipment the other branches had cast aside, did not have a machine gun of their own but as soon as they captured the enemy machine gun nest they did! What the Marines did that day back in 1942 was to turn the machine gun on the enemy.

Brilliant! What the Marines did on Guadalcanal and what the Early Church did was simply brilliant. Most often the enemy of the Gospel is the wrong-headed mythologies of our own broken minds. We invent false religions and celebrations to soothe the longing within our souls. Jesus Christ, the babe in the manger… Emmanuel is the only salve for the wounded soul. The genius of the Father, Son, and Spirit is that out of our mythologies and wrongheadedness they may just redeem and put to good use what some might dismiss as being “rooted in paganism”.

The Father’s Son has come. The Father, Son, and Spirit love and like you! Hallelujah! Amen!

  ~Bill Winn

2 comments so far

  1. Pat on

    Hallelujah, indeed!!!!!!!!!

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