With Thanksgiving now past us, we find ourselves just days away from Advent, and already fully immersed into the Christmas season. Along with the tidings of “peace on earth” and “goodwill to men,” undoubtedly a number of familiar old arguments will also return; arguments over whether “Christmas is over-commercialized” and whether “our civic institutions are supporting state religion” are particularly cherished traditions of the season. It is the same old, same old, and lack of thinking on the subject will allow the debates to rage on despite that.
The first argument’s main thrust is that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’s birth, not of retailers’ profits, and to support the merchants’ profit making schemes, as well as all the frenzy that goes along with it, is really a rejection of the true meaning of Christmas. It is certainly true that the true meaning of Christmas is not about who scores an iPod or about right jolly old elves in bright red. On the other hand, it seems worth pondering precisely how much is actually lost by these activities. Rightly or wrongly as it may be, if the allegedly evil commercialization of a religious holiday were to cease, I sincerely doubt that Christmas observances in most places would be suddenly transformed into everything they should be. They would simply grow much smaller.
Take away the carols, the gifts, the parties, the food and what’s left of Christmas that most people observe is perhaps attendance at a Christmas Eve service and maybe a manger under a tree – but, oops, that tree is another pagan symbol that must be ousted. In truth, few are advocating such a draconian approach to re-centering Christmas, but it is worth considering for the moment. All the trimmings, the secularized trimmings, the traditional, festive and perhaps sometimes misguided trimmings, serve to put Christmas on the map far more than any other holiday in the year. Consider how many people even know what other notable church calendar days – Pentecost or Epiphany, for example – are, much less observe them.
For better or worse, Christmas towers on the calendar, and rather than complaining, it is useful to examine the traditions and see how they can again be used to add further meaning to that Christmas eve service attendance. Even Jolly Old St. Nick need not be cast away; remember, it is Saint Nicholas – yes, he really is a saint in the parts of the Church that keep track of those things – and the good saint has a reputation worthy of remembering as a defender of the Christian understanding of God and as a most charitable of gift givers.
But, then, of course, there is the flip side to the “battle for Christmas,” as some have dubbed it, and that comes from those who see Christmas not as too secular, but as too religious. You know this argument, the one that has come to despise Santas and nativity scenes alike on government property, insists on Christmas break being known as winter break, and so on. It stems from two related causes. First, those who think anything to do with government should have religion utterly stricken from it (and any really caring person or private institution ought to follow the same guidelines when dealing with people, so as to avoid offending anyone) and a second one that says that there are three holidays going on among major faiths, so we should at least honor them all.
For those who argue the latter, please reduce it to two holidays – you only hurt your own arguments when you argue ignorant to the fact that Ramadan is a roaming holiday, and, in fact, started in September this year. That was a few years ago that it happened in December. Likewise, Christmas – sorry – “winter” break often times does not even occur during the time period of Hanukkah, only Christmas. Everyone knows that the break is arranged to cover Christmas, so why not just admit it? Yes, it is a religious holiday (some have tried to argue the nonsensical position that it is not, as an extension of the first set of concerns I considered), but does the quest for secularization go so far as to command we try to deceive ourselves into pretending to overlook Christmas? The fact is most Christmassy things that people attempt to re-label “winter” or “holiday” are so clearly related to Christmas all renaming them does is turn the political correct terms into euphemisms for Christmas.
Should nativities and even euphemistic ways of referring to Christmas be banned from publicly funded organizations, then? This seems absurd, for the vast majority of Americans observe Christmas, even those who a do not observe it for religious reasons. And even if only the faithful observed Christmas, it is worth reiterating that the U.S. Constitution merely prohibits the creation of a state church, not the display of goodwill to the millions of Americans who are celebrating this holiday. Go read the First Amendment for yourself if you do not believe me. This does not mean Christians should force everyone to celebrate Christmas, of course – but do a few cheerful decorations and a well-intended wish of “Merry Christmas” really hurt anyone?
What both of these conflicts from opposite sides of the spectrum demonstrate is a lack of common sense. Yes, some of the excesses of the season do not seem to be well focused on the meaning – but rather than complaining, thankfulness that at least the season is observed and hence causes many people to be as open to hearing about the real meaning as they ever will be seems in order. Yes, some people have no interest in celebrating Christmas, but given that Christmas is a holiday of goodwill (God’s goodwill to humanity, first, and now ours to each other), why not spread a little goodwill even in your non-observance?
Ultimately, wouldn’t a little more interest in goodwill, rather than perfect observance of the holiday or “rights,” make everyone a bit happier as we look toward 2007?
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.