‘Tis the Season: The Christmas Wars
‘Tis the Season. But which Season? Whose Season? What is the Reason for the Season? Answers to these questions will be explored in the currently annual War on Christmas, as donation-seeking mega churches and attention-seeking megalomaniac pundits have dubbed it.
Controversy and Christmas have often been observed together ever since the Reformation in England, when Puritans had the celebration of Christmas banned as having the “trappings of Popery.” The Protestant Puritans who settled in the New England colonies imported this same attitude towards Christmas to Colonial America. For many years, among those of Christian faith, Christmas was considered a minor festival in comparison to the Epiphany and Easter. Closing down a business in observance of Christmas was illegal in many parts of Colonial America, and government was kept in session. In England and America, during the late 1700s to early 1800s, the celebration of Christmas very nearly died out. It took the triumvirate of Washington Irving, Clement Clarke Moore, and Charles Dickens to revive the winter holiday through their pens.
Today, at the dawn of the Twenty-first century, one learns— sometimes from the pulpit but mostly from the in-home family altar built around the television set that is its heart—that there is a new War on Christmas. But this new war is the inverse of the one the Puritans waged. Whereas those colonial Protestants battled against anyone celebrating Christmas, the new Christmas soldiers are essentially waging a war against too many getting in on this Christmas thing.
Like certain other Holy Days, Christmas has been asked, altered, and forced to straddle the wall between Religious and Secular. Loosely translated, that means someone has figured out a way to make a buck off the holiday and that the more who participate in the holiday, the more bucks there are to be made, respecting the law of the marketplace above any and all non-secular law. To this end, both custom and commerce have fomented an inclusive Christmas Holiday, in which All are welcome to participate—The More the Merrier, in other words, and don’t forget to bring your checkbook/charge cards.
It is the trappings of this inclusionary philosophy towards Christmas that seem to set the Mega Churches and TV pundits off: store banners and their employees offering up “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” (or “Happy Hanukah,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” “Happy Winter Solstice,” etc . . .); the stores advertising “Holiday” sales instead of “Christmas” sales; schools changing the name of their “Christmas Pageants” to “Holiday Pageants”; and likewise offices hosting “Holiday” rather than “Christmas” parties, and municipalities throwing “Holiday” Parades. The pundits puff up their chests and denounce these (sinister) evolutions of the winter holiday as unchristian, unpatriotic, and the work of Socialists and Atheists, who won’t be happy until they ruin everybody’s good time (rather than being a broader recognition that there are beliefs other than Christian, and that those others have also been invited to the celebration—providing they remember to bring something ‘green’). “They are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas!” the pundits and preachers shout, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” they rhyme. Theirs is a stunted world-view that ignores reality and history, in exchange for publicity. Granted, the Atheist penchant for suing in the courts to have Christmas displays and festivities removed or homogenized is just as absurd from the other end of the philosophical spectrum, and just as counter-productive; No one enjoys having anyone else’s beliefs shoved down their throat, and confrontation is the surest method by which to alienate those who might otherwise find merit in a cause.
Decorated evergreen trees, wreathes of holly, year-end feasting, caroling and gift giving all pre-date Christianity. As the Christian forces moved in to the ancient societies, they found it easier and more productive to usurp rather than eradicate the winter symbols and ceremonies of these “pagan” communities. Thus, at its very beginning, Christmas was an inclusive idea, borrowing and appropriating the entrenched winter festivals. December 25th —falling on or near the Winter Solstice— was arbitrarily designated as the birth date of Jesus to coincide with the Pagan festivities, and most biblical scholars will confirm that.
I have often wondered, if these heralds of the War on Christmas were truly concerned for the spiritual foundation of the Day, why don’t they attack the real enemy of Christmas: the unbridled, unholy commercialism of the Modern Christmas Season? Could it be that they wish to avoid angering the advertisers that make at least twenty-five percent of their annual profits during the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and who often donate portions of those proceeds to houses of worship? Is that too cynical?
Every year inside the large department store chains the commercial Christmas decorations and greeting cards make their first appearance, alongside the Hallowe’en items, at the beginning of October. Gradually, the Christmas aisle grows until by October 31st it has all but pushed the Hallowe’en items back into the storeroom. Ads enticing shoppers with hints about the great deals to be had on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) appear in the first week of November. Madison avenue and its ilk have been gearing up for the Christmas onslaught since at least the mid-point of Summer, planning an attack that puts military strategists to shame. Everyone witnesses this year after year, so there is no need to go into more detail.
So one has to ask again, why don’t these self-proclaimed protectors of all that is holy about Christmas attack the commercialism of the Holiday, which is truly doing more to desecrate the observance than any of their present targets? Is Christmas really under more threat from the cashier who tells customers, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or from the retail corporation itself that cynically uses ‘Christmas’ to manipulate shoppers into buying more and bigger? Who has actually created the culture in which a “Merry Christmas” is synonymous with, and impossible without, a huge stack of expensive gifts? Hasn’t the commercialization of Christmas done more damage to Christmas than a few noisy Atheists bitching about a crèche on City property? If one wishes to discover the foe which is waging war on Christmas, one need look no further than the colorful ads that arrive with the newspaper, or the incessant commercials that interrupt television programs—including those of the pundits and mega churches—with such menacing regularity.
Want to save Christmas? Then stop making enemies lists, and start compiling lists of those you can help. Want to save Christmas? Then stop trying to buy a Merry Christmas and start trying to figure out ways to make Christmas merry, for everyone.
(And let me state here that the irony of my criticizing the commercialization of Christmas in an essay on a web site devoted to the selling of a book of Christmas stories is not lost on me. But readers of “Christmas Wishes” will find that within its pages the struggle to discover a Holiday spirit more valuable than that which can be purchased is promoted and explored. The world is not made up of only black & white—or red & green, as the case may be—and nuance exists between the extremes. Try it, you’ll like it!)