Friday, December 09, 2005

The War on Christmas

In 1960, while my mother was pregnant with me, her minister (Baptist, I think) announced one Sunday morning that since John F. Kennedy was Catholic, voting for him was a sin. My mom, bless her, not normally one to make any kind of a scene, rose from her pew that moment, left the church and never went back. Though she remained personally religious for the rest of her life, my brother and I were raised in a completely secular manner, though we did spend a couple weeks in Bible School one summer; the sum total of what I recall from it being a little ditty called "Choo-Choo, the Bible Train is Coming Down the Track." (That's also approximately 70 percent of the lyrics.)

Nonetheless, we, like everyone else I knew, celebrated Christmas every year, in the typical suburban American manner: getting up early Christmas morning, examining the loot left by Santa and sent by relatives, seeking out neighborhood friends to deliver the traditional greeting -- "What'd you get?" -- and later eating the second of two annual Turkey dinners, having devoured the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers scant days before.

So when I hear from conservative commentators out there, upset that businesses and governmental bodies are saying "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" and implying that doing so is somehow an attack on Christianity -- I get confused. My instinct is to wonder what they think the current celebration of Christmas has to do with Christianity, anyway.

Oh, sure, supposedly we're celebrating the birth of Jesus -- even though no one thinks he was actually born on December 25th, or even close to it. Sure, many of the traditional carols tell the story of the Nativity, and we're all familiar with such icons as the Star of Bethleham and the Three Wise Men. But we're also celebrating the New Year, and a tradition of a festival of the winter solstice that long predates the rise of Christianity -- not to mention a gift-giving frenzy without which our retail economy would probably collapse.

So what difference does the terminology make? I called the holiday Christmas, wished people a Merry Christmas, found my presents under a Christmas tree, liked looking at Christmas lights, sang Christmas carols and ate Christmas cookies -- but none of that made me a Christian. Frankly, given the main use to which our culture puts the season -- to urge consumers to an orgy of spending, most of it on non-necessities -- I would think the devout would be happy to see businesses moving away from associating such activities with Jesus Christ.

No, that's not what's going on here. This is nothing more than some conservative activists once again attempting to build an us-versus-them, godly-versus-secular, good-versus-evil mentality amongst the genuinely faithful. They've taken a few legitimate concerns about seperation of church and state (say, government-sponsored Nativity scenes) and talked it up into an all-out "War on Christmas" -- meaning, of course, a war on Christianity. Come on. Do they really think the board of directors of Wal-Mart, deciding to put "Happy Holidays" in their ads, is doing so to alienate Christians?

Frankly, I think if the Christians really want to keep the meaning of their holiday about Jesus and His message, the best thing they could do would be to move Christmas to another part of the year, away from the New Year/Solstice/Gift-giving and general revelry festival. Pick another day to represent the birth of the Lord, and make that the day to go to church and reflect on one's faith. And let the current "holiday season" stay the generic time of peace on earth, goodwill toward men...and "What'd you get?"