Sunday evening, I happened to catch something on TV that struck me, I was not paying attention to the show and have little context for what I saw. A man was talking about how much he loved Christmas, and began to list the reasons why. Nowhere, however, did he list Jesus. Then, Monday I opened Facebook and saw some controversy over Starbuck’s coffee cups (though I only read the headline). Both issues set me to thinking about the annual cultural fight over Christmas. Christians are upset that the secular world transforms Christmas into a secular holiday devoid of Christian symbol. Further, Christians are upset that the secular world wants to use secular language to talk of this holiday season. I find this cultural conflict to be useless; no, more than useless counterproductive and off-base. I have a few observations I would like Christians to think about before engaging in this culture war.
- Before Christians get upset about how the secular world celebrates Christmas they must first consider how they celebrate it. Christmas is a twelve day long season in the Church (this year it covers two Sundays); how many Christians will celebrate four weeks of Advent and the full Christmas season. Personally I love celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, remembering the season helps provide it with new life. Along with this, how does the average Christian celebrate Christmas? Does the Santa of popular myth bring presents, or, is it St. Nicholas or the Christ-child as in Christian tradition? What religious celebrations are tied to your celebration of Christmas? How do you decorate for Christmas, do your decorations have any Christian meaning? Are you decorating for and participating in the secular holiday or the Christian Christmas? How many churches celebrate Christmas in the Christmas season? If Christians do not want Christmas abused they need to start celebrating the Incarnation of Christ rather than the coming of Santa.
- Does everyone you encounter celebrate Christmas? We live in a religiously diverse society, not everyone celebrates Christmas. When Christians want everyone to say, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” they are actually devaluing Christmas. Christians who want Christmas as a part of society at large WANT IT TO BE SECULAR. Only by being secular can Christmas be universal in our society. If it retains its Christian trappings, Christmas cannot be universally accepted. This is because society at large does not share Christian beliefs, it cannot share in Christmas if it does not share in Christ. I welcome secular society celebrating “holidays” because it means I can have Christmas to myself. All of the tacky music and decorations that people complain about do not bother me; they are simply part of the “holidays” and have nothing to do with Christmas. I do get tired of the holiday junk that floats around (especially the same three songs repeated over and over), but, these are not Christmas celebrations (nor Christmas carols), they are holiday celebrations. Some of these celebrations are co-opted from Christmas, but, they are without their meaning so I can ignore them. This leads me to my third point.
- “Christmas” is a shared word, but, it is defined differently. Secular society uses the name Christmas on December 25, and coincidentally so does the Church; but, these two groups often mean different things. Both talk of love, peace, joy, hope, and other good things, but, the Church grounds these in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Secular society gives gifts on December 25th to show “I love you” and the gifts have to be large and extravagant to show that love or the person’s worth. Christians give gifts as a physical symbol of the gift of Christ, thus, the gift can be anything because it is mean to remind the recipient of God’s love. This is why Christmas ends for most in secular society with the gift giving Christmas morning. With Christians Christmas morning is only the beginning. We should encourage the use of “Happy Holidays” except in the Church, because it is only within Christian circles that Christmas can be celebrated. Let the secular society celebrate the winter holiday WE HAVE CHRISTMAS.
Essentially, the problem in this “culture war” is that Christians mean (or at least should mean) something different from the rest of the secular world when they say “Christmas”. Christians do not want the name drug through the mud (as they suppose it), but, contradictorily they often are the ones doing the dragging. Quick example, I have heard for years Christians denouncing the use of “X-Mas”; they do not realize what they see as an “X” is the Greek letter Chi and is a pious way of writing Christmas. Monks used “Xmas” because they felt Christ was too holy to put on paper. We should celebrate that secular institutions do not want to write “Christmas”; however, many protest how impious it is (ironic).
We are nearing the start of Advent, not to be confused with the start of the secular Holiday Season. As Christians we must reflect on what celebrating Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany mean to us. Do not get caught up in the secular holidays which surround and coincide with Christmas, rather, consider what Christmas is and how it is meant to be celebrated. Look into the traditions of the Church, or create new ones with friends and family. Re-evaluate your customs and decorations, do they help you celebrate the coming of the Messiah into this world or do they recognize the day an obese man in a red suit brings presents to good little boys and girls. I am not trying to say there cannot be overlap between the secular holidays and the Christian Christmas, there can. Obviously, the secular holiday grew out of the Christian Christmas so overlap is inevitable. What I want is for Christians to sincerely approach Christmas, to honestly understand its meaning, and to use the season to truly approach the incarnation. As I have focused on the Christian seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany I have become far less concerned with what the secular world does. When I encounter something in the secular holiday that celebrates the true Christmas I celebrate not with secular society, but, almost in spite of it. Do not participate in the culture war, CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS. Let the secular world have its holiday called christmas, CELEBRATE CHRIST.