The Merry Christmas Kool-Aid
It’s that time of year again.
Time for viral Facebook statuses repeating the Fox News talking point that the liberals have declared “war on Christmas.” Time for angry letters to the editor claiming that the writer’s right to freedom of religion or freedom of speech has been infringed upon, and they have somehow been stopped from wishing everyone they encounter a “Merry Christmas.” Oy vay.
I’m only going to say this once: There is no war on Christmas.
To claim such a war exists is to betray such an ethnocentric blindness as a sane person would be ashamed to admit. If you could convert to Judaism, Islam or Buddhism for the month, you’d see just how ridiculous this claim actually is. For example, off the top of your head, do you know when Hannukah is this year? I bet your Jewish friends know when Christmas is.
So the “victims” of this “war” seem to suffer from an inability to keep government, business, and religion separate. Not a surprise, since they usually want to combine the three when it’s convenient to them. But government really has little to do with their complaints. Sure, every year a few local governments run into opposition to a Nativity on the town square. Overall, though, governments have traditionally said and done little to address, let alone limit, expressions of Christmas spirit. The federal government, to its credit, has kept its nose out of the debates as best it can. I’ve yet to see a law anywhere to prohibit anyone from saying “Merry Christmas.”
The Fox News crowd’s real anger should be directed at corporations. Every year, the issues that honk off the Religious Right arise in big companies, those darlings of American conservatives. I always get a kick out of the righteous anger Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target can drum up when they ask their employees to say “Happy Holidays” (or when they publish ads in Spanish!) from the very same folks who claim to want nothing but free rein for these job-creators! But big companies know their customers. They know not all their customers are Christian, and no good capitalist venture wants to offend any of the people who spend American dollars in their stores! “Happy holidays” is not meant to limit employees’ right to free expression or religion; it’s just smart business (much like these companies’ decisions to open at midnight on Thanksgiving, despite the inconvenience to their employees). Hey, folks, if you want your big companies to make lots of money and be unregulated, they’re going to do whatever it takes to keep their customers content.
One of the things that really disturbs me about these “war-on-christmas” claims is the ignorance it reveals about Christians’ own religious history. Christmas is, and always has been, the greatest outreach program ever devised by the Catholic Church. True Christian conservatives, however, did not like the idea originally. When Christmas was initially established by church leaders under Emperor Constantine in 336 AD, conservative church leaders such as Origen, cried foul. To celebrate the birth of a deity smacked of Egyptian polytheism, conservatives claimed. Christmas was derided by conservative leaders as a contrived holiday, a cheap means of pandering to pagans so they would convert more docilely. More liberal Christian heads prevailed, arguing that, by celebrating Christ’s birth around the same time as the pagans already celebrated the solstice, the Church could make Christianity more appealing. It worked beautifully, and it will continue to work if we don’t try to shove it down everyone’s throat.
So my fellow Christians, here’s a radical idea: Think before you speak.
Say what’s appropriate for your situation and audience. If you’re talking to me on Christmas Day, say “Merry Christmas!” Please do. I’ll return the sentiment whole-heartedly. But if you’re a Wal-Mart greeter working on December 21st, saying “Happy Hannukah” to everyone isn’t going to go over well. Neither should “Merry Christmas” simply because you don’t know what every person walking through that door celebrates on that day. I’ll be saying, “Happy Holidays” to my students when they leave campus on December 12. Not just because I know some of them are Jewish and Muslim, but also because I’d like to include Christmas Eve and New Year’s in the equation. And if I see you and know you share my faith on December 24th or 25th, I will greet you with a very hearty “Merry Christmas.”