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the war on Christmas

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

I’m hearing some rumblings about the “war on Christmas” rhetoric making a comeback. Ironically, I am hearing this mostly from my atheist and progressive religious friends frustrated by the rhetoric’s comeback – I haven’t heard anyone complain that there actually is a war on Christmas. This may be because the only Fox News I see is filtered through the Daily Show (I don’t own a TV, actually), but I find that deeply encouraging. I do hope we can move beyond this idea that someone not saying Merry Christmas (or forcing their employees to say the same, or whatever) is really a newsworthy story.

I do have thoughts on this whole thing, so I thought I’d lay out a few things.

I’m a Christian. Very Christian, in the sense that I spend a good portion of my day thinking about philosophical/theological issues related to religion, keeping up on religious news, and practicing my religion. It’s a significant part of my life. So yes, I do observe Christian holidays. That would include Christmas.

That means I will occasionally say “Merry Christmas.” Because I am probably doing various spiritual exercises for Advent and going to holiday concerts and generally have Christmas on my mind. When I say this, it isn’t out of an assumption that you celebrate Christmas; it’s coming out of a desire to share my celebration of the time of year, and the emotions/hopes that go with it, with my friends. Interpret it the same way you would if a Jew wished you a happy Channukah.

I do sometimes try to stick to happy holidays if I know you’re not particularly Christian, particularly if I know you’re specifically some other religion (or if you’ve moved away from religion). But I sometimes feel like when I do that, I’m not sharing something that’s important to me with you. Because, you know, Christmas is more than just “the holidays” for me. Sometimes I make the wrong call on how to wish you well, but if I cross a line please take it in the spirit it’s offered: not as an assumption everyone is Christian, or as saying you have to celebrate the same holiday I do in order to get seasons’ greetings. It’s just about me sharing what I’m going through, that’s all. :-)

On a related note, I see a real difference between the religious holiday I am celebrating and what you might call the cultural Christmas. Macy’s, Santa Claus, muzak on the radio, Salvation Army guys ringing their bell, cheesy movies on cable. These aren’t bad things – I’m actually off to enjoy a walk around Rockefeller Center as soon as I finish this – and can be quite nice. Having the time with family, the emphasis on charitable giving: you don’t have to be a Christian to celebrate these as good things.

But if you want my opinion? Speaking as a Christian who observes Advent and Christmas, the real war on Christmas is thinking it’s open to everyone, Christian or no. That Christmas isn’t something that’s uniquely Christian but is just the over-generalized, bland commercial holiday we get (or to put it in more sympathetic terms: that Christmas has to mean family and love and good food, and nothing more). That’s cheap piety, IMO. It’s not even piety. It’s the replacement of piety with identity, and it’s always made me uneasy.

Beyond that I don’t really have anything to say on the subject. Except maybe this:

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
dreamflower02
Nov. 24th, 2012 03:24 am (UTC)
I like that: When I say this, it isn’t out of an assumption that you celebrate Christmas; it’s coming out of a desire to share my celebration of the time of year, and the emotions/hopes that go with it, with my friends.

A neat way to think about it!

I do think that calling the occasional effort to "restrain" the more religious aspects of Christmas a "War on Christmas" is an overstatement. It's more of a a "war on common sense and making unwarranted assumptions that someone's enjoyment of their holiday is offensive to anyone else" and a "Let's make sure we don't offend anyone" (which is useless, as just as many people are offended by the ban on saying Merry Christmas as are mollified by Happy Holidays).

I don't necessarily dislike the "feel-good" sort of homogenized Christmas we are fed by the media. (It's a good thing too, because my husband enjoys a steady diet of sentimental Christmas shows from Thanksgiving day till New Years, sometimes the same ones over and over.) I find it cheesy and overdone, but occasionally engaging. And there are the classics...

The combination of materialism/consumerism with sentiment, however, is insidious. "Love is the most important thing, but let's remind you every 15 minutes that love is shown by buying and giving our own particular expensive whatever it is." Thank goodness for the fast forward button.

But Christmas music? Now that I do love, and will sing along with most of it--except for the versions so overproduced you can barely recognize the song...



azalaisdep
Nov. 24th, 2012 05:18 pm (UTC)
Personally, I'm offended (aesthetically/logically, anyway), by "Happy Holidays", which I find bland and meaningless (not everyone has a holiday, for starters. Having a sister in the police force and a brother who works for the BBC, I'm always very conscious that plenty of people have to work over Christmas!)

As someone who no longer regards themselves as a Christian, I think what I'm really celebrating these days is Yuletide; a reminder in the depths of winter darkness that the world is turning and light will return. The takeover of Yuletide by Christmas as Northern Europe Christianised, of course, led to many of the features of Yuletide becoming associated with Christmas (feasting, singing, Yule logs...) I do, occasionally, have a devil's-advocate moment, when I hear commentators complaining about the overindulgence which often goes on around Christmas, and think "if Christians didn't want those things associated with Christmas, they should have left Yule well alone in the 4th century and picked another date to have Christmas on..."

;-)

But I agree with your take on wishing someone a Merry Christmas; just as I wouldn't dream of being offended if someone of another faith wished me a happy [insert relevant festival] at their special time. They're wishing me a happy day on a day which is special to them. How curmudgeonly would one have to be to be offended by that?
spacellama
Nov. 26th, 2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
Heehee, Ned Stark. Rest of the post is lovely too.
thelauderdale
Dec. 4th, 2012 02:15 am (UTC)
Just to parse this for a moment:

I’m a Christian. ... It’s a significant part of my life. So yes, I do observe Christian holidays. That would include Christmas. That means I will occasionally say “Merry Christmas.” ... When I say this, it isn’t out of an assumption that you celebrate Christmas; it’s coming out of a desire to share my celebration of the time of year, and the emotions/hopes that go with it, with my friends. Interpret it the same way you would if a Jew wished you a happy Channukah.

1) So it is basically okay for Christians to wish others, including non-Christians, a merry Christmas.

But if you want my opinion? Speaking as a Christian who observes Advent and Christmas, the real war on Christmas is thinking it’s open to everyone, Christian or no. That Christmas isn’t something that’s uniquely Christian but is just the over-generalized, bland commercial holiday we get (or to put it in more sympathetic terms: that Christmas has to mean family and love and good food, and nothing more).

2) But it is problematic for Christians to think that Christmas is open to non-Christians, and/or for non-Christians to think that Christmas is actually open to them.

-.-.-.-

Confessing myself one who does celebrate Christmas in the sense of "family and love and good food," and I suppose as a past religious influence with some beautiful traditions attached to it that I can still appreciate, even if I no longer identify as Christian -

I can understand and appreciate #2, but I'm not sure how well it harmonizes with #1.
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