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:
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