There has been a lot of talk this season about the “War on Christmas.” Many of my fellow Christians seem fearful that Christian holidays, and in particular Christmas, will be “taken away.” I’ve heard many people I know express concern that “they” want to “take away our holidays.” Though I couldn’t quite tell you what having a holiday “taken away” means – I can only assume there is a fear that Christmas could be taken off the list of federal holidays.
I think that we forget Christianity was intended to be a religion on the margins. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness” is an oft quote piece of scripture from Matthew 5. Identifying as a marginalized, oppressed, or persecuted population is part of Christian DNA. Yet, Christians in the U.S. enjoy many privileges and comforts (for a list of those comforts see here). Christianity in many ways has entered the realm of the mainstream in the United States – especially when it comes to Christmas.
So when we see a billboard in Times Square posted by Atheist.org that says, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody” -of course it is easy and understandable (and perhaps even justifiable) to respond to this kind of antagonism with defensiveness, but I also think we cling to it as proof that despite our privileged position in the U.S. we are indeed “persecuted because of righteousness.” Though we feel the need to cling to this martyr identity, I think we are really just afraid to lose our comfortable, privileged position as Christians in the United States. I think we are afraid of disappearing into the margins of society. I mean – who wouldn’t be?
In 1870, Christmas was established by law as a federal holiday along with Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day. With this law, Christmas became a patriotic day, rather than simply a Christian holy day. None of us should be surprised that when the government of what is now the most religiously diverse country on the planet (and possibly ever) established Christmas as a federal holiday, Christmas entered the arena of the mundane. New myths of elves, and a jolly fat man who drove a flying reindeer -led sleigh, grew out of its foundation in an effort to make Christmas something all Americans could participate in. Of course, as a consequence, our free market took hold of the neck of Christmas and squeezed as much profit as they could out of Christmas, and so thousands of marketing campaigns developed to create a mad consumer dash to the finish line each Christmas season.
Christmas, a day to celebrate the birth of a little Galilean boy who would eventually preach the coming of the Kingdom of God, heal the sick, dine with tax collectors and prostitutes, teach forgiveness and then give the ultimate gift to humankind And so a season intended to remind us of grace and hope in the midst of the darkness and longing of winter, has become an American civic holiday filled with greed, selfishness and secularity.
So I ask you – which Christmas exactly, is this oft-spoken of “war” on? As far as I can see, the Christmas that is currently celebrated here in the United States, might not be worth saving. Perhaps we should let “them” (whoever “them” is) wage their war.
(Bear with me.)
When we say “they want to take away our holiday” – what exactly do we mean? As far as I can tell, what we really seem to be afraid of is Christmas being taken off the list of federal holidays. There are currently 11 federal holidays – Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Inauguration Day, Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Columbus Day (This list begs the question, which of these things are not like the other?). Officially, federal holidays were created to honor different parts of American heritage which helped form the U.S. as a nation and as a people (read more here: http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/Federal_Holidays.pdf). Additionally, being a “federal holiday” simply means that all federal employees are required to be given that day off by the government with pay.
So would it really be so bad if Christmas was taken off the list of federal holidays?
As a federal holiday, Christmas belongs to the entire citizenship of the United States, Perhaps the entrance of Christmas into public life is what led to its commercialization, so removing Christmas as a government recognized holiday could be a step toward reclaiming some of the holiness of the day (let’s remember that “holy” means “set apart”). If Christmas was no longer a day that most Americans had off from work then Christians would actually have to make a bit of a sacrifice to honor and celebrate this day; something non-Christian Americans have always had to do in order to take off work to honor their holy days. Perhaps taking Christmas of the list of federal holidays would be one step toward loosening consumerism’s grip on our Christmas traditions. Perhaps we would actually honor Advent as a time of meditation, anticipation, and preparation for the return of Christ.
I’ll I admit it – I love Christmas – sacred and secular traditions alike. I enjoy baking the cookies, buying the gifts, decorating the Christmas tree, watching the Christmas themed movies. I like hanging my stockings and dreaming up ways I’ll play along with myth of Santa Claus with my children. I love it all. But none of those things I just listed do anything to help me honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus, my Christ. I love all of those things because I did them as a child with my family, and I feel like I’m participating in tradition. Perhaps the “secular Christmas” has merit as a time to gather with family and celebrate the previous year.
And I’m not suggesting we rally and sign a petition asking the Federal Government to take Christmas off the list of federal holidays.
What I am suggesting is, if “they” were to take away Christmas as a federal holiday, would it really be so bad? Thanks to the first amendment, we would still have the right to celebrate and honor this day just as much as Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc. all have a right to celebrate and honor their special days. So would it really be so bad? And should Christians really get special status in the U.S. among these religions?
I am also suggesting that perhaps it’s time to drop the “War on Christmas” noise and focus on the sanctity of this time. Defensiveness and fear are not in the spirit of Advent, nor are they in the spirit of our beloved Jesus.
This Advent season, as we prepare for Christmas, rather than focusing on what could be taken away – let’s focus on what we have, and what we can give to others – hope; hope of a Kingdom where justice, mercy and peace will rule eternally under the Christ’s reign. This Christmas let’s honor the hope that was born in a barn that day in Bethlehem by dropping all grudges, shedding all defensiveness and reflecting the light of the hope we know is true – Jesus is coming.