Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Merry Christmas!

In another stunning display of a non-issue taking up air time and print space (so why am I jumping on board you ask?) lots of people seem to think that saying Merry Christmas is politically incorrect at best, or soon to be illegal at worst. Why did this suddenly become an issue? Who decided that Christmas and Christianity had suddenly come under attack because people seem to be saying Happy Holidays more than Merry Christmas? Retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart have been accused of having corporate policies forbidding employees from wishing shoppers Merry Christmas. Now Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association has threatened boycotts against any of the offending businesses.

This is absolutely silly; it's a nonsensical issue that once again shows how easily Americans can be distracted from real issues. I have yet to see any major retailer - such as Wal-Mart and Target - admit they have forbidden any employees from using the words Merry Christmas, and those in the Christian community who are accusing them of such a policy are careening dangerously close to slander. And if they are using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas in their advertising circulars - so what! What in the world does an advertising circular have to do with the birth of Jesus? I can't speak for Jesus, but I have a feeling He would rather His name be removed from advertising that encourages people to overspend, overindulge and use His name for crass commercialism.

Anyway, in spite of what people say about the spiritual foundation of Christmas it does not - and maybe should not - include the exchanging of gifts. I am well aware of the visit of the Magi who brought gifts to Jesus, but this is not the real reason why people exchange gifts at Christmas. The exchanging of gifts was for many years a rather small part of Christmas until retailers hijacked the idea and commercialized the holiday into the present day explosion of commercialism and spending. It was only later that people created the comparison of the Wise Men as a way of justifying such extravagent spending. If people want to be Biblical in their gift giving they should do exactly as the Wise Men did and give their gifts to Jesus.

The truth is, from the beginning Christmas has been a holiday with a struggle between the sacred and the secular. When the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and sought to Christianize the Empire, he took an existing pagan holiday and declared that it would be the day to celebrate as the date of Jesus' birth. The actual day of December 25th has nothing to do with the date of the birth of Jesus. No one knows when Jesus was born, although almost all scholars agree that it was not in the dead of winter. And it's not that Christmas has suddenly been taken over by materialism and the nonreligious; it's just that Christmas has never been an entirely Christian holiday.

What I would ask Christians who are complaining about the secularization of Christmas is "how can you complain when you are using non-Christian symbols such as the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, reindeer, elves and singing songs such as White Christmas?" What do any of these things have to do with the birth of Jesus! Absolutely nothing!

I have already heard people saying - in church of all places - "when it turns cold and snows it'll seem much more like Christmas." What?! How about saying it looks like Christmas when people are loving their enemies - as demonstrated by Jesus - and spending their time making the world a better place to live, as did Jesus? When we worry about those kinds of issues we will be closer the heart of what Christmas really means.