The end of Christian Christmas???
Before the lefties attack this commentary as the lament of a right-wing evangelical, I should disclose that I am not a very good Christian –sort of agnostic about the Christian view of eternity. But I am a BIG fan of Christmas as a Christian holiday of love. At this time of the year, I become just a wee bit less agnostic.
Christmas is a religious holiday celebrated by hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Whatever one’s view of Christianity, it is indisputably a religion that has had a dominant influence on mankind for a couple of millennia. It has arguably established the most social, moral, and legal codes directing modern mankind.
It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – an itinerant preacher. Yes … Jesus was probably not born on December 25th and much of his life story may be apocryphal. Since he did exist – and since he did influence mankind to the extent he did – his birth is worthy of celebration even if the date is not exactly correct.
Christ and Christianity were fundamental to the creation of America, and Christmas has been an official National Holiday since 1870 — the only religious celebration to be so honored. While it is true that America has evolved into a more religiously diverse nation – largely due to the tolerance of Christianity – we need not negate or distract from Christmas’ religious roots or its influence on our Constitution and laws.
Some of the celebrations of Christmas is derived from Pagan ritual – such as Yule. But that should not give cause to recycle Christmas back into a neo-pagan festival of commercialism – essentially replacing the doctrine of love with a dogma of avarice.
The modern celebration of Christmas in America – apart from private religious adherences – has become a cold holiday celebrated more like the glittery promotion of Las Vegas.
As a child in Chicago, my family would make the annual pilgrimage to State Street to see the annual display of windows at Marshall Field’s, Carson Pirie Scott, The Fair and others. Through the public speaker systems, we heard the traditional songs of the holiday – religious songs to celebrate the religious holiday. There were moving images of Santa Clause in his workshop and depictions of families around a Christmas tree encircled by a toy train. Sometimes a series of windows displaying the conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge.
All the iconic images of the real Christmas – stars and angels — were to be seen in abundance. And at the end of the parade was the traditional Nativity Scene – with an angel hovering over a manger housing Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus. To one side a group of shepherds with part of their flock. And to the other side, three elegant men – one black – bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
No matter what was in the window, the universal theme was love. A moment in time for all of mankind to love one another. It was such a powerful message that even wars would stop on Christmas Eve with combatants breaking ranks to celebrate with each other.
But that is not the Christmas – the National Holiday — we celebrate today throughout America. The modern civic Christmas has stripped the holiday of its religious origins and meaning. A misguided interpretation of “separation of church and state” has been the cudgel to beat back the true meaning of Christmas – transforming it into a shallow celebration of shopping. Only Santa Claus has survived – as long as you do not refer to him as St. Nicolas. But gone are the stars and angels. And the iconic Nativity Scene that once graced the civic centers of every community in America is now banned.
The displays along State Street are now sterile creations appearing more like the work of a window dressers’ contest. Pretty colors and designs that do nothing to reflect the real Christmas. One year it was all about a popular book – Harry Potter. Another year it was about … snow. No Magi. No Shepherds. No baby Jesus. This year it was just pretty designs and colors.
It is not that I am a great Christian – as I confessed at the beginning of this commentary — but I am a great fan of the Christian Christmas. Not because I value Christianity above all other religions, but because I respect the meaning of the foundational holiday. I think it is worth celebrating in a human and civic sense.
The essence of Christmas can be celebrated without the decorations and the special carols and hymns. We can celebrate the tradition of love among humanity. But it is a lot easier when we take a moment in time to use the iconic symbols of the real Christmas to draw ourselves back into the greater meaning.
Whether it is a pendulum that will swing back, or America has lost the true meaning of Christmas forever, I do not know. But I do know that it is a pity that we have transformed the holiday into something even worse than those Pagan rituals that preceded Christmas.
When I wish a person Merry Christmas, I do not mean good luck in finding that expensive toy your kid wants.
So, there ‘tis.