Well, the last of the Thanksgiving turkey is probably gone from the fridges across the country, Black Friday has come and gone and today is the hot day for online retailers for Christmas.
It won’t be long until the normal suspects start with the letters to the editors and in televised complaints that Christ has been forced out of Christmas. Typical evidence is the changing of the name of a parade to “Holiday Parade”, because cards sent to business associates say “Happy Holidays” or wish everyone a joyful “Holiday Season,” pr because a crèche was removed from in front of the courthouse.
Others will complain about the use of “Merry X-Mas” with the assertion that society has “x”-d Christ out of Christmas (among them are evangelist Franklin Graham, who stated in an interview on CNN in December 2005, “for us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas. They’re happy to say merry Xmas. Let’s just take Jesus out. And really, I think, a war against the name of Jesus Christ”
First of all, the use of the “X” in the place of “Christ” is ancient, well at least as early as the 1400’s, and was not done to take Christ out of anything. The point of t his posting is not to elaborate on the use of the “X” for “Christ” – there are a lot of good articles on this. Just Google the term.
The real question is this: where is Christ in what we do in the month of December to begin with? What would the response of Jesus be to Black Friday sales, Santa Claus, and all the madness that accompanies the season, which for many, because of their personal situation, only heightens a sense of despair?
We do have at least a partial idea of what might occur were Jesus to come back on Thanksgiving before the opening of the first store and hang around through the 25th of December. It is in what happened when he visited the Temple, disrupting the moneychangers’ tables and generally creating a scene. It wasn’t what was going on inside he objected to. But the business surrounding the rituals – the profits being made because of it.
Likewise, I do not think he would object to the observance of his birth, even though we have no idea when that actually was. December 25, being approximately the Winter Solstice, some say it was to make the observance of the Roman Sun God less obvious, others say that his conception was on the Vernal Equinox, so his birth had to be on the Winter Solstice, six months after his cousin the Baptist on the Summer Solstice. Take your pick. It doesn’t matter. The meaning of Christianity is not the birth of Jesus, but the atoning sacrifice of his death and in his resurrection. But, no problem of it recognition, per se.
In fact, many of the things we take for granted as a part of Christmas pre-date Christianity itself and became a part of Christmas through snycretization. Nothing wrong with combining good elements of diverse traditions.
However, the celebration of Jesus’ birth was not always something that was encouraged by the church and was often illegal. In the early 17th century, when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, as a part of their vow to rid England of, cancelled Christmas. When Charles II returned to the throne, Christmas came back.
From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston and subject to fines. The North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas. Northerners saw sin in the celebration of Christmas, preferring to celebrate Thanksgiving. In the South, Christmas was an important part of the social season. The first three states to make it a legal holiday were Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana in the late 1830’s. But after the end of the Civil War and the creation of Santa images for Harper’s Magazine by Thomas Nast, the tradition spread throughout the county.
Coca Cola’s image of Santa Claus is the most familiar to Americans probably, and “Miracle of 34th Street” further exhibits the growth of the American Christmas. And after WWII, it grew and grew and grew, becoming so entwined with our national economy, that to stop it would probably cause an economic recession.
And what is the spirit of Christmas? It is the change exhibited in Scrooge. It’s the desire to do good things for others. (And while I love the movie, I am not of the opinion that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a story about Christmas. It is, however, the story of a man who always put others ahead of himself and in that way epitomizes a Christ-like life, except that most are not bailed out when they get into difficulties, as was George.)
The spirit of Christmas is not lost when someone says “Happy Holidays” or when a town has a
“Holiday” Parade or when a crèche must be removed from a courthouse. It was never in those things any more than it is in the Mall or Big-Box store. The fight Christians have these days is not in keeping Christmas from being eliminated from the public square, but in being able to find it at all in the blizzard of parties and shopping and hustle and bustle all in the hope of celebrating a very quiet event that occurred on a very Silent Night a long time ago.
Christmas won’t be found in buying things for ourselves or family or friends, although those are good things to do. It won’t be found in the decorations or the parties or the hustle and bustle, or in special vacations – although there is nothing wrong with these either, if the pleasure they provide outweighs the aggravation that can accompany them. It is found possibly in doing things for others, in serving in a soup kitchen, or giving to orphans or any of a hundred things that put others ahead of yourself.
It is what the Grinch learned:
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”