One of the biggest problems I have at Christmas is reconciling the secular, commercial Christmas with the religious Christmas.
On the one hand, I’ve always thought of it as a religious holiday, and I have very specific feelings about how I’d like to celebrate that, but they are totally at odds with the fun, secular parts of the season, like Santa, the Elf on the Shelf, Christmas decorations… And truth be told, I REALLY don’t want to give up the secular stuff.
So this year, about the time all the annual screaming about the “war on Christmas” began, and I started seeing the suggestions on Facebook that you “share this post if you refuse to say Happy Holidays” I decided to investigate the origins of Christmas and see if I could come to terms with it all.
I had already decided in my mind, that with the exception of employers who have the right to tell their employees how to greet customers, no one is MAKING anyone say Happy Holidays. Yes, many companies have opted for the more generic “Happy Holidays” on their bags, cards, and in advertising. Not everyone who celebrates Christmas is Christian. Not everyone sees it as a religious holiday. It appears to me that Christians brought this upon themselves by attempting to co-opt the holiday for themselves, rather than let it stand as it had always been, a holiday with room for everyone to celebrate as they see fit. Some people must have complained, and some companies have taken it to heart. It is driven by the marketplace. Free Enterprise. Capitalism. Remember that? There are no government mandates.
Me? I say Merry Christmas, unless I’m talking to someone who I know does not celebrate Christmas, in which case I say Happy Holidays. If someone wishes me Merry Christmas, I’m thrilled. If they wish me Happy Holidays, I’m still thrilled. How can you be so narrow minded as to get upset because someone is wishing you well, but not using precisely the words you’d prefer to hear? I often hear people ask why Christians get such a bad rap. Well, can we start here? Why do we have to make a big deal about something so insignificant? Did I miss the part of the Bible where Jesus said “thou shalt wish all men Merry Christmas?”
Which takes me to my next point. Celebrating Christmas is NOT Biblical. I can’t find a single reference to it. Yes, Christ was born. The story is an amazing one. And I believe it happened in much the way the story is told. But it didn’t happen on December 25th. Shepherds would not have been tending their flocks out in the open in December. There is no reference in the Bible as to WHEN the event took place.
Moreover, the early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. When “the church” decided to begin celebrating it in the 4th century, the approximate date of the winter solstice was chosen. Whether this was done to tweak the pagans, I have no idea. The roots of most Christmas traditions can be found in pagan celebrations.
Additionally, it was the time of year when it was cool enough to slaughter animals with less fear of the meat spoiling in the heat, the beer and wine was ready to drink, and the farmers were coming into the season of the year where they had time on their hands. Perfect time for a celebration. For excess.
Even in this country, the Puritans forbade celebrating it into the 1600’s. In those days it was a public display of rowdiness more like what you would associate with “carnevale” rather than a religious event. You could be fined for participating.
I guess a case could be made that if Christians were REALLY celebrating a non-secular Christmas, there should be no tree, no decor, no presents (except those being given to Jesus) and certainly no Santa…
There is little mention of Christmas in New England before the 1720’s, and by the end of the century there were several “types” of Christmas celebrations – some religious, some displays of excess. Benjamin Franklin is credited with attempting to rein in the excesses, calling for “mirth with moderation.” Nowhere were there the trappings of Christmas today, and it was not a family oriented occasion.
Family celebrations didn’t begin until the early 1800’s, and then with the introduction of Christmas trees and Santa Claus that commercialization began to be seen, as well as a resurgence of the religious component. And the battle was on. It is nothing new. It is just getting uglier.
So. Where does that leave me?
I’ve given it a fair amount of thought. What I have decided about my Christmas dilemma is that I am going to embrace both parts of “Christmas” as well as Hanukkah and Kwanza and whatever else anyone celebrates this time of year. Personally, I am going to celebrate the birth of Christ, and I am going to celebrate the joy of gift-giving and feasting (with maybe even a little “excess!”) I am going to live the spirit of the religious portion of Christmas throughout the year. And I am going to accept and embrace everyone’s right to their own piece of this time of year, to celebrate or not celebrate as they choose.
So, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all the best for the New Year!
As always, your comments are welcome! I encourage dialogue in my world, whether you agree with me or not.