The Warp on Christmas

I have been following this year’s edition of the so-called “war on Christmas” with a mix of amusement and incredulity.  Apart from Fox news and a few conservative-fundamentalist TV stations, I’m not hearing too much about it, but what I do hear and see boggles the imagination.  My favorite this year shows the depths of lying and deception one side will go to validate their claims.  A few nights ago on a Chicago TV station, a news piece ran on a community attempting to get a church to take down its nativity.  It seems that this church replaced all the religious figures with snowmen (and snowwomen and snowbaby Jesus…), and some in the neighborhoods — both religious and non-religious — found the display offensive and petitioned to have it removed.  One man was quoted two times in this sequence — “we shouldn’t be forced to look at trash like this,” and “this isn’t a religious display, this is a travesty.”  Flipping through some religious channels, I stopped to watch a very serious young man reporting on the latest “hate crime” against Christians — forcing a church to take down its Nativity.  What followed was an edited version of the Chicago clip, where the anchorman set up the scene by saying “When asked about religious displays on church property, one local man in a contemptuous tone of voice said, “we shouldn’t be forced to look at trash like this, this is a travesty…'”  No mention was made of the snowman motif, nor was the larger issue addressed.  The story was simply presented as secular culture trying to destroy Christmas by taking a local church’s rights away.

It reminds me of a battle in Nashville a few year’s ago where some homeowners in a fairly nice neighborhood attempted to get one of the people on their street to take down a cheap, poorly painted, plastic, lighted Nativity set from their lawn.  One of the homeowners made the comment, “This isn’t a religious thing.  We’re not against religious images at Christmas.  This is a matter of taste.  What’s so inspirational about a tacky Mary with a lightbulb in her butt?”  I cannot tell you how many times I heard the last part of that clip.  It made national cable.  The sound byte was taken out of context repeatedly to prove how angry and disrespectful all the atheists are.  The irony is that the man who made the quote is a conservative evangelical pastor.  That part never got mentioned.

I listened to an owlish woman complain that the bar adjacent to her church was refusing to allow church people to park in their lot on Christmas Eve.  Proof of a war on Christmas.

Suggestions that the Hindu religious celebration of Diwali be added alongside Christmas and Hanukkah bring storms of protest.  Proof of a war on Christmas.

Disrespectful use of religious imagery as marketing tools angers both sides.  Proof of a war on Christmas.

Happy Winter used as an alternative decorative greeting in public schools.  Proof of a war on Christmas.

High school choir sings eleven Christmas songs — eight secular and only three religious.  Proof of a war on Christmas.

Public celebrations of “atheist Christmas” — those that focus on the fun rather than the fundamentalism — judged disrespectful.  Religious leaders shouts, “let them find their own holidays!”  Proof of the war on Christmas.

From the Memphis commercial Appeal:

In the opinion of Arlington [Tennessee] Mayor Russell Wiseman, President Barack Obama’s speech on Tuesday night on the war in Afghanistan was deliberately timed to block the Christian message of the “Peanuts” television Christmas special.  Proof of the war on Christmas.

Does anybody care that almost all of this is a swamp of our own creation and design?  Almost all Nativity Scenes are a gross misrepresentation of anything that likely happened.  Just so you know, Palestinian stables don’t like our modern creches, and the wise men weren’t waiting on Christmas Eve night, and generally there wasn’t an angel hanging around over the roof… I’m just saying.  And December 25?  Oh, and the fact that we blend in candles and twinkly lights and trees and Chrismons and wreaths and on and on.  None of these things should matter all that much.  They are all trappings — sure, wonderful and joyful trappings for those who admire and are inspired by them — and none of them are essential for Christians to celebrate Christmas.  And where they are necessary?  In our homes and churches — no one is trying to take anything away from us.  We still have the right to admire and find comfort in whatever art, symbols, rituals, and practices we enjoy.  We’re just being asked not to make a public display of our personal preferences — like Veggie Tales nativity sets — where they might offend both believers and non-believers alike.

And shame on the media for fueling this fire.  I have counted nine straight days where supposedly serious news channels have given air time to the “war on Christmas” with all the integrity of the first story above.  I love Christmas.  I love the lights, I love the trees, I love the snow, the cookies, the candies, the presents, the sappy old movies, the cards and the carols.  But I love God more, and I look forward to the coming of the Christ child not as a media or cultural event.  In fact, I don’t want secular culture mediating the experience for me.  This season leading to Christmas is fun and joyous, and I don’t see anyone trying to take it away from much of anyone, but when the actual day of Christmas Eve comes?  I will go to church, where I will gather with others who share at least a common belief and desire — to be part of the miracle once more.  If there was a war on Christmas, it’s over and we won — because there is nothing stopping me from worshiping the Christ child and singing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” with all my heart and soul.

6 replies

  1. Just to chime in — while our church has several “early” celebrations, we’re never in any hurry (except maybe the custodian) to bring down decorations. For many years, one couple hosted an “Epiphany party” at their house for church friends. We also love to sing lots of carols the first Sunday after Christmas. I’m beginning to realize we are a little outside the norm…Last year, Epiphany coincided with a meeting of our leadership team and we had a “chalking the door” ceremony. The crunch for us is to accomplish the planning needed to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday, which comes very quickly after we finish Christmas planning.

  2. Thanks, Dan, for yet another excellent piece.

    I’ll add that the real “war on Christmas” is lived out in the way most churches celebrate the Feast of the Nativity. The reality is that the church has become little more than a mirror image of the dominant culture. The culture tells us that Christmas is December 25. Then we’re on to New Years Day. And most congregations follow the culture. We have Christmas pagents in the middle of Advent that usually depict the shepherds and the Magi arriving at the manger in Bethlehem at the same time.

    The birth of Jesus is turned into a Hallmark greeting card, all warm, cuddly, and cute. I’ve yet to hear a Christmas sermon speaking about the revolutionary spirit of Christmas, expressed by Mary in her song of praise (Luke 1:47-55).

    There is little awareness that in western Christian tradition Christmas is a season that begins at sundown on December 24 and ends with the Epiphany of the Lord on January 6; hence the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” But the reality if most US churches the Christmas decorations begin to come down before the first Sunday of Christmas and Epiphany, the day the Church celebrates the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, is largely ignored.

    The “war on Christmas” is less in the culture and much more insidious in the church itself; perpetrated, often unwittingly, by Christians.

  3. Thanks, Dan, for the clarity of Christian discipleship in speaking to this cloudy distortion of reality. Your comment, “I don’t want secular culture mediating the experience for me,” could well be embroidered on stoles and paraments and writ large in stained glass.

    • Thanks, “Louis”! I hope life is treating you better these days — there’s a whole new life ahead, anyway! Blessings in every way.

  4. I am always fascinated with the fact that the “war on Christmas” is all about our nation/city/town/street corner bending during this part of the year. I like what you said here, “I don’t want secular culture mediating the experience for me.” Is it only Christmas if everyone says Merry Christmas to me? Is it only Christmas if my Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic neighbor stuffs their religion down to prop mine up for the month of December? I don’t need anyone’s approval to welcome the Son of God into the world. I don’t need Salvation Army ringers at my Walmart or a Christmas Tree. All I need is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet on my tongue in the wee hours of Christmas Eve to feel the truth in my heart, Christ is born.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. These look like good candidates for the “Cavalcade of Bad Nativities”!

    and check out the electric baby Jesus boogaloo, “Angels We Have Heard Are High,” and “it came upon a midnight weird.”

    It helps when Christians are able to poke fun at our own consumerism/kitschy-ness.

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