The blowback against the “war on Christmas” is a worthy fight. Liberals’ pettiness over creches in front of town halls is public square pluralism at its cheapest. Instead of permitting the discussion and celebration of all faiths, the fake pluralists ban them all, or at least the Christian symbols, as John Gibson details in his new book The War on Christmas. Conservatives have fought back valiantly for the right to celebrate Christmas in public, but some efforts are growing absurd. I have in mind those that are targeting businesses that don’t wish patrons “Merry Christmas” in their greetings or advertising. In a culture that has fully commercialized and secularized Christmas, this is a silly effort.
Bill O’Reilly campaigns against “Happy Holidays” transgressors, identifying them on his blog. The Catholic League sent an email press release last week, outraged that Lands’ End omits “Christmas” in its Christmas catalogs. The Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom non-profit affiliated with Rev. Jerry Falwell, is also on the watch for “stores that refuse to recognize Christmas.” Similar efforts to hector private businesses into honoring Christmas are afoot.
The “Merry Christmas” nags seem disingenuous. They are quite selective in defending Christian tradition from business disrespect. Where have they been over the years as more and more businesses opened their doors on Sunday? In the Washington, D.C. area, two bank chains proudly advertise their Sunday availability.
Retailer affronts to Christ’s Mass are much more egregious than wishing shoppers “Happy Holy-days.” Safeway plays Christmas music as early as the week before Thanksgiving. Some retailers decorate their stores for Christmas in early November and strip them before the 12 days of Christmas are even concluded. Saccharine secular Christmas songs pollute the radio the day after Thanksgiving. Where is the Christian indignation over such widespread secularization of Christmas and Advent traditions? Its absence suggests the “Happy Holidays” outrage is more faux fodder for the talk show yell fests than part of an overall respect for the true meaning of Christmas.
Business regard for Christmas matters, but in so far as it indicates our cultural disregard for the true spirit of Christmas. On a Fox News panel last weekend, columnist Cal Thomas noted the strange character of this campaign, “I don’t care what the culture does; they don’t mean it anyway. They’re trying to exploit Christmas to make money.” Thomas is right. It has to come to this: the culture warriors are targeting the engines of commercialism in defense of a religious holiday.
Their ire is misplaced. Listening to O’Reilly, you’d think the sacredness of Christmas hinges on retail advertising. In his December 3 Creators Syndicate column, O’Reilly wrote, “Frankly, the executives who have banished Christmas from their advertising are insane. By doing that, they are offending tens of millions of traditional Americans who respect the Christmas season and want it called exactly what it is — Christmas.” As evidence, O’Reilly cited polls reporting that 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Elsewhere, it’s been reported that 95 percent will celebrate Christmas. Contrary to O’Reilly’s prediction, Wal-Mart reported Monday that it is maintaining its 2-4 percent growth prediction for the month of December. Perhaps most Christians don’t care if businesses explicitly honor the holiday for which they’re purchasing gifts.
Those who mostly celebrate Christmas through commercialism would find this retail trend disturbing. That may be why the issue has such traction: Americans are realizing that “Merry Christmas” is a last remnant of a Christian age that solemnly prepared for the coming of Christ and joyfully marked His arrival. Many American Christians acquiesced long ago in Christmas’s conversion to a secular, commercial holiday. In many homes, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends December 26. Santa Claus (whose costume, as my priest pointed out Sunday, is a bare shadow of the bishop’s garb of St. Nicholas of Myra) takes preeminence over the Christ child. The Christmas tree, a symbol of God’s eternal presence, is hauled to the curb well before the Epiphany, or even the traditional end of the Christmas season in February.
Let Christians lead the way in renewing the proper observance of Advent and Christmas. Traditionally, Advent is a period of expectation and some fasting. It is properly practiced through prayer, being watchful, and readying oneself for the coming of Christ. Ephraem, a fourth-century Syrian saint, said of the meaning of Advent, “Though the Lord has established the signs of the coming, the time of their fulfillment has not been plainly revealed. These signs have come and gone with a multiplicity of change; more than that, they are still present. The final coming is like the first.” If Bill O’Reilly and his allies are truly concerned about American respect for Christmas, they’d do well to consider how American Christians embrace its spirit and traditions, not just its name.
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