By Simon Gonzalez
If this is December, tis the season for more salvos in the annual “War Against Christmas.”
So far, there don’t appear to be any major new fronts. The City of Wilmington generated some mild controversy for lighting a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree. A school district in Oregon asked teachers not to use religious-themed decorations or images like Santa on classroom doors or in offices. A municipality in Ohio is being pressured to remove a nativity display from the lawn of city hall.
Assorted retail outlets are on a religious freedom organization’s “naughty list” for lacking mentions of “Jesus, nativity or biblical elements” in their advertising.
There are similar reports from throughout the land, but no big controversies as of yet. Starbucks’ seasonal cup apparently hasn’t sent the faithful into a tizzy this year.
Still, Christians will keep a watchful eye on those evil Grinches doing their best to hijack our holiday, ready to react to every slight. We’ll defiantly put the “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “We still say Merry Christmas” bumper stickers on our cars.
But I have bad news for my fellow believers who expend energy fighting against the secularization of Christmas: We’ve already lost.
The sad fact is the religious trappings of the holiday are all but gone, and have been for a long time, swallowed up by consumerism. For most of our country, the season is about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, buying, giving and getting presents. Neighborhood yard decorations are heavy on Santa, snowmen and reindeer; lighter on the manger scenes.
The theme of giving is supposed to echo the greatest gift ever given, but how many truly meditate on the promise of a Savior born to die for the sins of the world?
Christians have fired their own volleys in the war against Christmas across history. The early church did not celebrate the holiday. Theologians have argued that there is no biblical warrant or precedent for a festival celebrating the birth of Christ.
The Puritans who settled in New England in the 1600s were religious reformers who banned Christmas celebrations, scornful of its pagan and papist roots. Christmas didn’t become an official American holiday until 1870.
I don’t side with the Puritans. We celebrate Christmas in my house. We have a tree chock full of an eclectic assortment of ornaments, collected over the years. Our traditions include watching the three greatest Christmas movies ever made — “White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” Our now-adult children will be over on Christmas Eve (after church) to watch one of them.
Neither am I ready to completely surrender the faith-based roots. Even in a diverse and pluralistic society the holiday we celebrate on Dec. 25 is Christmas, or Christ’s Mass — the celebration of the birth of the Christ child regardless of the time of year He was born. It’s worth pointing that out. It’s great that legal groups are around to say the Constitution does not prescribe a complete scrubbing of religion from the public square, and it’s OK to have nativity displays.
But I am suggesting that Christians be a tad less quarrelsome this time of year. The mandate for believers is to make disciples, not engage in conflict.
We should take our focus off whether a secular world acknowledges that Jesus is the reason for the season, and make sure we know that ourselves. Not just intellectually, but in our actions.
Instead of bellicose belligerence, instead of having Starbucks baristas write Merry Christmas on our cups to force them to say the forbidden words, how about we call a truce with secular society?
The baby’s birth we celebrate on Christmas grew up to be a man who said this: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This Christmas season, let’s show love and understanding, and practice peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
And let’s remember that even if the secular seems more prevalent than the sacred, the message of the Christ child is timeless. And eternal. It can’t be silenced.