What War on Christmas?

Despite what Bill O'Reilly and Dr. Seuss would have you believe, nobody stole or declared war on Christmas this year -- neither a fairy-tale Grinch nor a puritan-like individual who cannot be happy because of complaints about the secularization of the season.

I love Christmas. As a pastor, interacting with my congregation during the holiday season is inspiring as well as challenging. Tradition and innovation merge as different families find meaningful but different ways to celebrate commonly held truths. That is why I am troubled by a few individuals who inevitably insist that everyone understand and observe this season just as they do. These people attempt to universalize, commercialize, and impose on others their personal perspective on this deeply religious season of the heart.

What did we think would happen? Across the years, many Christians urged governments to make Christmas a national holiday. (Note the language; a national holiday, not a spiritual holy day.) Similarly, churches welcomed partnerships with Madison Avenue marketers and Main Street merchants who then did what they do and made Christmas a season for buying, not a time for spiritual-based charity. Media grasped the potential of seasonal attention from a large audience attracted to Christmas festivities and with great success created programs on Charlie Brown, a reindeer named Rudolph, and spectaculars in music and dance.

Earlier this month I watched in painful disbelief as police were used to protect the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree as protesters were trying to make their voices heard following the incomprehensible grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case. It does not take a degree in theology to figure out on which side of the barricade Jesus would have placed himself that night.

Christians gave Christmas to the world and the world turned Christmas into a political football, a media event, and an unparalleled marketing enterprise. Did anyone really expect that a world of multiple religions and people with no religion would see a government holiday, a giant marketing initiative, and a media extravaganza as a holy time to be observed by all people in the same manner? Let's be reasonable.

I am weary of Christians who are constantly whining and writing fundraising letters of complaint because everyone is not celebrating the birth of Christ as they do. Look around. We are a multi-faith nation with the freedom to choose our own religious practices, or none at all. There is a vast difference between evangelizing the teachings of Jesus and seeking validation for our own religious practices by imposing them on others.

My Jewish friends do not ask others to fast on Yom Kippur. Nor do my Muslim friends make such a request during Ramadan. I have learned to appreciate the Hindu festival of light called Diwali, even though no Hindu has asked this of me and the news media pays it no attention. I thank God that our government imposes no religious holiday on anybody, though recognizes the importance of such days for those who observe them.

It seems to me that people who cannot be happy because of individuals who do not greet them as they wish or bow before the traditions of the church are too preoccupied with the actions of others to be meaningfully involved in the meditations, rituals, music, and values of their own traditions. Perhaps we Christians can profit from remembering that the world into which the child whose birth we celebrate was not born into a culture in which everyone stopped and celebrated his birth or mandated that all people kneel before the nativity.

As a Christian, it seems to me that, in the spirit of Christmas, we Christians should be happy that so many people are experiencing joy in this season even if their thoughts and actions involve paths different from ours. While we spread "good news," let's not be so arrogant as to pass judgment on practices different from our own. After all, we are not a nation with a state religion that assures pseudo-uniformity in beliefs. Public schools have no business veering from the primary mission of education to take on the work of a religious institution. We Christians comprise one religion among many religions where we live.

Surely, if we Christians are true to our principles throughout the seasons of Advent and Christmas and gain inspiration from the values of hope, peace, joy, and love, that is enough. What difference does it make whether someone greets us saying, "Happy holidays" or "Merry Christmas?" I am just happy when people make a kind gesture.

I regret that many devotees of the religion that gave us this season feel they must celebrate Christmas by attacking those who do not observe the season the same way we do. Think about it, even those who do not celebrate this season as a holy time support our right to honor the meaning it has for us. Surely, we can do as much for others.

Merry Christmas everybody! Or, Happy Holidays! Or, choose the greeting of your choice and have a great day. It's the thought that counts.