A Room with a Viewpoint

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax— Of cabbages—and kings— And why the sea is boiling hot— And whether pigs have wings.” (Lewis Carroll)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

'Tis the Season - But for What?

John Gibson of Fox News has declared war on Christmas. He’s written a book about it. Oh no no, I got confused, he has accused liberals of declaring war on Christmas. In his Fox News columns, he gives a number of examples and actually I think he’s often right about political correctness gone amok about Christmas (oops, I mean the Winter Holiday). In spite of that, I think he is wrong to criticize stores for taking the word "Christmas" out of their advertising--instead he should be thanking them for it. While it hasn’t happened exactly the way one might have expected, this is exactly what Christians have been asking for for a long time.

For years, the cry has been “let’s get Christ back into Christmas!” A totally reasonable call from Christians about a day whose name I believe is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass.” This cry has usually been accompanied by a call to eschew the extravagent spending and madcap excess of food and alcohol that accompanies the holiday period (oops, I mean the Christmas season) and get back to the true meaning of Christmas.

Well, here’s the chance. To get Christ back into Christmas, first you have to get commercialism out of Christmas. Believe me, the stores aren’t advertising “holiday sales” because they object to Christmas—far from objecting to Christmas, they depend on it. They’ve erased the word Christmas from their ads because Christmas no longer has anything to do with what makes them money. For those of us who are already in the swing of it, we’re going to eat, drink, be merry and spend, spend, spend—no matter what you call the holiday. But to get new customers in this all-important retail season, the stores need to reach out and encourage non-Christians to spend, spend, spend. What better way to do so than to expand the holiday—be more inclusive if you will.

But contrary to Gibson’s argument that this is a bad thing, I think it’s the best thing that could have happened to Christmas. Go back to the commandment: “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” What could be more “in vain” than to put “Christ’s Mass” on the sale flyer in the Sunday newspaper? What could be less Christian than to eat and drink to excess and spend enormous amounts of money on more stuff than we can possible use while people in the world are dying of starvation, AIDS, earthquakes, floods and war. And we believe we are doing it to celebrate His birth? And what about these gifts anyway? It’s His birthday, not ours. Do we really think when he said “feed my sheep,” He meant turkey with all the fixings?

In his November 18 column Is Sears Suppressing Christmas? Gibson says:

Sometimes the idea is to just change the name of things. Christmas break becomes the winter break. And then, all of a sudden, Christmas is gone altogether. It wasn't there in the first place, see? It's just winter break and Christmas may or may not fall in that winter break.
Exactly. Christmas wasn’t there. Christmas was never there. It was never in Sears. It was never at the office Christmas party. And even at home, it’s a long time since it’s been under many Christmas trees. If we fear we're going to lose Christmas because the retailers stop using the word, I'm afraid we've already lost it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Christmas season. There’s nothing bad about parties and decorations and presents (especially not with presents—think of the economy). But they’re not “Christ’s Mass.” If they ever were, they haven't been for a long time. And whoever is responsible for separating Christmas and the winter holiday season have done Christians a favor. Now if we just knew what to do with it.