Well, it’s that time of year again.
No, I’m not talking about the holiday season.
I’m talking about the fact that it’s called the holiday season and not the Christmas season. That’s right folks, I’m talking about the war on Christmas!
Funny thing about the supposed war on Christmas. It’s been going on, or at least fears about it, for a lot longer than cable news or the internet might lead you to believe.
How long, you ask?
The other day I was talking to a friend who, while at his grandparents house for Thanksgiving, went thumbing through some old newspapers and found an article urging the faithful to stand up and fight against the war on Christmas.
That paper dated from the 1930s.
So why the continued furor and outrage today?
I think it stems from at least two places. The first, is the need to sell ads on television and rack up hits on internet sites. Controversy sells. Literally. Thus, it becomes easy to push misinformation that tickles the ears and pulls at the heart in order to sell ads *cough* I mean “the news.”
For instance, I have always been entertained by the uproar over the term “Xmas.” Many sincere Christians will tell you, “Xmas” is a liberal attack on Christmas, an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas so that the holiday will be more politically correct for the killjoy atheists out there.
Except, “Xmas” isn’t a liberal atheist attack on Christmas.
Not at all.
If anything, it’s a clever Christian spin on Christmas. You see, the “X” in “Xmas” represents the Greek letter “chi”. Along with the Greek letter “rho” these two letters are the first two letters of the word “christos” which, (surprise, surprise) means Christ in Greek. Together the two letters combine to form one of the earliest symbols of the Christian faith, the chi rho.
So Xmas isn’t an attack on Christmas at all. If anything, it’s a clever way of putting the Christ back into Christmas.
But we tend to ignore these things, like we ignore the fact that we live in a country which affirms the freedom of religion, whereby all religious holidays have the right to be celebrated. So then, when they come together around the same time of year, the phrase “holiday season” isn’t an attack.
It’s just a statement of reality.
All this being said, I think there is another reason, a deeper, unspoken and unacknowledged reason many of us get so upset about the “war on Christmas.” While some of us are truly bothered by the vernacular issue, I think on a deeper level we’re upset because when the word “Christmas” is stripped away from all the banners at the store, it leaves bare the reality that it was not the stores that took Christ out of Christmas.
It was us.
We took Christ out of Christmas a long time ago when we turned a holy day where modest gifts were exchanged as a sort of sacramental reminder of God’s gift to humanity, and turned it, instead, into a consumeristic holiday of materialism, excess, and greed.
A war on Christmas terrifies us because it reveals us for who we really are.
Greedy people who save up (or go into debt) in order to heap more stuff on ourselves or others who don’t need it in hopes they will in turn give us stuff. It’s not a holy-day.
It’s a competition in materialism, greed, and pride.
What we have created for ourselves is the very antithesis of the nativity moment we are supposedly celebrating, when God gave himself as a gift to people who could never give a gift back in return.
The scene in the stable that first Christmas wasn’t a gift exchange. It was a moment in which God gave freely, out of a heart of sacrificial love so that the world could be made new.
Imagine with me for a second if we took the same approach to Christmas.
Imagine if the criteria for buying gifts at Christmas wasn’t whether or not something appeared on someone’s wish list, but whether or not the giving of the gift could, even, in just a small way, change the life of someone in need.
Imagine if Christmas wasn’t a time for retailers to break new sales records, but a time in which charities, soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters had their yearly needs covered because the people of God gave freely, out of a heart of sacrificial love, so that the world could be made new.
(Patrick Craig is a graduate student at Duke University Divinity School)