It’s the holiday season. Christmas bows and lights adorn the street lamps of my town. Folks decorate their yards with icons of Frosty and Santa and nativity scenes. Menorah lights shine from the windows of some my neighbors. Yule logs and feasts are being prepared for the solstice. The smell of spiced fruit, wood smoke, and wassail floats through the air.
I love this time of year. People go out of their way to act nicer, be nicer. It’s a time for peace and goodwill. A time to band together to face the darkness of the coming winter. To celebrate the miracles of the past and prepare for the miracles of the future.
But over the past decade or so, there’s been this undercurrent of decidedly Grinch-like behavior and attitude that infects the holiday vibe. And it roots itself under my skin and irritates the living Dickens out of me.
What turns my mood as sour as last year’s fruitcake? The so-called “War on Christmas”.
The backlash against this non-existent war manifests itself in a number of ways. People declare that “Merry Christmas”, not “Happy Holidays”, is the only acceptable way to wish people a pleasant yuletide. The term “X-mas” is decried as an attempt to take “Christ out of Christmas”. Folks will assert that “Jesus is the reason for the season!”
My problem is that many of these assumptions are not only fairly arrogant–but based in ignorance of historical facts.
Happy Holidays is a Communist Plot!
So, yeah. A lot of this nonsense really got rolling with the good old John Birch Society back in the 1950s. They were very concerned about the UN and their secularizing ways–especially the way department stores (those bastions of communist and anti-Godly rhetoric) used non-denominational Christmas decorations in their establishments. This was, of course, a plot by the UN to secularize all beliefs and customs.
This rant against department store decorations has now evolved into a protest against the use of “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas” as a greeting. It’s viewed as somehow a way to diminish the Christian holiday–instead of what it is: an attempt by retailers to get more people–Christian or otherwise–to come and spend money in their shops. Stores don’t want to undermine the holiday–Christmas is the best friend retailers ever had!
Besides, how on earth is being more inclusive in a greeting a bad thing? Why is it that by including others in the well wishes of the season Christianity is diminished? It’s not. And, frankly, it’s arrogant to think so.
I’m sorry. But when 95% of Americans celebrate the holiday and a full 76% of the adult population are Christian, it seems a bit childish to believe that your religion is being attacked simply because not everybody practices it. It’s a bit like the kid in the playroom who has all but one of the toys but whines that nobody likes him because he didn’t get them all.
Most actual people–not pundits or self-proclaimed “culture warriors”–but the people you meet in day-to-day life–don’t mind being wished a Merry Christmas. Or a Happy New Year. Or a Happy Chanukah. Or even a Happy Holidays. Not when the wish is genuine and comes from a place of peace and joy. Like where most Christmas-y feelings come from.
X-mas Takes Christ Out of Christmas–Except It Doesn’t
A lot of folks this time of year make an effort to put “Christ Back Into Christmas” and detest the seemingly more secular abbreviation of “Xmas” or “X-mas”. It is viewed as a subversive attempt to de-Christianize the holiday.
Except that the first group to use the abbreviation were Christians.
The terms “Christ” and “Christian” and “Christmas” have been abbreviated for over 1000 years. The practice is rooted in ancient symbology and in the Greek language (the language of the New Testament). Christ was often noted with the XP, a derivative of the Greek chi-rho symbol that depicted the first letter of the word Χριστος. The term Xtian or Xpian has been used for Christian and the term Xtianity is cited as early as the 1600s (see more here).
Now–I’m not going to be disingenuous: Most people don’t know their history, or their Greek. Thus I think it equally as likely that people use Xmas to secularize the word as I do that people use Xmas as an homage to its Greek roots. That is to say–neither explanation is bloody likely at all. When Xmas is used it is either due to lack or time or space to write out the full word. That’s why we have abbreviations. Twitter only has 140 characters, after all.
In other words–Xmas takes Christ out of Christmas as much as Thursday takes Thor out of Thor’s Day.
The Tilt of the Earth’s Axis is the Reason for the Season
“Jesus is the Reason for the Season” makes a great bumper sticker. But the fact is Mr. Christ was actually a bit late to the game.
People have been celebrating the Winter Solstice since ancient times. Our Norse and Germanic ancestors celebrated the yuletide over a period of days, feasting in celebration of the return of the sun until their yule logs burned out. Even the Romans celebrated the time with their Saturnalia, a hedonistic celebration of the harvest in honor of Saturn. They’d carry evergreen wreaths through the streets during their celebration and acknowledge the “birthday” of the sun-god Mithras on December 25.
Further, the celebration of Christ’s birth was not part of Christian practice until nearly 400 years after his death. And it is widely believed that the dates of the celebration served to bolster the practice of Christianity with the fun-loving, debauching pagans. In fact, it is far more likely that he was born in September, around the Feast of Tabernacles.
The fact is, the reason for the season is the same as it has always been: to engage in fellowship with friends and family and celebrate the coming of brighter days.
Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Now, I am not a Christian. I’m an agnostic. But I do celebrate Christmas. I enjoy the season, the traditions, the fellowship of friends and family, the music, the lights, and the food. I truly love the season. I just don’t celebrate it in a religious manner.
My biggest problem with all of this is that the underlying assumption by a lot of these folks is that if you don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, you’re declaring war on it. If you try to “dilute” the season by actually making it inclusive, you’re declaring war on it.
In reality, most folks want the same thing as everyone else: to have a nice holiday with family and friends.
The truth is, if your faith is so weak that it can only exist if everyone around you acknowledges it, then you need to question the basis of that faith. If it is diminished simply by the acknowledgment that there are people other than yourself–then perhaps you have already arrived at the root of your problem.
So let’s end this non-existent war. Wish people a Merry Christmas if you want to. Or Season’s Greetings. Or Happy Holidays. Just mean it. Smile more. Laugh often. Embrace one another in the darkness of winter and smile at the coming of the light.
Isn’t that the reason for the season?