Thanksgiving was less than a week ago and I’m still digesting my mother-in-law’s stuffing, mashed potatoes, and heavy Oreo-laden desserts (and I mean that in a good way). Of course, in this country, we have nary a moment after swallowing the last bite of cheesecake before many of us rush out the door to compete in the annual American bullfight known as Black Friday. And why do we take part in this sacred tradition? Is it because that’s when we find the best deals? Possibly, though that’s debatable, as many outlets simply jack up their regular prices in order to make their end-of-November “deals” suddenly seem appealing. Is it because we feel compelled to make an annual pilgrimage to worship at the altar of American consumerism? Maybe, though isn’t that a god we’re pretty tight with all year round? No, we cram stores and outlets at this time of year for one very simple reason: it’s the holidays.
Yes, you read that word right. Holidays. With a plural “s” at the end. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are just three of the many holidays that take place in December, though even if they were the only three, wouldn’t it make sense from a business perspective for stores and malls to not single out any particular holiday in order to cater to every last possible consumer? Isn’t that the heart of capitalism?
Yet somehow, a contingent of American Christians take it upon themselves at this time each year to point out that our nation’s “War on Christmas” has never been worse simply due to a lessened cultural use of that very word. Stop for a second and think about how dumb that sounds. Because our culture would rather avoid one word, some say we ought to roll up our sleeves and declare that it’s officially us vs. them. As if God, in his infinite power and might, is being killed off and the mere utterance of the word “Christmas” will give him back his power the way our sun does to Superman.
These nice folks never fail to remind us of their outrage when some choose to wish others “Happy Holidays” or put up “Holiday Trees” in their houses. Because, of course, we all know that when Jesus was born, his family’s own evergreen, complete with multi-colored flashing lights and kindergarten ornaments, sat prominently in the corner of their filthy stable as Mary gave birth (which, I might add, most scholars would agree did not take place on December 25th). Oddly enough, you don’t seem to hear about many anti-Santa Claus agendas from these same people. Doesn’t it make way more sense to campaign against a creepy old man who puts our kids on his lap and promises to give them whatever they want, while reminding them that he sees them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake?
Additionally, ever notice how from January to November, barely a word is spoken about the absence of Jesus’ name in our culture? Sure, the recycled debates exist about prayer in schools and posting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, but for eleven months out of the year, you don’t seem to hear much from those up in arms about taking the name of Christ out of end-of-December festivities. I find this very curious.
What is Christmas really? It’s a time of year when those of us who proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior are to remember, with awe and trembling, how the King and Creator of the universe entered our pain, our sorrow, and our devastation so that he could eventually take it all away and make all things new. It is not a time when we should be bitching over how the rest of the world refers to our time of reflection and worship. Sure, we can say “Merry Christmas” to each other if we wish, but let’s not fail to acknowledge that that term originated in the last couple of centuries, not in the Bible.
Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name?” Indeed, I believe that question holds true for this time of year as well. Are those fighting for the word “Christmas” to remain a constant in American culture really so naive as to think that winning this “battle” will change hearts and improve the state of the world? In fact, just the opposite is true. What is it that is so important to so many about choosing this pointless annual squabble over other much more worthy causes that are ignored and not fought for year after year? What about the battle of actually backing up our words with actions? What about the reality that many of us fail to even attempt to live as Christ calls us to live? The fact that our society chooses to erase his name from more and more areas of our culture is no one’s fault but our own.
We who call ourselves followers of Jesus regularly fail to love our neighbors, care for the poor both abroad and in our back yards, go out of our way to reconcile with those who piss us off, or give generously of our time, our possessions, and – dare I say it? – our money! How dare we get angry at those who simply try to use the words that fit the actions – or rather lack of actions – that make the most sense regarding this time of year. If I tell my wife that a certain room in our house is to be the exercise room, but instead, I use that room to do nothing but eat junk food and watch movies, it won’t be long before she fails to recognize that room for its originally intended purpose. Likewise, if those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus fail to be just that most of the time, then why should the rest of our society give a damn about his birth at this time of year?
By the way, while you were reading this, a bunch of kids around the world just died from starvation and dehydration. That’s just one of the real wars we should be fighting.
Alan Atchison is a Contributing Writer to The Rogue. He is a Senior Publications Editor at the Center for the Advanced Study of India (University of Pennsylvania), where he also earned a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. He lives in Philadelphia, PA with his wife and two daughters. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.