Merry Holidays!…No Really, Time to Get Over It

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.

Merry Holidays!

Alan Atchison is the Co-Editor of Geek Goes Rogue. He is an Online Editor at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also pursuing a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. He is currently writing a novel titled Hitting for the Cycle, a baseball-infused story about a couple’s journey toward parenthood amidst infertility. He lives with his wife and daughter in Philadelphia, PA.

About Alan Atchison

Alan Atchison is Co-Editor of The Rogue. He is an Online Editor at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also pursuing a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, Hitting for the Cycle, a baseball-infused story about a couple's journey toward parenthood amidst infertility. He lives with his wife and daughter in Philadelphia, PA.

  • swordcrossrocket

    Replace Christmas in this article with Chanukkah, and Christian with Jewish. Would you still take the same tone, and blame Jews because they aren’t acting Jewish enough when they get annoyed over how their religious holiday is transformed into or usurped by a secular celebration that tramples over the spirit of it?

    I don’t think you would. I’d think this would start a discussion on public recognition of minority holidays and the balance between official recognition and cultural silencing. Or the need of a culture to maintain their own rituals and not be overwhelmed by the mainstream, and a part of this is yes, reminding people that religious holidays exist, often loudly. As well as the mainstream culture being convicted a bit for trying to make everything fit a neat little secular box.

    Instead, it becomes self-blame. “You shouldn’t care about this, because you’re not helping the starving orphans in China enough!” Or blaming them for not loving their neighbors. Not sure this is a good thing.

    • Alan Atchison

      Here’s the thing though…no one’s silencing Christmas. If/when government makes the celebration of Christ’s birth illegal, then maybe we can have that conversation. There is no stopping anyone in America from maintaining the rituals of any holiday they choose to observe. I can proclaim the birth of Christ from my rooftop or my blog, and can then go to church and celebrate this miracle with my friends. No one’s gonna stop me.

      I disagree that it’s self-blame. I think it’s more an examination of our priorities. Simply throwing around blame doesn’t solve anything. But identifying flawed thinking and improving on it does. And that’s my point. I hear what you’re saying about the “you should care about this because you’re not helping the kids” thing. I really do. It infuriates me when some people say Christians shouldn’t choose to live in poor sections of our own cities because there are people in worse conditions throughout the world. Or those who are against helping animals because we’re “supposed” to help people first. It chaps my ass when people throw those lopsided arguments around because in reality, all of those things are worthy causes: ministering to poor urban neighborhoods, ministering overseas, helping animals, and helping people. Different people are called to different important needs to which they feel a special connection or passion.

      The point I’m trying to make is that the so-called “War on Christmas” is not a worthy cause or an important need because it’s simply not a war. It’s nothing but a bunch of privileged, first-world whining. And compared with, per your example, helping starving orphans in China…I’d say, hell yeah people should do the latter instead of pissing and moaning about what to call our end-of-year consumer-driven holiday.

      • swordcrossrocket

        You don’t have to make something illegal to silence it. You just create situations that reflect the values you want to portray, and without any push back, people adopt them. Things like holidays and observances are part of a healthy culture, and replacing them or changing is one way to force a person to assimilate. Without standing up for Christian observances, too many people absorb the world’s ones by default.

        It’s the weakened culture that is part of why modern Christians seem so ineffective. You’re not going to move into poor neighborhoods or feed Chinese orphans as the average person. You have a wife and a kid, and that changes things. But you do need to build a foundation that lets you be faithful in the close things. Just getting Christians to stop divorcing, or attending church more often, or not having premarital sex, or even getting married in the first place are things we need to regain, then you can go crazy with the grandiose stuff.

        In a way, people who talk about the war on Christmas have a point. Some overreact, but little things first. Rebuild a culture, then you have the basis to act.

        • Alan Atchison

          I have no fundamental disagreement with anything you said. But what I’m saying is that I don’t see a lessened use of a word that really only started a couple hundred years ago as forcing true Christians to assimilate. Those who believe in Jesus are going to celebrate his birth regardless of whether or not the word Christmas is used in stores and shopping malls. I would strongly argue that that is not what’s weakening our culture. I agree with you that rebuilding the cultural of what it means to follow Jesus is vital, but I don’t see how forcing a secular nation to say “Merry Christmas” factors into that.

  • Zach W. Lorton

    I find this interesting. I recently read an article by Michael Gungor on the problem with the Christian music industry (familiar topic for both of us), and one of his points was that many Christians’ reluctance to accept true artistry is because of not what has been established by the Church, but what has been established by Christians in America. The American culture is more to blame for how Christians react to strange new ideas than their Christian faith.

    I think that applies to the whole “Merry Christmas” thing. I used to get annoyed when stores started marketing for the “holidays” rather than Christmas because their advertising had all the trappings of what we know to be in keeping with the holiday as we celebrate here in America. These days, I care less about it. I think you’re right — it is FAR more important that we actually BE Christians instead of just calling ourselves that. The funny thing is that we’re commanded to be Christians, to be like Christ, every single day. We modify our approach to reach our culture, respective of where we live and work, but the essence should be the same.

    There was a woman in the church I grew up in that was a Messianic Jew, and every year, the pastor would ask her to take a chunk of the mid-week service and explain (C)Hannukah to us. I found it fascinating because this was how people celebrated their faith in the same God I worship, they just did it in a different manner. I have always respected that holiday, and I know most non-Messianic Jews that I know respect Christmas in the same manner.

  • JasonMankey

    What is Christmas? It’s what it’s always been, a mostly secular Midwinter holiday with ancient pagan and Christian elements. To suggest anything less is intellectually dishonest.