Christ-free Christmas? Don’t blame Islam

trafal guysndolls 011I heard something interesting last summer while I was over in Oxford helping lead a seminar on press freedom and blasphemy.

A veteran British thinker told me something interesting. Obviously, the whole concept of multiculturalism — often simply called “multicult” — has continued to gain power in Great Britain. The question was, “Just how powerful is multicult going to become?”

In many ways, this boiled down to the issue of how well the Island of the Mighty would learn to deal with the growing Islamic presence in its midst.

Could multicult trump academic freedom? Just try to find courses on textual criticism of the Koran (as opposed to the Old and New Testaments).

Could multicult trump artistic freedom? That’s an easy one too.

Then things got tougher on the secular British left.

Could multicult trump feminism? That, I was told, has come to pass. But what would happen when multicult took on sexual freedom? Was it possible that multicult could trump even that? Would some segments of the British and, yes, the European left even back away from confronting Islam on that precious issue? I don’t know, let’s ask Theo van Gogh and Hirsi Ali.

But this past week, reporter Paul Majendie of Reuters wrote a story that raised an even more interesting issue. What would happen when multicult actually clashed with Islam itself? What if the drive to wash away many of the traditions of Great Britain actually reached the point where Muslims began to be offended or began to fear some kind of backlash? Here’s the lede:

LONDON — Christian and Muslim Britons joined forces yesterday to tell city officials to stop taking the Christianity out of Christmas, warning them that this simply fuels a backlash against Muslims. They attacked local authorities who used titles such as “Winterval” for their Christmas celebrations and avoided using Christian symbols in case they offended minority groups, especially Muslims and Hindus.

The question of how best to integrate Muslims into European society, which has Christian roots but is increasingly secular, has become a burning issue, with Britain playing its part in the debate after years of promoting multiculturalism. The Christian Muslim Forum, set up by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Church of England, complained that taking the Christian message out of Christmas played into the hands of extreme nationalists who then accuse Muslims of undermining Britain’s Christian culture.

“The desire to secularize religious festivals is in itself offensive to both our communities,” said Ataullah Siddiqui, vice chairman of the forum.

Anglican Bishop of Bolton David Gillett said that when local authorities rename Christmas so as not to offend other religions, their stance “will tend to backfire badly on the Muslim community in particular.”

manageremptyIs it possible that Islam has a more favorable view of Jesus and his mother Mary than the mainstream British multicult authorities who think they are trying to discern the true wishes of Islam? This is, after all, England — not Saudi Arabia.

Now this is a Christmas wars story worth following, certainly more complex and interesting than the Merry Christmas standoffs that are already making headlines on this side of the Atlantic. But here come the Christmas wars stories, like them or not.

So thank you to the GetReligion readers who are already sending URLs for early Christmas stories.

But folks, that’s just too easy. Let’s raise the bar. Look for the really good stories and the really bad ones. Let’s look for news coverage, like this Reuters story from London, that breaks new ground — for good or ill. Here we go.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    The error many make is in assuming Islam and Jesus cannot co-exist or that Muslims do not know or revere Christ. The fact is Muslims hold Jesus to be a great prophet. While they do not view Jesus the same way as Christians do they do honor him as a great prophet. I know of Muslims who took a critical look at the claims Jesus makes in the Gospels and embraced Christian faith because of Jesus’ claims to divinity.

    If I can find the link I’ll send it along where the local paper interviewed local non-Christian religious leaders and no one claimed to be offended by Christmas trees or Christian symbols. I believe the whole anti-Christmas movement was started by secularists ho had a probkem with religion in general and Christianity specifically and used the “offense to other faiths” canard as their rallying cry to promote their agenda.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I THINK John Hoh is onto something. Most of my friends who are strong practicing Jews have no trouble with Christmas greetings, etc. But the people I know who are total cranks, cynics, and
    devoid of any religious sensibilities ( virtual secularist avengers) –no matter their original religious roots–are the ones out to rub out Christmas.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    A look at our nation’s history should be telling. Christians and Jews have lived in America since before the Revolution (General/President Washington spoke in synagogues). Yet while Jesus would be an offense to Jewish people, there was no protests for decades about Christmas symbols being Christian.

    I would have no problem with any Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or Eid displays in city halls or town squares. Actually, it would be preferable to learn truly what others believe, much as St. Paul did at Athens.

  • Jennifer Emick

    t’s actually not unusual to see creches in Saudi Arabia. That aside, I don’t think Islam is the reason for the multicultural movement, which was gaining steam for a long time before anyone was acknowledging Islam as a part of American culture. I think it began, iirc, as a way to be inclusive of Jewish families, and expanded over time to include the myriad other faiths in the US who celebrate winter holidays.

    I would much rather see multicultural displays in the public arena than the bland avoidance we get now, generic greetings and crappy songs are boring and meaningless. Imagine a holiday season 9sorry) that begins with Eid and moves through Diwali, Hannukah, Christmas, and right on through to epiphany? It would sure help cut through the commercial sameness and boring repetetiveness of some community holiday calendars!

  • MattK

    Okay, I admit I am confused that “multicult” is happening in the UK. I mean, they have a state church and their queen is the head of it, and actually holds the Pope-granted title “Defender of the Faith” So it makes no sense to me that this is happening in her Britainic realm. Having said that…

    1) It is nice of muslims sticking up for Christians. It is the least they could do with the beheadings, conquest of the Middle East, invasion of Spain and Battles of Vienna, etc.

    2) I am so tired of anything that looks like a “Christmas Wars” story. It has been old news since 1820 when Wahisngton Irving wrote these words in his book The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall:

    “One of the least pleasing effects of modern refinement is the havoc it has made among the hearty old holiday customs. It has completely taken off the sharp touchings and spirited reliefs of these embellishments of life, and has worn down society into a more smooth and polished, but certainly less characteristic surface. Many of the games and ceremonials of Christmas have entirely dissapeared, and like the sherris sack of old Falstaff, are become matters of speculation and dispute among commentators. . . The world has become more worldly. There is more of dissipation, and less of enjoyment. Pleasure has expanded into a broader, but a shallower stream; and has forsaken many of those deep and quiet channels where it flowed sweetly through the calm bosom of domestic life.”

    For almost 200 years this complaint about Christmas being devalued and changed for the worse has been sounding. I’m 37 now and remember hearing it when I was a little boy. It is silly. Why should Christians expect non-christians to observe the feast of the Nativity of Jesus? More than anything I am embarrassed by my fellow Christians who are offended that non-believers want to push Jesus to the side and talk about Chestnuts and Jack Frost. So, please, all you reporters who read this blog: Christmas Wars is not a Story. It is old old old news.

  • Corban

    Jennifer Emick: Creches in Saudi Arabia? I have never heard of this. Please supply information. KSA is probably the most religiously intolerant nation in the world.

  • Will

    1. Repeat.. “Eid”, whichever one of the two you are referring to, is not part of a “winter holiday season” because of a coincidence in one year, as the Moslem calendar is purely lunar. See previous post on calendar uproars.

    2. Can you say “double bind”? I find that if you like evergreens and men in red suits, they are “pagan symbols” which were “stolen” by those reprehensible Christians… excuse me, “Xtians”. If you do not like them, then they are “Christian symbols” which those reprehensible Christians are Imposing On Everybody. Give me a break!

  • JillHenri

    Race creates culture. The Koran is a reflection of the races that created it.

    I looked up this book review for you, on a book written by a woman from the Balkans, someone in touch with the real world in terms of the nature of diversity.


    The Demographic Struggle for Power: The Political Economy of Demographic Engineering in the Modern World, Milica Zarkovic Bookman, Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1997, 273 pp.,

    Reviewed by Thomas Jackson

    The Demographic Struggle for Power is one of the most straightforward and factual accounts now available of how ethnic animosity creates conflict and violence. In a study that focuses on the Balkans but covers all parts of the world, Prof. Bookman takes for granted a central fact of human nature that multi-racial dreamers ignore: Ethnic identity and the desire to preserve it are among the most powerful forces on earth. Perhaps because she is a Slav, Prof. Bookman does not find it necessary to account for group consciousness or to apologize for it. Her purpose is merely to catalogue the policies to which it gives rise.

    Prof. Bookman assumes that whenever ethnic groups—or races or nationalities or language groups or any other self-identified tribes—live in the same territory there will be competition. Its usual form is to try to increase the numbers of one’s own group at the expense of others with the eventual goal, stated or not, of displacing them and taking their territory. Each member of one’s ethnic group is a natural ally, and greater numbers mean political, economic, and military power. Demography is destiny, which explains the title of the book…..

  • Kristine J

    Over twenty years ago, I was an English language teacher at a girls school in Egypt (Christian school, but controlled by the government in many ways also, many muslim girls were students, and we had Muslim teachers as well.) I asked permission to teach the carol ‘Silent Night’ to the students in English & German. There was no objection, and one of the Imam(s) and a Muslim religion teacher pointed out to me that Muslims also hold Jesus in high esteem. This may have been an isolated incident, but I think that most thoughtful people of many religions would be happy to understand the true MEANING of other peoples’ celebrations along with the layers of TRADITIONS that have grown up around the core meaning. I’m now a music teacher in the US, and get a worried ‘You can’t sing that’ when I want to sing ‘Silent Night’ at a school Winter Program, unless I do it in German, because then it’s a cultural exercise rather than a religious one, I guess.

  • Jennifer Emick

    Wil, I understand that Eid is changable- but considering that the christmas crap is thrown up as early as september, I see no reason not to include it.

  • Jennifer Emick

    Corban, tolerance has nothing to do with it- those nativities one sees in Muslims countries are very seldom Christian. The Koran contains essentially the same nativity story, and depictions of such go back pretty far. The chief difference between those and the ones you’d see here is that the Muslim-style ones are typically set at an oasis.

  • Dominic Glisinski

    This may mark me as an heretick.. but here goes:

    I would prefer “Christmas” in the commonly misunderstood sense of it being some kind of “season”, be removed from the secular calendar entirely. I do not decorate at all, I am disgusted at the popular manifestations of secular Christmas fervour. I detest the exchanging of gifts with all the commercialism that entails.
    I adhere to the Church Year scrupulously, and make a sharp distinction between Advent, the Octave of Christmas, along with the several Holy Days that surround it. Let the Church keep it’s Holy Days pure and free from secular influence. The co-opting of Christian fasts and festivals by heathen merchants and advertisers should be regulated. Suppose Walmart were to bring out a line of talking Mohammed dolls and jingles were written trivialising him and Allah as jolly old men, or some such?
    Let Christians observe their Calendar. The world can either join us or stay right out.

  • MattK

    I’m with you, Dominic, so far as observing the calendar of the Church. Advent is Advent, Christmas is Christmas. Thanksgiving is footballl (right after the Liturgy). But I think what the non-believers do “co-opting of christian fasts and feasts” is out of our hands. I don’t know what country you are living in but in the US our constitution would not allow us to regulate how anyone observes religious fasts or feasts.

    Interestingly, I was talking to my town librarian about Advent books for children (there are 4 in the whole world because childrens book publishers try to tie-in with school curricula) and she told me that even Chanukah is being de religionized in schools. In California, at least, there is usually no mention of the Macabees, the song “Light One Candle” has the same status as “Joy to the World”, and kids are being taught that the whole point of Chaunakh is to play with dradels. My point in telling you this is that the secularum has no tolleration for any religion that claims to be true.

  • Jennifer Emick

    Trouble is, Domicic, the “secular feast”predates the Chuirch feast, so what sort of regulations would you propose? IMO, it was (individual)Christians who adopted the commercial trappings, not secularists who hijacked the Church’s holy day. You can’t blame the public at large if they enjoy the gifts and evergreens more than the prayers and fasting, and you can’t blame the religious folk who join in, either. If you want an austere and solemn holy dya, go for it- but you’re gonna run up against a very big wall if you try and tell everyone else it’s all yours!

  • Dominic Glisinski

    Hi Jennifer,
    You are correct in pointing up the obstacles in the way of any hope of reclaiming Christianity as an exclusive religion. It is the “background” religion for the West; hence everyone feels they can snack smorgasbord like on the cutesy and juicy bits that appeal to them whilst omitting the hard stuff (for instance how many worldlings embrace the Lenten fast, asking each other weeks in advance “are you ready for Lent”?) :)
    My main beef is with the “merchants and advertisers”. Already I am inundated with pukey jingles accompanied by sleigh bells, snippets of carols, and artificial “holiday voices”. I’m going to swear off the radio until St. Stephen’s Day methinks.
    The Church may have tried to integrate the Greek and Roman festivals into the communal life after the time of Constantine as an evangelism tool, but, in my opinion, the last 1700 odd years of usage and observance have established them as purely religious Holy Days, belonging exclusively to the Christian Church. You either become a part of the Church in the fullest sense, and hence are allowed to partake in her celebrations, or you remain outside salvation, and outside the communal life and worship she offers in her liturgy.

    It’ll never happen. Yet one can hope. Would to God that everyone would embrace the teachings of Christ, and enter into His Resurrection life!!