Alas, 2011 has been the year of “Happy Holidays.”
In my circle of family and friends, people still invoke the Lord’s blessing as they sit down to eat, still say “God bless you” when someone sneezes.
It’s almost possible, barricaded in the dining room with the people I love the most, to forget that outside my door, it’s a different story—that for many, the season that reaches its zenith on December 25 is about rank commercialism, and not at all about Jesus.
But this year, when I hit the mall or drive down a city street, I have a sense that something’s missing.
- Where are the sparkling lights that used to cover every home on the block? Now in my neighborhood, maybe one in ten houses is festooned in lights. Are people too busy or, like my atheist neighbors next door, have they simply ignored the glorious feast we celebrate in just a few days?
- Where are the hymns and carols that blasted from speakers in the mall, encouraging tired shoppers to press on in pursuit of the perfect gift? I remember hearing the strains of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” ad infinitum when I was younger; this year, the shopping center plays the same old rock music from which I’ve taken flight the rest of the year.
- Where is the “Merry Christmas” greeting that was standard in bygone days? Today, store clerks and waitresses say “Happy Holidays!” or, even worse, “Have a Nice Day.” At McDonald’s they topped that: “Have a Wonderful Day!” said the server, just three days before the holiest of silent Nights.
I fear that we’re seeing just a glimpse of a societal capitulation, and that in the future Christmas will be relegated to the churches, while increasing numbers of business establishments simply ignore the holiday for fear of offending a non-believer.
The affront against Christmas comes from more than one source.
Earlier this month Lisa De Pasquale, reporting in Human Events on “How Walgreens Stone Christmas and Got Off Looking Like Snow White,” complained about Walgreens Drugs. The pharmacy chain, in its Thanksgiving weekend flyer, used the term “Holiday” 36 times but never mentioned Christmas, prompting one conservative organization to call for a boycott. “In other words,” Lisa wrote, “bring your money, but leave your icky Jesus-talk at the door.”
A friend recently sent me a video in which a radical Islamic cleric says, “Saying Merry Christmas is worse than fornicating, drinking alcohol, or killing someone.” I’m sure that the majority of followers of Islam would not support this Islamist extremism; but there is a common misperception that because some people do not follow the Christian faith, the majority of Americans who do must restrict their holiday greetings to hushed whispers.
And then there is the perpetually aggrieved Freedom from Religion Foundation. When the group Wisconsin Family Action erected a manger scene in the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda, the Wisconsin-based FRF’s co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor expressed the group’s dismay in an article which appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal: “It’s distressing to me that we have a manger scene on top of all the religion at the Capitol. Every day it’s religion, religion, religion.” The Freedom from Religion Foundation is now planning its own “slightly blasphemous” Capitol nativity display celebrating the winter solstice.
In southeastern Michigan, where I live, the city of Warren has been in the news because the Freedom from Religion Foundation is demanding that an atheist banner be installed alongside the Nativity scene in Warren’s City Hall. The banner reads: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” The other side reads: “STATE/CHURCH: Keep Them Separate.”
And now, Catholic News Service has reported that the Capitol Christmas Tree, a 63-foot Sierra White Fir on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, includes a prominently displayed ornament which says “I ♥ President Obama” but includes no ornament readily visible to a person standing near the tree’s base that uses the word “Christmas,” or includes an image of the Nativity, or bears the name or image of Jesus Christ.
In these United States of America, where our Constitution guarantees the “freedom of religion” (and not freedom from religion), the 85% of citizens who follow Christ seem to be losing the battle in the public square, and with that, losing a joyful heritage. Christmas, that day when we fall in silent awe before the Babe in the manger, is in jeopardy.
We can’t let that happen.
From our family to yours: MERRY CHRISTMAS! And may the Babe of Bethlehem smile on you and grant you the peace of the season.