"Christians Lost Christmas War…" UPDATED


Fr. James Martin has been declaring Christmas “lost” for the last few years, and he does so again here on Fox News. I take his point about the over-commercialization of the season, and am very sympathetic toward the idea of “reclaiming” Christmas” for oneself – the season of Advent beautifully gives us the opportunity to do precisely that. This year we did very little shopping–only the kids are getting gifts–and we only started listening to a little Christmas music as of this Sunday.

Holding off on the Christmas music, and spending more time in Advent contemplating all that is behind us and before us, has really helped us get a handle on Christmas “overdo.” We only just decorated the house. Christmas, now around the corner, still feels “new” to us, and we’re excited about it.

I think whether Christmas is “lost” has a lot to do with how much of its light you’re willing to identify and let it. That’s the topic of my column today, on the home page:

Praying Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours each day is a productive way to remain “light focused.” Particularly in these last days before Christmas, the glorious “O Antiphons” are as quietening to the spirit as the gentle restraining hand of a mother, reassuring an overwound and anxious child:

O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

An antiphon is a little thing—a segue into a psalm or, in the case of the O Antiphons, into the Magnificat, Mary’s ebullient and ever-blooming canticle of praise, but perhaps little things, as we lurch toward the end of this endurance test of a season, can provide a heartening reassurance that Christmas is still, at its core, about love willing to exceed limits.

If the antiphons of Advent are helpful reminders that small things can preface eloquent understanding, Christmas shopping can also teach us a little of that, if we allow it to. Love, distorted and degraded in appearance, is at the root of the crowds headed from Penney’s to Best Buy just as surely as love—lowly in appearance—was at the root of the crowds headed from pastures to Bethlehem.

If you read the whole thing, you’ll see me extolling the value of what is probably the smallest Christmas light, ever, but:

But a million of those little moments occurring all over the place, are like the buzz of the hive, portending honey. Despite the extended marketing season that threatens everything to staleness, they help to keep Christmas fresh, ever ancient and ever new.

UPDATE: Tim Muldoon writes that the “War” about Christmas is about a deeper break in the notion of “tolerance” in the nation.

Others are also writing about the Christmas “War” idea:

Mark Shea: God Save us from the Christmas Inquisitors!

OSV: Overcoming Stress

To Santa or Not to Santa:
Christians are wondering whether they should cease telling their kids about Santa. Lisa Mladinich has a thoughtful answer.

Ross Douthat: A Tough Season for Believers

Flash mob facts

Happy Catholic:

We can snark all day along, every day, about how the Christian life is overshadowed by so much in our culture that is dark. Christmas brings it to the foreground, but the tendency is there always. Yet if we fight the tendency to succumb, we can ourselves be the turning point. Sometimes we are the ones who need to hear that voice of hope, sometimes it is those around us. Regardless, it is much needed and if we don’t do it, then who will?

Marcia Morrissey: Switching Gears as Christmas Nears

Frank Weathers on Madison Avenue Christmas

I Own the World and Radio Patriot like that graphic a lot! I do too!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Charles

    I have to shake my head at the silliness – as if there is some legitimate debate about Santa Claus.

    Tell me something – were those who gave their lives when they went to far-off lands to fight for Uncle Sam a bunch of fools?

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  • dry valleys

    I was very pleased to see that by Jonathan Merritt. I really can’t bear the right-wing journos who exploit the concept of a “war on Christmas” for all it’s worth, because they are so cynical & unprincipled, employing some of the most shameless fabrications I’ve seen.

    They are the true enemies of the religious observance, them & large corporations, not someone like me.

    Myself, I am holding off celebrations until I finish work tomorrow night. But I will raise a glass to the solstice. I love the thought that the sun is starting to fight back. You can certainly see why heathen tribes thought this time worth celebrating.

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  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I work in a legal office. All too often, during the Christmas season, clients come in, wanting to do things such as disinheriting all their relatives. Better they should go out, and indulge in some commercial materialism.

    I also had an uncle, who announced that, for him, “Every day was Christmas”, and so he believed there shouldn’t be a special day set aside for gift giving. He followed his own belief. For him, Christmas was just like every other day. (And, no, he didn’t give gifts at other times, either.)

    There is something to be said for warm-hearted celebrating and gift giving. Read Dickens’ “Bleak House”, especially the parts about the “unselfish” matron who works for the good of the natives of Borioboola-Gah, while neglecting her own kids.

    (We have materialism 365 days of the year, but no one ever seems to worry about it much then; only at Christmas.)

    [That's not really true, RS. Some try to live very consciously in opposition to the mindset of "gotta have" or "needing" the latest thing that comes out. But generally the folks who live that way don't talk much about it, either because they don't even think to, or because they don't wish to be seen as prideful. -admin]

  • Tonestaple

    Maybe “losing” Christmas isn’t a bad thing. My birthday is very close to Christmas so, for years, I wished that Christmas would go back to being a quiet well-behaved little religious holiday, and my birthday would not get lost in the shuffle.

    I’ve gotten over that, but perhaps it would be much better for Christians to go back to an observation of Christmas in opposition to the rest of the world. The 12 days start on Christmas Day and go to Epiphany and maybe we, through our churches, should observe that, and leave all the hoo-hah to those who just “do” Christmas.

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  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Very sadly, Anchoress, I’ve often found that those who talk a lot about living with less, and more simply, mean they’d like for you to live with less—and not expect anything from them.

    As you said, there are those who don’t talk about it, because they might seem prideful. Where I grew up, alas, everyone talked about it—without, necessarily, cutting back on anything for themselves (friends and relatives were another story).

    I read some survey, stating that gift giving takes up only about 4% of the average person’s income, and that was taking into account gift giving for the entire year. This does seem to indicate, that however we overinduldge ourselves, giving Christmas gifts to others might actually be one of the lesser manifestations of the problem.

    Tonestaple, the Orthodox Church observes a strict, 40 day fast before Christmas—the same as Lent/Easter, and celebrates the feast of St. the Baptist, and Epiphany, as well. One problem, as I see it, is that Christmas suffered a great blow under Cromwell, and Protestantism, and has never quite recovered, since.

  • Mandy P.

    As an incoming Catholic, this will be the first Christmas I’ve done that wasn’t what most Americans think of as traditional. I have to say, I’ve actually gotten some push back for it, too. Parents are upset that I insist on teaching my almost 4-year-old son that Sant Claus is just another name for St. Nicholas. I waited to put up my decorations, which raised some eyeballs. And I’ve gotten some weirded out comments when posting links to the O Antiphons in chant on my facebook page- from my CHRISTIAN relatives, no less.

    I honestly never realized before how even the people I know who profess Christ don’t focus on him AT ALL outside of the usual outrageous outrage over some slight to Christmas in the news. It’s been a very eye opening experience.

  • Mandy P.

    Oh, and the St. Nicholas thing surprisingly got the most push back from my mom- who has been the most overwhelmingly supportive of my conversion outside of my husband. She sent me a kit that you use to leave “evidence” of Santa’s visit (footprints and the like) and a Santa key that you’re supposed to hang up so that Santa can “get in” your house if you don’t have a chimney. It’s not that I don’t think those are cute ideas. I just think it’s a bit of an oversell. I’m not shunning Santa but I’d like to keep it kind of low key so that it’ll be easier to explain things to my kids when they get old enough and not have it be so big of a let down for them.

  • http://jb3b@wordpress.com jbiii

    You cannot over-commercialize Christmas. The reaction against commercialization is every bit emotionalistic as are the internal forces that drive arguments for commercialization.

    There is something lacking in both views. Both wish to limit it to a specific time of year (kudos to those who do so longer). The world cannot hope to do so as the Church should do so; but then the Church retreating into a penitential mode at the time it is supposed to celebrate the Incarnation (God in the flesh), seems almost incomprehensible.

    As one prof at Sem put it: “At Christmas, God drafts a whole world, mostly unbelieving at that, and that unbelieving world is transformed, be it only for a few weeks, into celebrating the cosmic event of all time–

    “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory. glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

    That, I motion, is something that can be neither over-commercialized nor over celebrated by mankind. We meant to revel in it–believer and unbeliever alike.

    The Scrooge-like obsession with over-commercialization by some in the Church is somewhat tacky—especially when one presumes the Incarnation will somehow be lost in the shuffle.

    Besides–XPMass is every day for those in the household. We ought to show that in June and July, rather than griping about October Christmas sales. It is not “our” holy day–nor even “my” holy day.

    it belongs to the whole world. Any else is heresy.

  • wpdunn71901

    i don’t really care about the “over-commercialism” of the holiday

    i will do what i have been doing for the past 5 years on Christmas eve, walk to a little Catholic church about 2 miles from my place ( i have been “Disinvited” by local Protestant churches – there is a little grotto with a statue of the BVM , ill bring her some flowers and sit and talk with her for a while then ill walk back home once again reminded that no matter what i am loved at least by someone

  • Kathleen

    GMTA Anchoress-yesterday I had a similar incident happen in our grocery store parking lot, with the shopping cart, and I remembered your article from last year. After that article I tried to be shopping-cart savvy all year round. It is especially nice at Christmastime. We just got our tree up and I am finishing the lights. It looks lovely. For Christmas-decorating-postponement let me recommend painting your living room on or around December 17. It really helps you focus on the main thing :)

  • http://www.sarahrolph.com Sarah Rolph

    I was just thinking yesterday that the war on Christmas seems to be waning. I’ve been hearing Christmas music at the grocery store, and a few other shops, and quite a few people in retail environments have wished me a Merry Christmas.

  • Mandy

    I think the Christmas “war” seems to be less this year. One of the reasons I like the “flash mobs” is that it seems to be a blow back at the ACLU types. They can’t do anything about the mobs because it happens without warning.

  • dymphna

    Having been poor at one point in my life I loathe people who prattle on about how great it is having less and being simple. My reaction is “Oh yeah. You wear the same coat for ten years and get back to me on that buddy.” My mother had to do that and let me tell you, “simple living” stinks.

    [I have always maintained that "living simple" is the best way, but ONLY if one is doing it voluntarily. I haven't bought a new coat in probably 8 years, and that suits me because I just don't care about that stuff. But if I was told I "shouldn't" have a new coat, or I simply was too broke to buy one, I am quite sure I would have a different feeling about it all. -admin]

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Amen to that, Dymphna!

    By the way, I have never met anyone who went broke because they spent too much on Christmas.

    The ones who go broke are the ones who things like take out second, third, fourth, fifth, mortagates on things, buy silly things all year round, work only part time or are otherwise underemployed, buy houses they can’t afford, and so on. They never have time to put up Christmas trees, or get presents, because they’re always running around doing something or other. . .

    Then they make you cookies for Christmas (which is fine, I like cookies) and lecture you about how materialistic Christmas has become!

    (I know that not all people who worry about Christmas & materialism are like this, but these are the kind of people I usually talk to.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    One problem is, that, with the Protestant Reformation in England, all the old carols, Advent rituals and the like were seen as Papist, and interfering with man’s relationship with God, which could be based entirely on reading the Bible.

    Cromwell, and the Puritans, banished Christmas. It came back, but never quite the same way. In America, again, settled by the Puritans, it had a hard time catching on, at first; the reason so many or our Christmas traditions are Germanic is that German Lutherans were one immigrant that didn’t consider Christmas too “Popish” to indulge in!

    So, it’s sad, but we did loose a lot of the ancient traditions along the way, and the old idea of Christmas, “Christ-Mass”, as a religious holiday.

    And, as jpiii points out, Christmas has become for the entire world. We need to find a way to work with that.

  • J.W. Cox

    I’m not very ‘successful’ with Advent. We’ve been struggling about how to make the changes in our lives, including spending, to observe it.

    But the thing I don’t hear much about it from the Advent Advocates is…what about the actual celebration of Christmas? In the U.S., Christmas is December 25, and that’s it: except possibly including Dec. 26 as the Day of Recovery.

    It would be interesting if Christmas were celebrated, as the liturgy does, as a Season. The Brits have the tradition of 12th Night, a celebration of the end of the 12 days of Christmas.

  • Lisa

    @J.W. Cox
    Many years ago, as I was particularly struggling with after Christmas let down, my English raised mil suggested a 12th night celebration. Twenty plus years later our little family still celebrates the feast of the Epiphany which we also refer to as little Christmas. It’s not an extended celebration; just our immediate family. We have a nice dinner, the table set with the good china, candles, a cake with the hidden bean, quality Christmas music playing, some decorations still around the house, Christmas crackers and a small gift for each person to be open. My children love this day and I often wish Christmas day could be more like this!

  • http://burketokirk.blogspot.com/2010/12/to-santa-or-not-to-santa.html Tertium Quid

    We ought to worry less about who is “winning” the culture wars and focus the liturgy of the day. Nice link to Lisa Mladinich, who discusses Santa Claus as a catechist:

    ‘Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century bishop, is one of those absolutely phenomenal role models. Through his devotion to the poor, his kindness to children, and passionate love of that precious Baby in the manger, his life exemplifies the true spirit of Christmas.’

    As a Catholic convert, I have come to recognize Santa Claus not as the cartoonish character used to sell products, but as the only saint that all children can understand, someone of virtuous giving, not self-indulgence. At my daughter’s first Christmas, I determined to teach her that the Feast of the Nativity is when we enjoy the full graces of the communion of saints. She gets gifts every day for twelve days, and each gift is from an appropriate saint. Some of the gifts are things she wants; others are things (usually books) intended to nurture her soul. (She loves the prayer cards that come with the gifts.)
    As she gets older, she will see not reason supplanting mystery as her inevitable worldview, but a community of giving among the living, the dead, and those yet to be born which unites mankind in both reason and faith. We teach her that the only things we truly own to ourselves are our sins. Everything else is a gift of God shared first to others and passed on to us, often through suffering and martyrdom (such that of St. Stephen). Christmas is not a one-day binge but a twelve-day festival of souls that transcends time.