So in the days leading up to Christmas I spent my time reading about Islam (yeah, I know – not very Christmassy, but I figure, there are so many authors with so many reflections on Christmas that you all will manage if I’m off-topic), and one of the things I realized was that the “Muslim Reform Movement” seems to be occurring online and in other sorts of forums but not necessarily in communities of like-minded belivers.
And as we celebrated Christmas, and watched Christmas being celebrated around us, it occurred to me that the fundamental issue in the so-called War on Christmas is this: secularists want to rid the public sphere in America of religious observance. No crosses on public land, no nativity scenes at city hall, no Christmas parties or performances at schools, no Christmas trees at public universities, etc.
But it is in our nature to want to celebrate our holidays in our communities, not just in our homes and our churches. We want to celebrate with our neighbors, and children (and adults) want to celebrate with their classmates or workmates.
So the “opportunity” is this: for churches to provide outreach opportunities within their neighborhoods. Perhaps, to reinforce the neighborliness, neighboring churches could ecumenically sponsor Christmas celebrations for the neighborhood, with the cookies and crafts and Santa-visits typical of a school “Christmas event” but with traditional Christmas carols as well, rather than the combination of secular “Christmas” songs plus the Dreidel song, that seem to be the new standard at public schools.
But the “loss” is this:
Consider the descriptions you read of how other cultures celebrate their holidays: articles on “Christmas in Mexico,” for instance, will describe “Las Posadas,” a public procession occurring for the nine days prior to Christmas, reenacting the travels of Mary and Joseph to the stable in Bethlehem. “Easter in the Philippines” yields articles about traditional Way of the Cross public reenactments. Germany has its Christmas Markets with a Christkind greeting children, and a public advent wreath, and adds to that a public St. Martin’s Day procession in November as well. One suspects that the celebration of the two Eid festivals in Islamic countries also occur in public, rather than purely at the mosque and at home (though I can’t find a nice link). And — though I’ve returned the book so can’t pull a direct quote, Sumbol Ali-Karamali talks about a feeling of missing out that Ramadan and the Muslim holidays were celebrated only in their own families and friends’ homes, not as a larger community as her parents described of their childhoods. And when we speak of traditions in other countries, we have no problem with the fact that the practices of the majority religion dominate and are a part of public life there.
When we can no longer celebrate our holidays in our communities, but must retreat to our homes and churches, we have lost something, and we have, in the service of multiculturalism, diminished our own culture. Hence, in pursuit of the good of not excluding minority religions, we lose a part of our traditions and move even more into that impoverished version of America in which there are no traditions, and there is no culture, in which we think of traditions and culture as “ethnic” and imported from elsewhere, not living and still vibrant.