Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Phoney War On Christmas

"Lee, this is one Santa that's going out the front door."

December 15, 2012

It seems a media staple to dust off every year a story about the “war on Christmas”.

The annual anti-Christmas story usually goes along the lines of someone tries to keep a nativity scene from being erected on a library lawn or a tree from a city hall lawn, usually in the US. People line up on either side and in the end everyone stomps off muttering “bah, humbug” or the like.

These Christmas kerfuffles make good reading, and inspire no end of alarmist letters to the editor about whether you’ll soon go to jail for wishing anyone a Merry Christmas, but the defenders of Christmas miss two important points.

The first is you’ll be hard pressed to find a city or town in North America that isn’t done up in lights, holly, garlands, tinsel, angels and trees on December 25th. Stores play Christmas carols from November 1st right through to New Years.

Christmas is in no danger of disappearing and Christians are not likely to be forced into the catacombs anytime soon.

The second and bigger point to keep in mind is that Christmas – the holiday if not the religious festival – is enjoyed by people from an astounding variety of cultures and other religions.

I worked in a small office with two Jewish partners. They wouldn’t let me put up a Christmas tree. Why? Because they wanted to put it up themselves.

I had a Christmas tree at home, they argued, so I should let them have the fun of putting it up at the office. By the time they were finished with the tree and angels, the office looked more Christmassy than my living room.

This week I was in our local dollar store getting stocking stuffers for the family. I passed on the canned prunes from Yemen and tins of sardines with Arabic labels and instead went for the easily breakable toys.

Behind the counter the owners had a little shrine to Ganeesh – Hindu god of prosperity and good fortune. That didn’t stop them from wearing Santa hats. “Merry Christmas” they called out to me on my way out past the collection of plastic crèches.

Some will complain the rampant commercialism is ruining it and Jesus wasn’t about selling flat screen TVs at 40% off. Just remember there have been people selling junk to pilgrims and outside of churches for more than a thousand years. We’ve survived.

My Jewish friends take no offence when I offer them a “Merry Christmas” because they know I’ll also wish them a Happy Hanukkah.

Some Christians insist that the “keep the Christ in Christmas” means keeping everyone else out – that somehow sharing it diminishes it. Often the ones who don’t want to share are the same people who say Christmas is under attack.

I have friends who are ministers and priests and make their living as professional Christians. Presumably they know a thing or two about the Christmas season.

Their opinion? Christmas may be for the faithful, but it’s also for sharing with anyone who wants to embrace the spirit of the season.

That spirit is about peace on Earth and goodwill towards all men. It’s about counting your many blessings and being mindful of the needs of those less fortunate. It’s about forgiving past feuds and putting love and kindness in your heart, hopefully not just for a couple of weeks a year but every day.

So don’t worry – Christmas is alive and well, and it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

©  Stephen Lautens 2012