The snow is very deep here, thanks to a monstrous storm that hit last weekend, in addition to abnormally low temperatures since the Nor’easter moved through. Nevertheless, I did manage to get out for one jog/skate on the ice on Tuesday, and I had some time then to think about Christmas.
The War on Christmas:
If you’ve ever gone through a Fox News faze (mea culpa!) you know all about the War on Christmas. You know the shtick: Leftist Commies, eager to establish the Second Coming of Vladimir Lenin, are trying to take away all your constitutional rights to celebrate Christmas. I’m having a hard time taking this seriously at this point. People still celebrate Christmas and still decorate for Christmas. And you should see how the masses pour in off the streets of Philadelphia to see the Christmas light show at Macy’s. The demand is so great that these are held once an hour.
A few years ago I accidentally wished a Muslim friend of mine a Merry Christmas. On the inside I was panicking, but before I could jumble together an apology he replied, “Thank you; same to you.” Moreover, tonight I’m attending Midnight Mass at S. Clement’s with one of my Jewish friends.
The moral of the story is that Christmas continues to be popular, even with non-Christians, and the super serious people who run the public schools and cities and decide what can go on a town square, while being scrooges, cannot thwart the celebration of this holiday. So let them make their dumb rules, and ignore the right wing wack-jobs that are bitching about this and conveniently making money on it at the same time. Christmas is here to stay for the foreseeable future; don’t ruin it by giving undue credit to these quacks.
Tip to the clergy: Preach about something else this year. The condemnation of the commercialism of Christmas is just a tired old bromide at this point; no one is going to listen, and if they do, the messenger could be in deep trouble. Perhaps we’ve become too cynical to remember the real reason that people shop for gifts at Christmas time: they want to do something nice for the people they care about. Who says to himself, “Oh gee, I better go do some Christmas shopping or Wal-Mart might go bankrupt”? Rubbish. Why, then, obliquely insult people by telling them that their shopping is mere “consumerism”?
Yes, there’s usually a stampede of fools somewhere early in the morning on Black Friday that ends up injuring someone—or worse. And there are greedy, selfish, materialistic people. But what human endeavor is not stained by some form of jackassery? Maybe the clergy could take a more constructive angle on this today: “Remember how much inconvenience you put yourself through while Christmas shopping this year, just because you wanted to do something special for someone. Now if you who are merely human can do such good, imagine what God has done and will do for you.” (Cf. the scorpion and the egg) Wouldn’t that be a nice change of pace? Not every good message needs to be sealed with a condemnation.
Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis:
I just said it a few paragraphs up: maybe we’re too cynical. We modern men are mired in empiricism, objectivism, and skepticism. But are we as bad as we think? So many other holidays seem to have become just a note on the calendar. Some still maintain their integrity, such as Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But Christmas might be the only religious holiday left that enjoys the additional honor of a secular celebration—an honor that many religious holidays once had.
Why? Is it because of the gifts? If that were true, wouldn’t we be tempted to co-opt Hanukkah? I really don’t think it’s materialism. I think that it’s because, even in the spirit of modern mankind, crushed by contemporary demands, there is still sentiment and a longing for the dawn of redeeming grace. In all our complication, we have chosen the holiday with the greatest simplicity, the most innocence, and some of the best music—including the angelic choirs singing of peace on earth. We who think we know better than everyone else are celebrating a baby, born to a young maiden in a stable in which they found themselves thanks to their government’s tax policy. What is more, while we’re celebrating, the typical modern grumpiness seems to lighten, even if it doesn’t disappear. We get a glimpse of what we could be like if only we would open our hearts to the possibilities.
The long and short of it seems to be this: In spite of what people like Robert Bork, or even Al Gore, say, we still value the right things when we get down to it: love, joy, peace, etc. Is society in chaos? Absolutely. But perhaps the first step to getting back on track is realizing that the necessary instinct still lies within us to right the ship, even if it only makes itself apparent once a year in these the shortest days on the calendar.
But I’m only thinking out loud, so feel free to disregard anything I’ve said that doesn’t make sense.
We don’t know much about that first Christmas. Some say that Jesus was actually born in March, but what difference does it make? We do know, however, that it was during the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, and the whole world was at peace. Perhaps it would be appropriate, given the situation in which we find ourselves today, to pray that Christmas becomes fully present once again, and that the whole world will be at peace.