Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jingle bells, shotgun shells, reindeer steaks for all!

Call me Ishmael. No, wait. Call me Scrooge. My friends call me Ebenezer. Just don't call me late for the roast beast! Ho, ho, ho.

I'm not a big fan of Christmas. Oh, I celebrate the holiday. I just don't like the debauched commercialism and self indulgent revelry that so often accompanies people's excuse to celebrate Christmas. I always thought that Easter was a much more festive and important holy day for the Christian to observe. After all, if Christ never rose from the dead, there would be no Good News (Gospel).

Now I hear that Christmas is under attack.
Excuse me, but I have never been told I couldn't erect a nativity scene or have an incredibly flammable shrub in my house decorated with dubious fire hazards and when was the last time you didn't hear rockin''round the clock Christmas music starting at one minute past midnight on Thanksgiving? Don't church bells still call the faithful and kids still squirm on Santa's lap? Thanks to my wife, Santa Claus explodes in my house every year leaving a residue of tinsel, wrapping and treats well into February much to the delight of our cats. Christmas gluttony is unchecked, insipid television commercials abound, discarded pine trees clog the landfill and wall street still loves the green profits from the Christmas slash holiday sales.

Christmas is under attack and I say so what?
Nothing much has changed. Kids still want everything on the store shelves and parents still go into merciless debt to procure more things than any one human being deserves for a lifetime. What has changed for the people protesting the attack on Christmas is the public perception that the traditional things from their heritage are still important to the culture at large. The celebration of Christmas was often a reflection of that cultural heritage and drew the particulars and participation of that celebration from the many Christian immigrants that came to the shores of the U.S.
The Catholic church gave us the very word Christmas from their 'Christ Mass'. The Protestant Germans gave us the Christmas tree. The Scandinavians gave us the Yule log. The Anglican English gave us caroling and Christmas cards. Currier & Ives immortalized it all in print. The American descendants distilled from all of them gave us the shopping mall.

Christmas is under attack and it is not the first time.
When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they banned the 'debauched & raucous' celebration of Christmas. Ministers who preached on the topic of Christmas risked imprisonment. Church wardens faced fines for decorating their churches. Puritans required stores to stay open Christmas day, as if it were any regular business day. The Puritans fell out of power in 1660 and the open celebrations slowly returned. Families, however, rarely ever gave gifts to one another.

In the new world, Christmas was outlawed in many of the early North American colonies; violators were fined five shillings, rendering Christmas virtually obsolete. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. The holiday remained outlawed in the rest of Massachusetts until the second half of the nineteenth century.

During the American revolution against Great Britain, notables like George Washington did little to observe the holiday using instead the solitude to tend to personal matters. After the American Revolution, congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution doing business as usual. For most of America's first century, Christmas was a small day of little recognition outside the walls of a church.

Not until the early nineteenth century, did the holy day celebrations of Christians spill over into secular American life. In 1822, Clement C. Moore wrote a poem for his own children now called 'A night before Christmas'. It was published under the title 'A visit from St. Nicholas'. Yes, Virginia, he never once used the term Santa Claus. Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol" in 1843. No other book or story (save the Bible) has been more enjoyed, criticized, referred to, or more frequently adapted to other media. Some scholars have even claimed that in publishing "A Christmas Carol", Dickens single handedly invented the modern form of the Christmas holiday in England and the United States. As for Santa, Thomas Nast, the cartoonist, drew a picture of Santa Claus in 1863 pretty much as he is known today. In 1870, President Ulysses S Grant signed into law the federal holiday of Christmas and 1923 marked the first year of a "national" Christmas tree in Washington, D.C. The rest is commercial history.

Christmas is a religious holy day at its core, and in the United States, the faithful are free to observe and worship as they please. To be sure, the joy and beauty of the celebration did spill over into the common secular arena over the centuries and was enjoyed by all. But in a pluralistic society such as the United States, any failure of Christians to impact the culture at large and influence those whom they dwell with in this nation, falls squarely on the shoulders of the church (read: the Faithful). The Faithful need to get back to their roots and carry out the Great Commission right in their own backyard with their neighbors and friends, changing hearts and lives one person at a time. That is where true influence comes from and true impact will result. Christianity is very resilient and has grown stronger and flourished in the face of repression and oppression. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Christmas glitter is merely a token reference to that glory and not the substantive heart of the matter. Don't make the glitter the focus of your holiday. Remember, Jesus is the reason for the season.

"Then, the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store." "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

Next week:
Call me Ishmael.
Harpoons & tuna nets. White whale and dolphin for all!

Update: Planned Parenthood of Indiana wants everyone to know that nothing says 'Happy Holidays' like managing body fluids.

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