Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Assault on Christmas

Lately I have read a practically constant stream of articles about the assault on Christmas in America. Radio talk shows, tv commentaries and even blog comments all dive into this daily.

What concerns me is the misunderstandings and mischaracterizations being popularized by the various people. To explain my views on this, let me introduce a few popular perceptions as labeled by the various proponents or opponents.

The first groups is commonly the conservatives, and they are made out to be religious zealots, who want Christmas an everyday word and nativity scenes in every yard. They claim that the secular world is stamping out Christmas as a further attempt to stamp out religion.

The liberals are commonly seen as the aggressors and the defenders against the accusations. They are commonly accused of persecuting Christians by making their faith and celebrations essentially illegal, and hidden from sight. For their part they claim that they are trying to improve diversity, by preventing one faith from dominating the season.

Neither side is quite what they appear, and I will come back to that.

The real interesting fact concerns the conservatives. They claim to be in a battle, but the sad truth is that this battle was lost long ago. It was lost when Christmas was more closely associated with Santa Claus then with Baby Jesus. It has lost none of its importance to Christians, it has just grown beyond it to become a day that is locked into place in American culture as a day for all.

In North America, particularly here in the US, Christmas became a secular holiday long ago. This does not take away from the "reasons for the season" as some claim, it merely shows that regardless of faith, people cling to the idea of a season of good will where friends and family take precedence, and giving is encouraged. Sure, some people care more for presents then Christmas Mass, and more for lights and snow men then for nativity scenes but that doesn't necessarily mean it diminishes religion, and these people were likely materialistic before Christmas too.

Many of these people just see a time of joy. Schools are out, the joy is evident for the kids. As a child I always looked forward to Christmas. We made ornaments in gradeschool for our trees at home. Construction paper garlands, remember those? Popcorn strings? I even once made a mini Christmas tree from a readers Digest with its pages folded. Anyone else?

My family never went to church as a family, though eventually we children found our own way there. But well before then, my Christmas memories are strong. The tree, the tree topper, the presents, the sleepless nights to wait up and see Santa, the leaving him a Glass of milk and a cookie.

Heck the baking... mom making fudge and divinity, and my helping her make sugar cookies with the cookie cutters....Even one in the shape of angels. The family get togethers, then the next day, trying out the new bike, or the new skateboard. Showing off the new presents.

Christmas was about family. It was about love. It had joy and fun and cheer.

And this is hardly a new concept. It seems obvious that modern Christmas owes as much to Dicken's A Christmas Carol as it does to the manger story in the bible.

The morality play concerning Scrooge goes straight to the heart of how many people see Christmas. Sure, shopping malls and stores are all about Christmas sales, but so many people also see Christmas giving, sharing and love. Part of what moved Scrooge was the family Cratchit, the obvious love even in poverty. Why? It was Christmas

In the movie Scrooged, a modern adaptation of The Dickens tale, Bill Murray, the 'scrooge' has a monologue at the end, and one paragraph sums it up:

"It's the one night when we all act a little nicer. We...we smile a little easier. We...we...Share a little more. For a couple of hours we are the people we always hoped we would be. It's really a miracle because it happens every Christmas Eve."

And that is the other side of the secularization of Christmas in America: The goodness of humanity shines. Rather then diminishing religion, it enhances goodness in humanity overall. So in considering it that way, the war the conservatives are pointing at has already happened, and frankly in some respects, I can't find myself too sad.

What has happened lately is war of political correctness launched by the liberals and progressives. This one we know all about. Governments here have forbidden Christmas display, some decades old. Schools take winter breaks. One local government practically forbid the use of the word, stores will just wish you a Happy Holiday and any mention of it in the public sector seems to raise the specter of law suit.

Schools locally use only secular Christmas Carols, and either call Christmas trees "Holiday Trees, or ban them outright. It's silly. The tree implies nothing. The angel or star on top imply nothing. They are traditional symbols of an American cultural event.

The thing is, the progressives claim they are only preventing people from people offended, and just keeping separation of church and state intact, but the fact is that our government was formed with religious elements, from the ten commandments to the rights our Constitution states are "endowed by their creator". There is no state sanctioned faith or denomination, and there is a long history of religious inclusion. Indeed, Christmas itself is a recognized Federal Holiday. It is not just for Catholics at Christmas Mass, or evangelical with their Christmas pageants. It is also the agnostic family who aren't going to any church, but enjoy the beauty of a Christmas tree, and share the joy of the season. What they are doing is sterilizing American life, by creating offenses where none exist, and working to eliminate any diversity in the name of promoting it.

The war of correctness is against anyone who loves Christmas, not just Christians. The progressives actually are attacking the holiday enjoyment of people who have no religious affiliation, but might still hum along with Away in the Manger when they hear it. Why? Because they love Christmas. They will watch the 24 hour marathon on The Christmas Story, watching Ralphie's desperate attempts to get the perfect present. They will sing along to White Christmas, and think about a time when they dreamed of home over Christmas. They will smile through the trial and vindication of Kris Kringle on Miracle on34th St. They will cry through It's a Wonderful Life. Why? Because it's Christmas.

All of these movies are now traditional Christmas movies, yet aside from the Guardian Angel Clarence, there is not one religious element, And none related to the Christian roots of Christmas.

That's what Christmas means. Maybe not everywhere, but it sure does here.

To me it boils down to this.

The Conservatives who claim they are being singled out are ignoring the others who are likewise being singled out. They are not the only ones being persecuted, and they would do well to remember that. The people who love Christmas need to be recognized also.

The progressives and liberals may use religion as their excuse, but in reality they are attacking as many non religious people by attacking the symbols that are an American tradition. Truly they start out assured in their self righteousness, but in the end, they end up looking like a Scrooge.

Bah Humbug.