Time to Reform Christmas by Unblending or Disentangling?
January 7, 2015
9 comments 188 views
Many Christians have become increasingly uncomfortable with the way Christmas is celebrated, both by Christians and non-Christians. Rev. Mike McKinney has proposed that we unblend (I prefer "disentangling") the Winter Holiday elements (Santa Claus, the elves, the North Pole, frantic shopping sprees, Frosty and his friend Jack, mistletoe, Rudolph, silver bells, hundreds of so-called Christmas songs which make mention at all of Christ, etc.) from the celebration of the birth of our Savior. Rev. McKinney is no Grinch or Scrooge. He appreciates much of the season's pleasantries, but believes that the birth of Christ should not be simply be embedded in these secular characteristics or tacked on almost as an afterthought. Even the common complaints about commercialization or talk of the Reason for the Season seem trivial when "the season" continues to be conceived as it is.
I think this is a serious proposal which deserves serious consideration. Radical, yes. Perhaps "impractical." None of the people with whom I have discussed it have expressed any interest because the current celebrations are so deeply entrenched. Christmas without Santa? Christmas without gift-giving? Christmas without hearing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on the radio?" Unthinkable. What do YOU think?
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If any such reformation is to be accomplished, it will have to be initiated by faithful Christians, since most non-Christians appear to be quite content with using the term "Christmas" for a wide variety of secular activities. That in itself speaks volumes.
You’re right, Gerrit. I listened to an NPR story about non-Christians (agnostic, atheist, Hindu, Muslim, etc.) celebrating “Christmas.” They had no problem with it, and in fact celebrated the commercialism of the season, because that seemed to be the common denominator – after you remove “Peace on earth to all men on whom his favor rests.” It seems crazy that Christians should rebel against ‘Christmas,’ but it may become more and more necessary as Christ is strained out of the celebration.
Thanks for the comment, Michael. A few years back I reviewed the U.S. Supreme Court dealing with the Pawtucket RI "Creche" case. The folks who supported the manger scene on public property also emphasized the "value" of bringing people into the city for purposes of shopping, not to mention the "good will" engendered among Christians,i.e. prospective shoppers. Rev. McKinney makes what I consider to be a compelling case for unblending the two traditions. Let the people who want to celebrate the non-Christian aspects of "The Season" - this would include Christians who are so inclined -- do so under a new name, e.g. Winter Holiday, culminating in early or mid December. The Christian Christmas would begin with Advent (thus some calendar overlap) and continue through to Epiphany.
Unfortunately, the word Christmas is so entrenched in secular imagery and music that confusion may be hard to eliminate. But at least we should be able to offer an alternative to the Fox News-inspired "War on Christmas" by asking Bill O'Reilly which Christmas he's talking about and how serious he is about celebrating the birth of Christ without the commercial trappings. And how he proposes to do this in a pluralistic society in which all Americans -- not just Christians -- have certain rights.
I am hoping that some productive discussion will help flesh out the details of disentanglement. I think the proposal is interesting enough to get some media attention, don't you?
So how does this untangling or unblending take place? It seems it should be the responsibility of every individual or family to celebrate Christmas in a way that is appropriate for them. Are you saying there should be an enforcer that manages the untangling for our population or for our churches? For many citizens Santa Claus is as much or even more the reason for the season than is Jesus. Certainly there can be no untangling for such as these. For many, Jesus is as foreign to one’s Christmas thinking as Mohammed is to our thinking. We live in a culture of many religions and beliefs. So why would we try to take the fun out of Christmas for non-Christians? And what influence do Christians have today that they should even attempt to untangle the meaning of Christmas for non-Christians? It’s best left up to individuals and families.
I don't think any of those who have advanced this idea have in mind an "enforcer." BTW, Santa Claus has done quite well over the years without an "enforcer," and so have many church practices adopted over the centuries. Unblending is not a matter of taking the fun out of Christmas for non-Christians (as though that were possible, given the weak "influence" of Christians in our culture). I suspect that many, if not most, Christians are quite content to have "the reason for the season" embedded in the iconography of the North Pole, the jolly old elf in his red suit, and flying reindeer. If a secularized celebration of the birth of Christ is OK with them, the notion of unblending is not worth consideration. Interesting, though, isn't it, that so many of them get upset when someone prefers the greeting "Happy Holidays" to "Merry Christmas" and the greeting "Blessed Christmas!" seems foreign. Merriment does seem to be a high priority.
You make some interesting observations, Gerrit, in regard to Christmas. You make mention of the “weak influence of Christians in our culture.” In Western culture, Christianity has continually been losing its influence for many decades. It’s loss of influence isn’t as much the fault of Christians, as much as in our more developing society, Christianity itself is not seen as reasonable or relevant. So increasingly our culture looks elsewhere for meaning and relevance. So almost naturally the Christmas story of Jesus doesn’t take hold of hearts and consciences. Whereas the story of Santa (with an emphasis on being good), generosity, family, good friends and wishes for the well being of others does take hold of people in our culture. And such an emphasis, in our society of many diverse religions, fits well with the nomenclature of “happy holidays,” rather than simply merry Christmas which in the minds of many is representative of only one religion that focuses on Christ (hence Christmas). As to Rev. McKinney’s idea of incorporating a new and different date for a secular Christmas, the only way that could possibly work would be for the Christian church to change the date of their own Christian celebration. December 25th has already been taken over by our Western culture which would never be willing to change. Do you think the church might be willing to change its date for celebrating Christ’s birth. Probably not. So I think we are still left with every individual or family celebrating Christmas or Santa’s day in a way that seems appropriate to them. Maybe a day celebrating both good will for all and Christ’s birth does make sense to many Christians. It’s all a matter of what you want to make of it.
You may well be right in regard to the Dec 25 date, Roger. On the other hand, non-Christians might be just as happy with another date in December, so long as it is recognized as a holiday (with all the benefits of a paid secular holiday). One would think that a clean separation (sacred/secular) would be welcomed by both Christians and non-Christians. I fully realize that this is a radical idea -- though I think it has much to recommend it. BTW, Donald J. Trump has "promised" that if he is elected President, he will make sure that "everybody" is saying Merry Christmas. How would he accomplish (enforce?) this is anybody's guess, but it plays well among conservative evangelicals whose votes he is courting and who are concerned about increasing secularization, as well as the Fox News talking heads and their annual warnings about the so-called "War on Christmas." The latter will probably not be happy until the U.S. becomes a de facto or de more (as distinct from a de jure) theocracy. Meanwhile, like you, I expect the status quo to hold.
You are likely aware, Gerrit, that in the past (as little as 40 years ago) many of our Dutch (CRC) immigrants celebrated a Sinterklaasa Day on Dec. 5/6 with the exchanging of gifts or with gifts delivered by Sinterklaas himself. Christmas was a separate Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth on the 25th. . I doubt that such celebration is hardly recognized today. Also some 40 years ago, many of our CRC churches in Canada (ones established post second World War) would not decorate their churches for Christmas because such decoration was associated with Sinterklaasa day and not Christmas. Sinterklaas was not considered a Christian figure so why paganize Christmas with such decoration. It did make for a rather austere celebration of Christmas. I doubt that such a distinction is made in any of our Canadian CRC churches today. So goes Rev. McKinney’s idea of separate celebrations. I will refrain from commenting on Donald Trump and his Merry Christmas pronouncement. Wishing you well and all good will as we are soon to enter the spring season. Chicago's weather has been wonderful.
Many thanks for your commentary, Roger. I appreciate your perspective. I have celebrated The Season in several countries in addition to the U.S.: The Netherlands (including the separate Sinterklaasdag as a child), Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and England. My favorite memory is a Christmas Eve worship service in a small 17th century Evangelische chapel in Kandersteg, at the foot of the Blumlisalp in the Bernese Alps (1989). Scripture, meditation, liturgy in 4 languages. Silent Night and other Carols sung in 4 languages --simultaneously. The only "decorations" greenery, manger scene, candles, and bells. Some would consider the setting "austere." Simple, yes, but hardly what I would call austere. A highly inspirational experience. Lots of snow everywhere, but no Santa, sleigh, or reindeer. Springtime greetings to you also, Roger. Weather here in Cape Coral, FL,is also wonderful.
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