A Plea for a Cease Fire in the War on Christmas

Is it possible at this late date to call a cease-fire in the War on Christmas?

The kind of cease-fire I am talking about is not a surrender to aggressive secularists who want all mention of Christmas, or of the reason for its celebration, erased from the public square.

I am not talking about, for example, these federal bank examiners who, had they been assigned to Bedford Falls, probably would  have busted George Bailey for wishing them “Merry Christmas” instead of for losing $8,000 in deposits. That sort of insanity ought to be resisted, and (as evidenced by the apparent resolution of the Oklahoma bank kerfluffle) can successfully be resisted.

No, the kind of truce I am proposing is a plea to the group Mark Shea refers to as “Christmas Inquisitors” — those who see any use of the term “Happy Holidays” in preference to “Merry Christmas” as some kind of affront to their beliefs. This group also includes those who see something inherently wrong or sacreligious about any kind of Christmas or holiday celebration that fails to include explicit reference to the birth of Christ.

I celebrate Christmas in the religious sense as eagerly as anyone.  But I respectfully beg to differ with those who insist that it is the duty of private businesses or even of public facilities and institutions to “keep Christ in Christmas.” It isn’t.  Their job, such as it is, is to accommodate the desire of their customers, or of citizens, to fulfill whatever aspects of a multi-layered religious, cultural, and social occasion they wish to observe.

None other than C.S. Lewis recognized this truth decades ago. In this essay from ”God in the Dock,” Lewis explains the different aspects of the modern Christmas:

“Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs.”

I will interrupt Lewis’ essay at this point to note what he says about the cultural aspect of Christmas — the “popular holiday.” He basically argues that people are free to celebrate it, or not, in any way they wish, as long as it does not interfere with anyone else’s celebration or non-celebration. He sees no reason to complain about “how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends.”

That does not sound like someone who would get bent out of shape over store clerks who say “Happy Holidays”,  or people who choose to celebrate Kwanzaa, Festivus, or the Winter Solstice. I also don’t think he’d care whether or not the occasion for making merry was a “real” cultural holiday or a “fake” observance invented by one person (Kwanzaa) or even by a fictional character (Festivus), as long as no one was forcing him to participate or pay for it (which becomes an issue when public schools are involved).

He does go on to say, however, that “the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business. I mean of course the commercial racket.”

“The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers.”

Now there are other occasions besides Christmas that carry these three “layers” of meaning — for example, weddings of religiously observant couples are 1) an occasion for celebration of a sacrament, 2) an occasion for family and friends to gather and enjoy a good time, and 3) an occasion when social convention requires gifts to be given and for the couple to acknowledge each gift individually with a thank-you note. The same is true of occasions such as graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.

Obviously, private businesses will use cultural and social occasions to market their products and services. Wedding planners, banquet halls, bakers, caterers, makers of academic robes and class rings, florists, greeting card merchants — all of them rely on cultural/social occasions for the greater part of their profit. The same is true of Christmas, when many merchants make most or even all of their yearly profit. (One explanation for the origin of the term “Black Friday” is the belief that many retailers finally earn enough money to get out of the red and into the “black” for the year on that day.)

However, we do not expect the merchant who sells products or services appropriate to any other social occasion, to instruct or remind people of its “real meaning”. We don’t expect, for example, the owner of a bridal shop or a catering service to provide pre-marital counseling, the florist who sells us flowers for Mother’s Day to offer us advice on how to get along with our mothers,  or a jeweler who sells class rings to counsel high school seniors on how to get into Harvard. So why do we expect merchants and advertisers to “keep Christ in Christmas”? Isn’t that our job, and the job of our families and churches?

Now I can hear some of you already saying “But there is far too much emphasis on the social and commercial aspect of Christmas in our society. It’s drowning out the religious significance completely. Surely you don’t think this is a good thing?”

Of course it is not a good thing. Even more than 50 years ago, in post-war England, Lewis saw that the relentless commercialization of Christmas “gives much more pain than pleasure” to the average person.

“You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out — physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.”

However Lewis did not propose any “solution” other than personally refusing to take part in the “racket”.

“We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.”

So how do we resist the tidal wave of commercialism and/or political correctness that threatens to engulf us every holiday, er, Christmas season? We pray. We think about what is important to us and about the values we wish to uphold. And we make merry in whatever way is appropriate to our situation. If that means opting out of gift exchanges or sending cards, fine. If that means saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” fine. If it means saying “Happy Holidays” in an attempt to be more inclusive, that’s OK too. After all, there is more than one holiday in the holiday season… it encompasses Thanksgiving and New Year’s as well as Hannukkah and other religious, cultural and ethnic observances such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucy’s Day, St. Nicholas’ Day, Boxing Day, and Epiphany or “Old Christmas”.

And on that note… peace on earth, goodwill to all, Happy Holidays AND Merry Christmas!

22 Responses to A Plea for a Cease Fire in the War on Christmas

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    With due respect, I never said anything about the duty of any institution.

    My post was about individuals who self-censor out of fear of retaliation or ridicule. If a business wants to say “happy holidays”, I don’t care.

    What I care about is when people change their behavior to accommodate a manifestly irrational and unreasonable demand. There is no reason in the world for anyone to be offended by the phrase “Merry Christmas.” If I were in Israel and someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah, I wouldn’t try to sue them or kill them. I would expect it, because I was in Israel. It wouldn’t offend me if it was assumed I was a Jew (and I have been mistaken for a Jew before), because that’s the society, that’s the dominant culture, and I don’t have a psychotic and irrational hatred for the existence of dominant cultures.

    This is a Christian country. Not because of the Constitution, which I am well aware does not mention God, but because the majority of its citizens identify as Christians. Psychotic leftists believe that dominant culture = oppression and is one step away from gas chambers. I don’t. Dominant cultures ought to be deferred to, and minorities ought to be respected in their own right.

  • I’m feeling magnanimous today (must be the spirit of the season).

    I agree with Joe (nobody should feel ashamed about wishing another a “Merry Christmas”) AND Elaine (I’m no necessarily offended by the term “Happy Holidays”, or do I think it is the duty of businesses and public institutions to “put Christ back in Christmas”).

    Oh, and a belated Happy Hannukah to all here, as we remember our Jewish brothers and sisters and their commemoration of the miracle of the lights and the Maccabean revolt against the pagans! =)

  • A good post Elaine, although the type of truce I am interested in with the Chistmas haters, and I certainly do not put people in that category who wish me “Happy Holidays”, was summed up well by King Theoden:

    “We will have peace,” said Theoden at last thickly and with an effort. Several of the Riders cried out gladly. Theoden held up his hand.”‘Yes, we will have peace” he said, now in a clear voice,”we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished — and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor, Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just — as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired — even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Hama’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the house of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.”

    Oh, and I join Christopher in wishing Happy Hannukah to our Jewish brethren, something I do each year to my Jewish friends. The Maccabean revolt was an epic struggle for religious and national freedom and deserves to be cherished by Christian as well as Jew.

  • Jasper says:

    “I celebrate Christmas in the religious sense as eagerly as anyone. But I respectfully beg to differ with those who insist that it is the duty of private businesses or even of public facilities and institutions to “keep Christ in Christmas.”

    They don’t have to ‘keep Christ in Christmas’, but the holiday is called Christmas. Call the holiday what it is. What is so offensive about that?

    For you and Shea calling people “Christmas Inquisitors”, take your cheap smears somewhere else…

  • There is nothing offensive about “calling the holiday what it is,” but by the same token, I also see nothing wrong with acknowledging the fact that there is more than one holiday in the holiday season. That’s why it is called “the holidays,” plural.

    The point I am trying to make is that no one should be trying to force or pressure anyone to celebrate in a particular way, or be offended at how others choose to celebrate. Obviously that includes genuine secularist “Christmas haters” who file lawsuits against Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, etc. However, people who go off the deep end in the other direction and think the mere use of the term “Happy Holidays” represents anti-Christian censorship do exist.

  • American Knight says:

    Although no one should be forced to celebrate Christmas and it is true that their are other ‘holidays’ in December (I think there are are only two series of Holy Days – Chanuckah and Christmas), it is incumbent on Christians to witness, publicly, to the Birth of the Lord and Savior of ALL mankind (including those pesky secularists and lukewarm Catholics.)

    I take no religious offense to the phrase ‘Happy Holidays”; however, it is a banal and redundant phrase and it offends my intelligence. ALL Holy Days and holidays are happy, the phrase is practically meaningless. Why are you happy right now, we aren’t even in Christmastime yet? It is Advent, a penitential season. We are happy because we are given the grace and freedom to do penance and anticipate the Nativity of Christ.

    It may not be the duty of a business or other institution to Keep Christ in Christmas, but it is the duty of ALL faithful Christians to do so. Just as important it is our duty as Catholic Christians to Keep Mass in ChristMASS.

    Moreover, why are we expected to give deference to fabricated ‘holidays’ like Qwanza and Festivus when we are derided the rest of the year because we want people to stop killing babies and sodomizing each other?

    I suppose I will be accused of being an inquisitor, so be it, I’ll wear that as a badge of honor along with my shame for my failing this Advent (Pope Benedict XVI was Blsd. JPII’s inquisitor, right?). In keeping with the respect for our Hebrew brothers, Hallel Ya, Praise G*d this Advent and all during the ChristMASS Season. It is even more important for us to wish everyone a Merry Christmas between December 25 and January 9, 2011 or whenever we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.

    For you fellow inquisitors, it is a pure joy to see the confusion on someone’s face when you wish them a Merry Christmas in January. They will always ask why you’re doing it and it is an opportunity to fulfill our duty to evangelize (in case some don’t know – this is NOT an optional duty and we will all be judged for it, especially those of us graced with being members of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church).

    If this love of Christ and Mass and Christmas offends anyone, Thanks be to God, In truth, the most offensive figure in the history of mankind is Jesus – we killed Him for His offense toward our worldly sensibilities. But, before He could lay down His life for us, Mary had to give God her fiat and give birth to Him.

    Merry Christmas to all and to all Happy. . .Christmas as well. :)

  • Cyguy says:

    I work at a small family owned bank and our outdoor scrolling “message board” is frozen and reads: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS”!

    We’ve had a lot of positive feedback and I believe the majority likes Merry Christmas and catch themselves cringing at Happy Holidays.

  • M. Sheahawheehaw says:

    Moderation in all things except virtue . . .

    No justice, no peace. The all-encompassing secular progressive regime is mass brigandage.

    This day there is joy among the hell-laborers of Sodom, not so merry in Christendom. Thank you, obama-worshipping catholics!

    PS: If you are ashamed of Christ, He may be ashamed of you.

  • M. Sheahawheehaw says:

    No, wait!

    Obligatory St. Augustine quote:

    “What is reprehensible is that, while leading good lives themselves and abhorring those of wicked men, some fearing to offend shut their eyes to evil deeds instead of condemning them and pointing out their malice. To be sure, the motive behind their tolerance is that they may suffer no hurt in the possession of those temporal goods which virtuous and blameless men may lawfully enjoy; still, there is more self-seeking here than becomes men who are mere sojourners in this world and who profess hope of a home in heaven.”

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Just to be clear here, I am NOT advising anyone to avoid saying “Merry Christmas,” nor am I encouraging anyone to deny or downplay their belief in Christ.

    I am simply urging people not to presume ill will on the part of those who prefer to use generic holiday greetings or symbolism, provided that those who use generic greetings make no attempt to force everyone else to conform to those expectations.

    Serious attempts by employers or government agencies to discourage or forbid any reference to Christmas or the use of Christian symbolism among their employees or local citizens are a different matter. I thought I made it clear that these are out of line and should be resisted.

    What I don’t like to see is for the VOLUNTARY use of either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, or the use of religious vs. secular Christmas symbols, to become mere shibboleths for determining who is on which side of the culture war. If anyone is forced to use, or not use, one or the other, that is a whole different story.

    Actually, I think the idea of wishing people “Merry Christmas” up until Ephiphany is a good one. I might just try it myself, and explain that there are, after all, 12 days of Christmas.

  • American Knight says:

    Elaine,

    Christmas doesn’t end at Epiphany, especially when we move it to the 2nd of January, we celebrate Christmas until the Baptism of the Lord, in 2011 that is January 9th (according to the N.O.).

    I hope my posts above were taken in a spirit of jest, I agree with you, no one should be forced to say or celebrate Christmas; however, as a Christian civilization we are to celebrate Christmas and do it publicly. Most Christians around the world don’t have that option and if we don’t exercise it, we won’t have it for long either.

    The issue is not if some one can or cannot say, “Merry Christmas”, rather, it is that we should NOT defer to the secular spirit by avoiding it. If one is a true Christian believer then we are obligated to proclaim Christ under pain of death, literally. This is especially true at the Easter and Christmas Seasons, when Holy Mother Church calls on us to be especially observant of the Incarnation, Nativity, Passion, Crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Our Lord.

    When we, Christians, say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, we are essentially saying that our relationship with Christ is private. it is not private, that is a lie. Our relationship with Christ is PERSONAL and it is PUBLIC, otherwise we are failing to proclaim the Gospel to all people and that is a sin. It isn’t so much a culture war as it is dour combat with the forces of evil. We are not permitted to be lukewarm. Jesus tells us that not all those who call Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom. We can’t pretend to be Christians, we can’t put Christ away so as not to offend other people. If someone finds Christ offensive, that person is in peril of eternal damnation, if we truly love them, and we are commanded to, then we want to be His imperfect instrument to spare them from the pit.

    Until we are in the valley of Josaphat, we may never know how many people came to Christ or went to the Devil because we did or did not say, Merry Christmas. We should all err on the side of caution and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and emphasize the Mass part of ChristMASS!

  • Mark Shea says:

    “PS: If you are ashamed of Christ, He may be ashamed of you.”

    If you aren’t ashamed of yourself, why don’t you sign your name to the things you write? At any rate, Merry Christmas, Greg Mockeridge!

  • There is nothing offensive about “calling the holiday what it is,” but by the same token, I also see nothing wrong with acknowledging the fact that there is more than one holiday in the holiday season. That’s why it is called “the holidays,” plural. The point I am trying to make is that no one should be trying to force or pressure anyone to celebrate in a particular way, or be offended at how others choose to celebrate. Obviously that includes genuine secularist “Christmas haters” who file lawsuits against Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, etc. However, people who go off the deep end in the other direction and think the mere use of the term “Happy Holidays” represents anti-Christian censorship do exist.

  • Mark Shea says:

    My apologies, Paul. Greg is the only person I know who has been signing his posts with “Seymour Butts” and “Hugh Givesaschitt” in his attempt to prove his maturity and escape detection for his trenchant critiques of my alleged betrayals of the gospel. I naturally assumed that since he posts here elsewhere under his real name, he was indulging this charming adolescent habit again. Apparently though, you have more than one adolescent coward without a sense of irony among your readers. My condolences. I hope the New Year brings American Catholic a circle of readers who don’t reinforce this tendency toward being the Ladies Auxiliary Gossip Circle. That would be a sad fate for an otherwise good and readable blog. I hope the good influences of people like Blackadder, Tito, Elaine and Darwin will curb such cowardly and juvenile behavior–not to mention the sin of bearing false witness.

    And now, in the immortal words of Sam Wainwright: “Hee Haw and Merry Christmas!” The great thing about being a jackass like me is the hope that you might get front row seats in the stable if you’re lucky!

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Thanks, Mark, for your kind words. I’m the same Elaine who commented on your original post (“It’s the Blog War on Christmas!”), by the way.

    I actually was working on a TAC post along these lines before the Mini Blog War Over Christmas broke out, but hurried it to completion and posted it when that occurred.

    Hee haw and Merry Christmas to all of you :-)

  • Mark Shea says:

    Hi Elaine:

    Thanks. Inspired by the example of T. Shaw, I feel I should apologize for my last post. I think it was out of line and not according to the Spirit of Christ. Please forgive me for my lovelessness and nasty words and have a Merry Christmas.

  • Mary Ellen says:

    I’m not sure if it’s the result of “The Antiwar on Christmas” but this year I’ve been wished a Merry Christmas an incredible number of times, everywhere from the grocery store, waiting in lines at the movies and oddly enough, work. I work at a call center and take calls all day long. Last year only 1 caller wished me a Merry Christmas, and this year 5-10 per day did. I know that’s incidental evidence, however, for the numbers to change so much, I really feel a goodly number of people have had enough of political correctness, and are going to wish others what is in their hearts to wish one another. Most of us are Christian Americans, so why not be so openly?

    There’s no need to handle this as a war–just be ourselves and not be afraid to state heartfelt wishes that others have a Merry Christmas, doing so in the Spirit of kindness and love in which it is intended. People will see thru the rhetoric to the virtues every time!

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