A Bad Witness to the True Meaning of Christmas

It was December 21st and MrsDarwin and I were standing in the local branch of our bank, getting a cashier’s check for more money than I like to think about so that we could go close on our new house. These things take time, as people don’t normally come in and asked to cut large chashier’s checks, and as we were standing there I gradually became aware of an increasingly loud conserversation between an elderly male customer and a teller at the other end of the counter.

“I’m very offended,” he announced. “Very, very offended. And do you know why I’m offended?”

“Why sir?”

“Because I am a Christian and when I look around here four days before Christmas I don’t see a single Christmas decoration. Do you know how long I’ve been a customer here? I want to talk to your manager.”

At this juncture I ceased half-paying-attention and began full on spectating, since in the customer service hierarchy dealing with a shouting customer ranks higher on a manager’s list of priorities than signing off on the large cashier’s check of a quiet couple holding a sleeping baby, and thus we wouldn’t be going anywhere until this fellow was dealt with.

The manager attempted to smooth things over, pointing to a few red bows and fake evergreen that decorated the branch, but the man would not be pacified.

“Those aren’t Christmas decorations,” he declared. “Christmas is a religious holiday. It’s about Jesus. And I don’t see a thing in here to show that it’s happening this week.”

Further attempts of the manager to placate got nowhere, as the fellow demanded, “Look up my account. Look how long my wife and I have been banking here and how much money we have with you. If you don’t care about Christmas I’m closing out my account and taking my money elsewhere.”

At last, the manager apparently decided that reasoning wasn’t getting anywhere, so he took his soon-to-be former customer off to one of the side offices while one of the tellers brought out a bill counting machine in order to fulfill the customer’s request that his money all be withdrawn, “In large bills.” Our spectating ended, as the manager signed off on our cashier’s check as he passed, and so we were able to leave shortly thereafter. As we passed the closed door of the glassed-in office, I could see the man still gesticulating and talking inside as the manager nodded in the pained way that those tasked with taking care of disgruntled customers do.

As we drove off, I couldn’t help feeling depressed about the whole spectacle. Though a nominally Christian country, at least as the polling data goes, people who are in any way serious practicing Christians are increasingly a minority in our culture, and as such ripe for being understood primarily based on their loudest representatives. That one of these should be a man angry that the local branch of Chase didn’t have religious Christmas decorations on display seemed, if anything, a way of making people more averse to Christianity rather than the contrary. Indeed, if I were to list the difficulties that Christianity faces at this time, the failure to be endorsed by J. P. Morgan Chase does not seem high on the list.

Though as the saying goes: You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. This goes as much for brothers in Christ as for blood relatives.

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  1. Yeah, and the irony is that the paucity of XMAS decorations was probably budget driven. Moreover, I’m 54 years old and cannot recall banks ever having overtly Christmas symbols such as manger scenes, etc.

    I agree with those who lament the timidity of Americans to say Merry Christmas. There is no question that a good part of that is the result of the same phenomena that gives us such absurdities as unity trees. But over-reacting is not the answer.

  2. Some people are perpetually in “crank mode” and I wouldn’t be surprised if that gentleman fit in that category. I had a client like that several years ago who found something to complain about every time I talked to him. I finally told him that I did not have the cure for the malady of perpetual dissatisfaction and that he should seek future legal services elsewhere.

  3. “Though a nominally Christian country, at least as the polling data goes, people who are in any way serious practicing Christians are increasingly a minority in our culture, and as such ripe for being understood primarily based on their loudest representatives.”

    Loudest, or most prominent in pop culture, whatever.

    Can I vent here a little bit? One of MY pet peeves along these lines. In my own (not my husband’s) extended family, there aren’t many serious practicing Christians at all, at least as far as I can tell — a couple of cousins are Catholic because my uncle married (later divorced) a Catholic, but that’s it. Everybody knows that *I* am some kind of Jesus freak. The end result is that anything that even smacks of Christianity of any kind, everyone in my family assumes that I heartily approve of. This includes awful poetry, dreck-ridden sermons from hired preachers at family funerals, all manner of Protestant heresies, and grotesque liturgical abuses.

    I would like to get it across that actually I’m a *specific* kind of Jesus freak sometimes…

  4. Anger management . . .

    I doubt JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA specifically refused to display Christian decor solely to offend subject offendable Christian.

    And, unless he withdrew $tens of millions in deposits, I doubt good, old J. P. noticed his withdrawal.

    Hint: find a local bank with a local focus. You may be able to identifiy a bank whose officers and shareholders are fellow parishioners and you may receive better service (lending in your home town for one) as well as Christian decor.

    I believe in Nassau County, NY there is a credit union run by the K of C.

  5. The Customer perhaps was over reacting.But certainly he does not deserve such bad comments .In a country like India where I live and come from,the Nativity Crib does find a place in many Public Places ;perhaps they have no value where they are placed;but it shows that people who have displayed them do want to convey something about Christmas – how Jesus was born,atleast.The Customet in Chase Bankmust be one of those who thought that such a basic thing as a Christmas Crib should have been there in HIS BANK;and nothing wrong in it; and nothing wrong in him withdrwaing his money and closing his account;he stands justified in the eyes of God,certainly,and may not be in the eyes of ordinary men.

  6. Perhaps the real challenge is how do we as Christians best deal with the continuous onslaught of bigotry we receive simply because our belief system threatens other’s comfy rationalizations. I agree that we need to improve on how we calmly articulate God’s truth as that is more effective. Before we slam this person as an embarrassment please see the web link below where the wonderful JP Morgan Chase bank has ordered local branches to take down Christmas related decorations while having a Menorah in their lobby of their headquarters last year.


    Perhaps we Catholics need to accept the reality that the forces against us, both within and outside of the church, are well organized and that this causes some of us to ‘blow our stack’ despite our noble intentions. I submit that we don’t look down too hard on this guy and instead work to marshal our hatred towards Satan. I would be willing to bet that if all Catholics had the same vigor as this gent and if we ALL together withdrew our cash from these kind of hypocritical institutions ‘ol JP would be sponsoring the Rocketts Christmas tour next year. Besides that local KofC credit union branch would probably give you better service and value beyond the spiritual benefits.

  7. My bank froze a message on their exterior sign reading only:


    They also ran a “banner” ad, in the local paper, reading the same on Christmas Eve.

    It’s a small family owned bank that doesn’t give a hoot about political correctness. Bless them!

  8. Interesting,

    Would this same gentleman say something similar to a pastor (Catholic or not) who rids his Church of religious symbols? We have far more iconoclasts in our own Churches than we do in the public square. Let’s clean up our house first before shouting at others from our empty sanctuaries.

  9. The old geezer sounds like one of those irascible characters we might encounter in a Flannery O’Connor novel. One might attribute his behavior to “the violent bear it away” if only we could know the rest of the story, such as the dubious possibility of acts of charity he performed with all those large bills he withdrew.

  10. My bank has the caption “Happy Holidays” on its website. (shudder)

    I think I’ll object, because they really value me.

    I owe them a whole heap of money. 😉

  11. I’m tired of panty wearing christians not man enough to stick up for their religion. In the town next to me they removed a Nativity scene from the local park, meanwhile many, many Christians are paying the majority of taxes which pays for the towns expenses, etc, plus the salaries of the bums who removed the nativity scene.

  12. Yes, Virginia, there really are “Christmas Inquisitors”.

    Seriously, if this man felt the bank was not showing the proper respect toward Christmas he had every right to take his money elsewhere, and explain to the bank why he was doing so. But does that mean he HAD to do so in the most public and obnoxious manner possible? Why not just come in, POLITELY ask to speak to the manager, and then explain his concerns, calmly and civilly, to the manager. And did he have to humiliate the teller — who isn’t responsible for creating the bank’s policy — in the process? That’s not “sticking up for your religion,” that’s just plain being a jerk and pushing people around so that you can feel important.

  13. Exactly. I have no beef with someone wanting to use a bank which shares your culture — though personally what I look for in a bank is lots of branches in convenient locations and good products with low fees. My beef is with being rude to customer service people who aren’t responsible for what annoys you anyway. (And to a lesser extent with the sheer delusion of imagining that J P Morgan Chase as an organization has any particular respect for Christianity.)

    When I had my first bank account, back at Quaker City Savings and Loan in Whittier, I remember them having a huge decorated tree — but I closed my account there as soon as I left the area to go to college, because they didn’t have branches anywhere but Whittier. I don’t see why you’d expect that kind of thing out of a national bank like Chase. (Though for the record my teller wished me a Merry Christmas in a beautiful Indian accent as I left.)

  14. We need more courageous people like him who are willing to stand up for their religion and God instead of those who are spineless, weak-kneed, silent and cowardly.

  15. Being rude to customer service people is not courageous.

    Loudly demanding that a bank be decorated to your liking is not standing up for your religion.

    I mean, seriously. I can see neither how this took courage nor how it represents standing up for God in any meaningful way.

  16. The cranky old coot wasn’t standing up for anything. If a purely secular institution doesn’t wish to observe Christmas, that is no skin off my nose. Now if a secular institution decides to observe Christmas and it comes under fire from village atheists, government or the ranks of the perpetually aggrieved, I will rally to the support of those who wish to observe Christmas. That is a far cry from tossing a hissy fit because some business is not observing Christmas. If it bothers people, the proper response is to do business elsewhere and not to conduct a childish public tirade. Some people see this fellow as a crusader, but from Darwin’s description I think he is more likely just a loosely wired crank.

  17. Teresa, I agree, but why do people have such a hard time telling the difference between being courageous and being obnoxious? Couldn’t he have stood up for his religion without being rude to the other customers –including Darwin himself, who was forced to wait for his own very important transaction to be completed, with a baby in tow who could have awakened and started crying and fussing at any time? “Afflicting the comfortable” is one thing; imposing completely unnecessary burdens on innocent bystanders who have NOTHING to do with the issue at hand is another thing entirely.

    The man in question could have waited his turn to talk to the manager, explained his actions, and if he wanted the rest of the world to know why he did what he did, wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.

  18. Sometimes this type of action is the only way to get the person or the bank to wake up and really listen to a person’s concerns. Who knows… maybe the bank had been placating his requests for awhile and this was his last stand. Regardless, I see no problem with him confronting the teller or management and complaining about the utter disrespectful or anti-Christian manner in which the bank was capitalizing in on Christmas without recognizing the reason for the season, Christ. If he didn’t take a stand in some fashion then who would?

  19. How is it disrespectful or anti-Christian for a bank to not have Christmas decorations?

    In cases where we have some organization trying to actively prevent people from putting up Christmas decorations, I am fully ready to rally to protect people’s right to celebrate Christmas. But I don’t see where one gets off saying, “I am offended that you have not voluntarily chosen to put out your own Christmas decorations.”

    As I say, one is certainly welcome to go find a bank that chooses to “celebrate” Christmas to one’s satisfaction, but I can’t see how one can be offended that they don’t choose to any more than my Jewish friends should feel offended that I don’t celebrate Hanukkah.

    Nor can I see how going around demanding that people decorate for Christmas whether they want to or not is a Christian witness, rather than just being pushy and rude.

  20. How many of us would put up with this kind of demonstration from our children? The man was well within his rights to remove his business from the bank. He was not within his rights to inconvenience others transacting business in the establishement, especially by heaping abuse on those who do not control policy. But, as Darwin’s post title alludes, his biggest infraction may be representing Christians as tantrum-throwing brats who will disrupt the legitimate business of others in order to make a point.

    Now, having said that, and noting that man in question was elderly, there are a number of things that may have led to this demonstration, most of which have nothing to do with banking or decor. While the act itself was unfortunate, both for his reputation and potentially that of Christians in the area, why he finally blew a gasket at that time and place will probably remain a mystery.

    My view of Darwin’s story is colored by my experience below:
    Some years ago, the father of one of my daughter’s softball teammates repeatedly acted boorishly at games, berating the coach for his decisions concerning both the team and his daughter. I was embarrased and annoyed by his behavior, and thought very ill of him. I learned after the season that he had terminal brain cancer, and knew that he had only that season to see his daughter play. He was desperate for her and her team to do well. While the effects of his actions were negative, when I learned of his condition, I understood what motivated him.

    I hope everyone is having a Blessed Christmas season and will enjoy a happy and prosperous New Year

  21. These people who refuse to post anything Christmas oriented are the same type of people who attack Christmas and Christianity in general. This is why applaud the man for his actions.


    Maybe, the gentleman could have handled this differently -in a friendlier manner? But, as I stated above, we do not know if he tried to handle this in a less confrontational way prior to this event or not. I would rather give a Christian man who is willing to stand up for Christ the benefit of the doubt in this situation.

  22. So let me get this straight… I’m afraid I’m missing something here. Are this man’s defenders saying that a business is in some way obligated to decorate and put up a display for Christmas?

  23. Big Tex the issue is that JP Morgan/Chase/Douwe/Cheatem/Andhow is hypocritical by demanding that branches remove Christmas decorations while having a Menorah in their HQ lobby last year. The older gent was on the right path but he didn’t communicate effectively. Still, content is what should matter over style.

    Everyone, please read the link below as it adds more info into the mix:

    Based on the link above maybe we should be discussing how we all remove our funds from this bank and focusing our energy into more effective communication to JP? Seriously, can someone please tell me how Christmas decorations are offensive? Doesn’t our government fund ‘artists’ to mock our Christian symbols? These people have us so intimidated… I thought we were supposed to be the ones constantly shooting arrows over the gates of hell… 🙂

  24. Why is it hypocritical? So they had a Menorah. It would lead me to believe those in charge or at least a good number of HQ folks were Jewish. I’m fine with that.

    Methinks people are reading too much into all this. Looking for a fight where there really is none.

  25. Well, as the resident crank, let me say that I don’t think private property owners should be compelled to display anything related to any holiday. So while I sympathize with gramps in this case, his complaint is unwarranted.

    My issue was over people who are actually offended BY Christmas – I think they’re fascist control freaks, others disagree.

  26. TemplaroftheTruth:
    If, according to the story you linked, JP Morgan had both a XMAS tree and a menorah displayed at its hq last year, why would you only note the menorah in your comment on its alleged hypocrisy?

    I agree that private property owners should not be compelled to display anything related to any holiday. Moreover, they should be allowed to display whatever they wish. Just as private citizens, including customers, employees, and shareholders, should not be compelled to remain silent if they object. The fact that we are all free to do as we wish is not an especially helpful observation in this debate. The point here is that a rather small group of Americans have succeeded in intimidating many private and public institutions into modifying their behavior by removing any reference to Christmas and especially Christ. This vocal minority is free to do so just as the remaining minority of Americans who actually view Christmas as a holy day worthy of social celebration in accordance with our traditions are free to vocalize their views.

  27. Mike, I could’ve sworn that when I first read this article it only specified a Menorah in their lobby. There is a reasonable chance this article was edited but then again perhaps this ‘Templar’ is en error. Next time I cite any internet article I’m printing out the version to my electronic files. Perhaps like the older gent I over reacted even though my heart is in the right place. Lesson learned….

  28. No worries, Templar. My understanding is that online stories are often edited, so your hypothesis is certainly possible.

    In any event, I think that the vast majority of insitutions and people who avoid mentioning Christmas in public forums mean well — they either are just following well-intended instructions or just wanting to appear inclusive. Unfortunately, this behavior is grounded in complaints asserted by a very small minority who claim to speak on behalf of many non-Christians who have no objection whatsoever to the public celebration of Christmas. I work with many Jews and a handful of Muslims, and have never heard anyone object to a Merry Christmas, etc. When years ago our firm’s Christmas party mutated into a Holiday party, I do not believe it was the result of any internal pressures from Jews, Muslims or atheists; instead it was the result of Christian partners who wanted partly wanted to express a measure of inclusiveness to the minority of non-Christians and partly wanted to signal a measure of political correctness in keeping with the times.

    Expressing anger is counter-productive. Just wish everyone a Merry Christmas and roll on! Most will respond in kind regardless the context or institution.

  29. Based on the plethora of comments and the original complaint, the only lesson one can draw from this episode is how thin-skinned people can be. Christ’s said His Kingdom is not of this world, yet his professed followers seem to think otherwise by constantly fretting about secular and often silly concerns. one sees so-called “offensive” symbols every day, on car bumpers, on T-shirts, on TV, on billboards; everywhere, in fact.

    It’s called Freedom of Speech, but it is a freedom which we would reserve to ourselves while restricting it for others. If you don’t like what you see or hear, then put on blinders or plug your ears or simply ignore it. There is an on/off switch on the remote and in our minds. No one coerces you into belief or non-belief. Any rational person can decide for his or herself what to choose. Have your say, then shake the dust off your feet and move on.

  30. The old guy sounds like a Christian Soldier who simply needs to pick his fights better. Who cares what Chase does? Their god is manna. But he is right in that what was once a Christian culture is in a death struggle with evil. Pick your fights, but do fight.

  31. Well, I own a business and we don’t have any Christmas decorations — or any other holiday decorations. It has nothing to do with political correctness. We are busy running our business and we don’t have time to decorate. My bank has a tree and ornaments.

  32. The old guy sounds like a Christian Soldier who simply needs to pick his fights better.

    Bingo, Mike – it’s about picking your battles. This wasn’t the right battle to pick.

  33. Well, the old guy could be, as Donald said, just a constant complainer who is never satisfied. But, on the other hand, he could be a generally reasonable man who has been doing a slow, silent burn over the increasingly secularization of Christmas for many years and then, one day, he enters his bank and blows a fuse. And, unfortunately, he blows off steam at someone who is not responsible for the policy.

    Who knows? I reserve judgement because a week and a half ago, I got very angry at a Whole Foods clerk who refused to sell me wine and beer because I didn’t have my driver’s license with me (I walked to the store – it’s 2 blocks away.) I was incensed at the idea of having to walk back to my place on a very cold, windy night to fetch my ID and walk back to the store to buy what I am clearly, obviously, of an age to legally buy. Wisconsin law now idiotically requires store clerks to card anyone who looks like they are under the age of 40 when they making an alcohol or tobacco purchase. I am 51. I look a bit younger than I am, but I do not flatter myself that I look 12 years younger!! Besides, even if I looked 30 or 35 – 21 is still the legal drinking age. How absurd – people who look, not 2 or 5 years, but 19 years over the legal drinking age must still provide ID! As I stomped home to get my driver’s license, I was fuming over the death of plain old common sense. I got the ID, was still livid when I returned to the store and gave the store manager an earful when I returned. He could not understand why I wasn’t feeling flattered – perhaps I might have been if it were June instead of a frigid December night – and gave me a $5 gift card to mollify me.

    The next day, I regretted my anger and apologized to the clerk. Yes, I still think it is a bone-headed law – but the clerk didn’t make the law.

  34. An interesting tangent on this discussion, perhaps for another thread, might be how often does bludgeoning work as a tactic to change hearts, versus some other means. Or, is it just that we want performance (orthopraxy) more than we want a change of heart (orthodoxy).

  35. “As I stomped home to get my driver’s license, I was fuming over the death of plain old common sense.”

    I hear you!

    Even when I have a big bushy beard I get carded once in a great while when I buy cigarettes. I once asked a clerk if he thought I had a fake beard when he carded me. He just repeated the store’s policy in monotone.

  36. Didn’t this man wait in the same line as DarwinCatholic? Didn’t he have a right to complain and take out his money? What if DarwinCatholic and his wife took extra time checking out of a retail store and complained to the clerk because the retail store didn’t have the product which he was looking for and there were people waiting in line behind DarwinCatholic would they have a right to complain and make the other people wait? Or because of the slight inconvenience, no? The bank did not have the product – Christmas display – that he wanted to be represented at HIS bank so he complained to the teller, talked to the manager, withdrew his money out and left so why is everyone giving making a big deal out of one small incident or an actual Christian witness and standing up for Jesus? Didn’t Jesus call us all to be martyrs and not stay silent? To reach outside of our comfort zones? And, yes sometimes obnoxious and courageous are the same thing, and this happens to be one of those circumstances.

    Plus, how did this attack on Christmas occur? Is it because those who attack Christmas and Jesus stayed silent? Or, is it because we stayed silent while others attacked Christmas? Did we feel the need to play nice and accommodate these people?

  37. “I once asked a clerk if he thought I had a fake beard when he carded me. He just repeated the store’s policy in monotone”

    What other choice did he have? He never knows when the owner or manager could use his failure to adhere to the policy as an excuse to fire him. Plus, local cops often run sting operations attempting to bust stores that sell alcohol or tobacco to minors. Usually, of course, they use obviously young people with no ID or patently fake ID as bait; but the ONLY way to be completely safe from getting busted in such a sting operation (which also means having the name of your store printed in the local paper or announced on the local news) is to card everyone without exception.

  38. I think he’s brilliant.

    If atheists can walk into a public institution and demand the removal of a Christmas decoration and have their way,

    then Christians should be able to walk in and demand the reverse.

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