Here’s an unpopular opinion, at least among some Christians: I couldn’t care less whether the cashier at the grocery store says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays” or “Have a blessed Kwanzaa” or “Sayonara senor” or “Take your receipt and get out of here, ugly” (the customary salutation at all fast food restaurants aside from Chick-fil-A) or whatever else. Just ring up my items and let me leave. That’s my primary concern.
I’m a Christian. I’m as culturally conservative as they come. But I can only roll my eyes when I hear about the so-called “War on Christmas.” Christians who have decided to fight this battle — insisting that malls and department stores sufficiently acknowledge Christmas, as if the message of the Gospel is at all advanced by a J.C. Penney cashier wearing a Santa hat — should keep four points in mind:
1) We don’t live in a Christian nation anymore.
It seems that many Christians want to be lied to. They want to live under the delusion — for a month, anyway — that America is devout and Godfearing. They feel oppressed by the lack of manger scenes and Christmas lights and Christmas greetings, seeming to forget that we lost our Christian identity years ago. We’re a country with record numbers of atheists, record numbers of empty churches, and large numbers of alleged Christians who know nothing about their faith and do not even attempt to follow its commandments or observe its precepts. Yet you want to hear “Merry Christmas”? Why? What do you think it proves? We know that we live in a godless, secular society. What is accomplished by pretending otherwise for a season?
2) If you’re upset about the “War on Christmas,” yet you do not actively practice your faith at any other time of the year, you should reassess your priorities.
Many Christians feel entitled to live in a Christmas wonderland filled with pretty lights and candy canes and stockings on the fireplace and Christmas music blaring from the overhead speakers at Walmart, even if they make no effort to actually live their faith at any other point of the year. They care deeply about preserving the fun stuff, but not much else.
I wonder: How many of the people who whine about not hearing “Merry Christmas” have even been inside a church since December 25 of last year? Yet now they are suddenly so overcome with Christian fervor that they want even Home Depot to be adorned in religious decor? They could not be bothered to go to church and sing praises to the Lord for the past 51 weeks, but now they want to hear praises to the Lord from the clerk at Sears?
Sure, there may be some devout and observant Christians who feel deeply offended by “Happy Holidays.” But I think they are few and far between, because, for one thing, serious Christians are likely to understand that “holiday” literally means “holy day.” There is nothing secular about the phrase, actually. For another, the “War on Christmas” is a battle tailor-made for people who are too lazy to fight any other battle. It’s an outrage for the non-spiritual. It’s an excuse for casual Christians to earn some easy points.
Here’s the truth we must face: the Church in America is not being killed from the outside. The secular, the non-Christian, even the Christian-haters are not destroying us. Christianity is not harmed in the slightest bit by some politically correct corporation banning Christmas decorations from its stores. Rather, the Church is collapsing because of exactly the kinds of Christians who want Christmas but not Christianity. It’s destroyed not by unbelievers who refuse to acknowledge Christmas, but by believers who only acknowledge it.
3) The ubiquitousness of Christmas only cheapens it and makes it less meaningful.
“Christmas” means “Christ’s Mass.” It is an intensely religious word with an intensely religious meaning, but that meaning has not been enhanced or more clearly understood by turning “Merry Christmas” into a rote greeting and Christmas itself into a secular and accessible celebration enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their religion. Indeed, it has had exactly the opposite effect.
If a retail store wants to wipe itself clean of Christmas decorations in an attempt to be more inclusive, good. It’s for the best. Christ is not glorified by plastic reindeer and decorative snowflakes anyway. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but it can’t be said that a store has “banned Christmas” by banning them. They have banned, rather, the commercial product loosely based on something vaguely resembling Christmas. They have, in that case, given up on trying to make Christmas “inclusive,” and gone back to being inclusive in a drab and secular way. And thank God for that. Why would we discourage them?
Ironically, the ones who wage a “War on Christmas” seem to have more respect for Christmas than many Christians have for it. They have recognized that Christmas is, in the end, a religious celebration. They have thus determined (correctly) that it is absurd to promote Christmas without affirming the religion attached to it. Because they do not affirm the religion, they do not acknowledge the holiday. In that sense, they preserve the religious significance of Christ’s Mass much more than a Christian who insists on seeing Christmas trees at the mall.
4) It’s not Christmas yet.
Christmas starts on December 25. We are currently in the season of Advent. If you want to be a stickler about holiday greetings, you should probably use the right one. “Have a blessed Advent” is the technically correct phrase for this time of year. That’s what we should be saying to each other. But I still don’t expect to hear it from the girl working the cash register at Burger King.