Ask any average American, at any time of the year, what the word “Christmas” brings to mind. An honest answer will include snow, Christmas trees, lights, gifts, Santa Claus, reindeer, sleigh bells, shopping and so on. You may come across a religious type who actually mentions the birth of Jesus Christ. I would bet heavily that he or she would be in a distinct minority.
I am not a religious zealot, but even from a lay perspective, the concept of Christmas has gone so beyond the pale of its literal definition that perhaps it requires a re-definition for its own benefit. Unfortunately, we all know what Christmas has become. But we still engage in semantic and partisan battles over what one can and cannot and should and should not tie in with the holiday. Or, as we’ve collectively forgotten, the Holy Day.
December heralds in a joyful time of year, one associated with snow and fir trees and riding in sleighs with bells jingling. We have warm memories of gathering with family and friends around a dinner table or fireplace, exchanging pleasant memories and stories and gifts. This has as much to do with the frosty weather as with recognizing the end of one year and the advent of a new one. These joyous moments were historically and traditionally linked to the Holy Day of Christmas, when a trip to the local church rounded out celebrating both a Christian observance and a seasonal feeling of mutual joy and gratitude.
Then, somewhere along the way, everything went to hell.
Can someone please rationally explain to me what elbowing one another in the throes of greed-induced lunacy on Black Friday has to do with Christmas? Or how the Bumble from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer fits in the Biblical narrative of the birth of Christ? Or why the de facto hero of the Christmas story is not a newborn baby in a Bethlehem manger but a fat, hirsute old man surrounded by elves somewhere at the North Pole?
The sublime irony of this absolute disconnect is that people on opposite sides of the political correctness divide engage in silly arguments over the symbols of Christmas. Should municipal governments be prohibited from decorating their buildings with colored lights? Should we refrain from using the term “Christmas tree” in favor of “holiday tree” so as not to offend non-Christians? Find me a reference to fir trees in the Bible, please. Or icicle lights, tinsel and ornaments.
Someone back in 2009, then again in 2010 and every December since then, has spread rumors that President Obama had decreed that the White House will no longer use the term “Christmas trees,” calling them “holiday trees” instead. Aside from being made from whole cloth, these ridiculous assertions by unknown individuals (*cough* Republican Christian Right *cough*) staunchly and piously defend a symbol that has absolutely nothing to do with the Holy Day of Christmas in the first place.
So what do we do? To declare that we should “put Christ back in Christmas” would be spitting into the wind of a multi-billion dollar industry that manufactures toys, gift wrap, fruitcake and hundreds of hours of seasonal Charlie Brown and Grinch cartoons. It’s over; we lost that war over a century ago with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. I say we take the opposite tack and simply take Christ out of Christmas.
This is not a loony, atheist-inspired idea. I propose that we recognize the fact that history and reality have come to an uncrossable divide, and celebrate Christmas-the-season as a separate event from the Birth of Jesus Christ-the-Holy Day. Furthermore, renaming the latter as Nativity or something similar would recognize the true meaning of the celebration and distance it once and for all from all the commercial nonsense that associates itself with the word “Christmas.”
The benefits of this split in celebrations would be twofold: Christians would retain a Holy Day true to its religious and historical origins and customs, while the December traditions of eggnog, excessive gifting and the glorification of animated characters could now be shared with everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. After all, Santa Claus has just as much validity and meaning in Islam and Judaism as he does in Christianity: absolutely none.