There’s a spectrum on which most Americans find themselves. On one side are those who are in the practice of saying “Happy Holidays” to all they encounter from Black Friday to Christmas. On the other side are those who vigorously assert the phrase “Merry Christmas” both as a greeting and form of protest to the assault on the holiday by the painfully politically correct. And of course, there is a whole range of convictions and ideologies that float between the two.
It is unfortunate that the greetings of the season have become political. In an effort to either be vaguely inclusive or rigidly true, our best intended salutations get lost in frustration. Perhaps it is this frosted tumult which has us bickering absurdly over the skin pigmentation of an illusive icon or, even more foolishly, over the ethnicity of Christ.
But because you can find bloggers chastising Fox’s Megyn Kelly throughout the web or writing paragraphs about the plausibility of Black Santa on other progressive media outlets, I’d rather take this opportunity to posit a different thought. I want to present the case for the value of celebrating secular Christmas and why we should respect those who do.
This editorial acknowledges that American culture forcibly baptizes all of its citizens into a general and ambiguous Christianity; God is on our money, in our pledges, on our memorials. It must therefore be equally acknowledged that a side effect of forcible national evangelization is the general misappropriation of a Christian Holy Day.
Wishing people “Merry Christmas” becomes a non-issue for me because I take the time to respect the secular celebration of Christmas. I accept that my friends of differing faith backgrounds will celebrate Christmas in secular ways. I invite them to take as much from Christianity as they can.
This secular Christmas celebration I’m talking about isn’t the corrosive consumerist binge fest. It’s the gathering of families and friends to share in some of the values associated with the birth of my God; faith in good will, family, forgiveness, gratitude, mercy, humility, hope. It is the communal prayer to powers unseen. It is reunion of estranged relatives and lost friends. It gives direction to the aimless. It engenders selflessness. It focuses the attention of the misery on the poor and vulnerable.
My family and I attend Church every Sunday, and though I’m not a Catholic whose principles are perfectly consistent with Church teaching, nor am I a biblical scholar or foremost thinker on issues of interreligious dialogue, I am a snapshot of the average American-Catholic growing up in a time when Advent is ground-zero in a war I’ve been told I’m a soldier in.
I protest. My faith demands it.
To my fellow imperfect practitioners of Christianity: the secular celebration of Christmas does not change Christmas for us. It won’t change the fact that I’ll be sitting with my family at the 5:00PM Christmas Vigil at St. Pius Church on December 24th. It won’t dissolve our Savior. If it could, Christ wouldn’t be much of a King, would he?
Celebrating Christmas without Christ is like drinking orange juice instead of eating an actual orange. You get the essence, but not all of the complexity and the fibers and nutrients. But, I maintain that drinking juice is better than going entirely without sustenance.
And who are we to hold the infant Jesus up as an ultimatum? To say “you will have this Child in your heart, or you will have nothing in your heart at all?” Is our faith not rich enough that we must eviscerate another human’s expression of the same intangible values?
I am an advocate of respecting secular Christmas for the non-religious because I’m called to look at everyone as Christ. In this way I welcome you into my imperfect stable of a world. The war never began. Jesus still is born, is among us, is crucified, is risen.
I pray that when America gathers next week – at tables or food pantries or in places of worship – that we all might enjoy the gifts of the Son regardless of whether we all understand Him as the original Giver.
And I wish you a very Merry Christmas.