Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Some of us never tire of puppets singing parodies of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Okay, to be precise I never tire of puppets singing parodies of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. And so...

Blessed Christmas to you!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More on the War on...


I will not name him as I do not have his permission. I am probably quoting him inaccurately anyway. The point is that this thought is not original to me. It comes from a member of my social network, a friend who has been described as "sarcastic and wise." He said,

People forget that "Happy Holidays" includes both Christmas and New Year. So when I wish someone "Happy Holidays" and they say, "No, you mean "Merry Christmas'" I tell them "Fine. Have a *****y New Year."

Yesterday Chris "The Lutheran Zephyr" Duckworth wrote a snarky blogpost about The War on Christmas in which he said:

Even though the Gospel of Luke reports that Jesus brings good news to the poor and sends the rich away empty, to fully participate in Christmas America-style, an upper-middle class income or higher is really necessary, because Christmas in America is about the gifts.  (Frankincense, gold and myrrh didn't come cheap, bucko.)  And so Christians established Christmas as a holiday that can truly be shared in its ideal form only by those who are well-off, further thrusting Christ into the center of the American yearning for wealth and material goods.

Read the entire post here, and don't miss the comments. Snark begets snark.

Today, Chris posted again. This time his words are more measured. A sample:

And so by the mid-to-late 19th century Christmas was widely celebrated in America, with a growing emphasis on gift-giving and elves, a large man in a red suit and reindeer.  Washington Irving's popular writings made celebration of the home and hearth central to our understanding of Christmas.  Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, widely read in America by the 1860s, further sentimentalized Christmas as a holiday of kindness and compassion.

This is not all bad, but it ain't Baby Jesus, either.  The imperative to care for the poor and to share gifts surely has roots in Christian tradition and teachings, and Christians should be glad that the wider culture promotes works of charity at this time of year.  But it is hard to deny that in the 19th century Christmas - the Christ Mass - was branded by a variety of cultural traditions and emphases that had less to do with explicitly religious celebrations of the birth of Christ and more to do with good cheer, generosity, and the comfort of the hearth.

Again, the entire post is worth reading. Find it here.

The detail from Giotto's fresco of the Nativity was found here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The War on Christmas: Take Two


Dr. James McGrath is a prolific, and frequently brilliant, blogger. Last Sunday, in a post titled "Christmas: The Christian War on Solstice," he wrote:

Today in my Sunday school class I decided to turn our attention to seasonal matters. Soon, the topic of being wished "Happy Holidays" as opposed to "Merry Christmas" came up. And so I took that opportunity to talk about what I consider one of the great Christmas miracles: the fact that long ago Christians managed to "hijack" the already-existing solstice festival, and turn it into a Christian celebration so thoroughly and so effectively that, more than a millennium and a half later, cultural Christians can complain about the "hijacking" or "secularization" of Christmas without any sense of irony.

Read the rest of his post here.

Meanwhile, over at the Huffington Post, Father James Martin has an article titled, "The War on Christmas is Over...And Christmas Lost." Father Martin advises:

So what's a Christian to do?

For one thing, surrender. Stop fighting. Enough with the embarrassing and endless "War on Christmas." It's embarrassing because we've lost. It's a waste of time because corporations have more financial firepower than churches, and the consumerism will only to get worse. Get ready for Santa to show up around Labor Day. (You laugh now; you won't in a few years.) Can't fight City Hall? Much less can you fight Madison Avenue -- which has more money than City Hall. Give it up.

Capitulate Christmas? Read the rest of his article here.

The Solstice Card illustration came from Dr. McGrath's site.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keep X in Xmas


My friend is a PhD now, a church consultant, but a little over a quarter century ago, she was one of my fellow students in seminary. And I remember one December when she jokingly admonished me to "Keep X in Xmas."

This was well before the talking heads had trumped up an imaginary "War on Christmas" to keep the culture warriors on alert. Back then there was only a vague concern among Christians that the celebration of Jesus' birthday was being obscured by Santa, Rudolph and Frosty. Some worried that a  cultural accretion of tinsel and sleigh bells was deafening us to the angel's announcement: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." I am all for keeping Christ in Christmas, but...

There was no "War on Christmas" then. There isn't one now.

It is time we all faced the fact that we live in a pluralistic society. No one is keeping Christians from keeping Christmas. Ours is not, however, the only religion in town. Many people of many faiths celebrate holidays around the time of the Winter Solstice. It is not an insult to wish someone, whose faith you may not know, "Happy Holidays." If you take offense at a kind wish, it only reflects badly on you.

There is a drug store in my town with a marquee sign out front. This time of year they advertise special prices on "C-MAS CARDS" and other "C-MAS" merchandise. I think I see what they are doing. The sign is only so large. An abbreviation for the word "Christmas" is useful. They are a retail establishment. Offending customers is not a wise business practice. They worry that some Christians will take umbrage if they use the abbreviation "Xmas." So they have taken the "X" out of Xmas and replaced it with "C" for "Christ."

I wonder, though, if they realize the "X" in Xmas is not the English letter "Ecks" at all. It is not a mathematical symbol. It does not signify the unknown. It is, rather, the Greek letter "Chi," the initial letter of "Christos" from which we get our word "Christ."  The cruciform letter Chi, which is written "X," has been used for centuries as an abbreviation for "Christ." The abbreviation "Xmas" is not blasphemous. It no more takes Christ out of Christmas than does the abbreviation "C-mas."

Xians who take offense at the abbreviation "Xmas" only show their ignorance of their own faith. Even if "Xmas" were an insult, taking offense would be a betrayal of the Teacher who told us to "turn the other cheek." So this year, I will be keeping "X" in Xmas. My friend was smarter than I even before she got her PhD.

Got 10 minutes? Enjoy Jon Stewart's humorous take on the "War on Christmas" here.