christmas wars

For a holiday season that promotes peace and goodwill for all, Christmas has become a magnet for religious and cultural battles. And the fighting seems to intensify each year.

Here’s a story that is causing quite a discussion in a nearby town. A woman was paying for her purchases at a grocery till, when the clerk wished her a “Happy Holiday!” Furious, the customer dove into a rant about it being Christmas, not some generic holiday. Finally, she left her purchases on the counter and left in a huff.

Christmas cards from politicians are judged and scrutinized. What does the greeting say? Is Christmas mentioned? Is God?

Joyless emails land in my inbox, bemoaning the fact that we need to “Put Christ back in Christmas.” They predict dire consequences if we don’t stand up and fight against the secular demons.

I read a blog post written by a Catholic mother who describes the present reality as “spiritual warfare.” It is our duty to stand up and fight to keep Christianity at the forefront of Christmas. And, we must teach our children to do the same.

Meanwhile, many families of other faith traditions struggle with the big Christmas question. A Jewish Christmas? Some say “Oy Tannenbaum”, over at the National Catholic Reporter, describes various approaches by Jews in North America. Some try to assimilate the secular holiday of good cheer. Others feel that any assimilation is a threat to their own faith.

The debates and battles that occur along the sacred-secular divide make me cringe. First of all, it’s the level of intolerance on both sides of the ideological wall. As Christians, we have the freedom and right to religious observances; as do all faiths. For us, Christmas is not merely a sentimental holiday focused on stars and stables and babes in mangers. It is the Feast Day celebrating the Incarnation; God taking on flesh and becoming one of us. Mean-spirited trashing of our beliefs is not only hurtful; it smells of religious intolerance and even hatred.

As Christians, we have to acknowledge that we live in a diverse society. Unless we choose a ghettoized existence, we will be rubbing shoulders with women and men of different faiths, and no faith. This gives us graced opportunities for dialogue across religious and cultural divides. But, the best way to ensure that the conversation train never leaves the station is to walk along the tracks with a big sign stating that you and your beliefs, alone, are right.

Along with the intolerance on all sides, I am fed up with the demonization of all that is secular. Yes, it is a struggle to keep a spiritual focus amidst the busyness of Christmas preparations. But, generosity and giving is at the heart of Christianity. Charities know this, and are the happy recipients at this time of the year. Buying a thoughtful present for someone nudges us to look more deeply into their hearts and desires. Feasting and merriment celebrates the gift of family and friends. What’s un-Christian about that?

To all who want to turn Christmas into a battle-ground…give it a rest! If you want to speak of “spiritual warfare”, take a look at the real issues around you; poverty, injustice, inequality, violence, etc. Wish me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday. A greeting of good cheer is always welcome.

Here’s to keeping the Peace and Joy in Christmas!