Since I’ve somehow found myself spending most of last week talking about the Christmas season, it feels like I should probably spend a second or two talking about the whole “reason for the season” aspect of it all, even if we’re already outside of the actual Christmas week thing.
While walking in a Christmas parade a couple weeks ago with my two boys as a part of the Cub Scouts float, my youngest noticed a sign talking about X-mas and asked me what that was all about. My response was a big smile and, “Well, actually, there’s a very long and boring explanation I have for you about all that.” I doubt I made it as far as the usage of Greek letters working as a substitute for Christ before he was long out of the conversation, but it got me to thinking, in general, about this whole holiday we consider religious.
In the 90’s, at least here in America, there was a push to make our holiday celebrations more inclusive by saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. And look, I love inclusivity. But…I’m of the opinion that the only reason that we really had this push appear is because of how exclusive Christians try to make Christmas. Which is, of course, an interesting perspective, considering the history of the holiday itself. Because what we now consider as Christmas was once the winter solstice festival, a very secular holiday celebrating, well, the winter solstice. One could say, then, that Christians have actually been working on shoving Christ into Christmas ever since Christmas was a thing.
Christmas itself is such an odd mess of religious traditions mixed with the secular. Saint Nicholas, an actual, you know, Christian saint and real existing (albeit long-dead) person, has been transformed into this magical elf who gives out presents. The story of Jesus’ birth has been interspersed with this message of presents and family and honestly, it’s pretty easy to question how everything we consider an important part of Christmas is really part of a religious holiday. I’ve certainly spent a not-insignificant amount of time trying to figure it all out. Like Easter, we have a celebration of the life of Jesus that even the most religious of us wind up being unable to keep separate from the secular pieces.
How can you possibly celebrate Jesus’ resurrection without an egg hunt? Or Jesus’ birthday without putting a dead tree in your living room?
These traditions, which may have some connection to religiosity if you look hard enough, really do nothing but distract from the religious messaging that’s supposed to be center, according to the “Keep Christ in Christmas” folks. But, then again, that message itself forgets the entire history of X-mas being a way of shoving Christ into Christmas in the first place.
While Christians have been using Christmas as a way of excluding others from the traditions of this holiday for years, it seems to me like it could be a time of great inclusion, where we recognize that the message of Jesus is already there and doesn’t need to be crammed down throats any further than to just remind people that they’re celebrating a day the Christians have decided is also a day for celebrating the birth of their Messiah.
Or maybe other groups should just get a little more aggressive in their marketing for their faith. “Put the Menorah back in Hannukah?” or “Put the Harvest back in Kwanzaa?” I’ll be honest, that one might be offensive…I’m not sure. I mean, actually, I like that Kwanzaa uses a bunch of harvest festival traditions in the middle of winter. It’s like celebrating the birth of a kid who was actually believed to have been born during the harvest season. It’s almost like the whole Bogarting of holidays has come full circle.
So, maybe we really should say Happy Holidays, because these days, who knows what holiday we’re actually celebrating ourselves? Just put some presents under the tree and hope your friends and family come to dinner with limited political discussions and no COVID and call it a day.