Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday have come and gone, the Christmas season is in high gear.  And so is the battle over Christmas.  I have already received emails asking me to support causes combatting those pesky atheists and/or civil libertarians who want to take religion out of the holiday season.  Christians are voicing their objection about advertisers and store clerks substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas.”  Some small town will once again make national news when they are ordered by the court to remove a manger scene from the courthouse lawn or drop a third-grade Christmas pageant.  “Keep Christ in Christmas” will be the battle cry among the Christian faithful who even criticized George Bush last year for leaving Christ out of the White House Christmas card.  Meanwhile, others will continue efforts to remove Christian symbols, stories, and songs from public celebrations and displays.  Some of these efforts are out of respect for people of other faiths, many of whom also have their own religious holidays at this time of year.  Others stand on the principle of separation of church and state.  The battle is on between those who want to keep Christ either in or out of the holidays.

The problem is we are trying to celebrate two different holidays.  They coincide on the calendar and go by the same name, “Christmas.”  One holiday is the religious celebration of Christmas which commemorates the birth of Jesus.  Advent, a four-week period preceding Christmas, promotes spiritual preparation for the day of celebration.  However, the religious celebration of Christmas has little or nothing to do with the other concurrent holiday, the commercial and cultural Christmas.  This holiday is, well, commercial and cultural.  The focus is on buying, giving, and getting.  Our nation’s economic well-being, as well as the survival of some of our largest retailers, hinge on whether or not the public spends heavily during this season  This year’s spending is projected to be about $900 per person.  Christmas is also cultural, transcending national and even religious boundaries.  Many songs of the season warm our hearts but have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  Family rituals and gatherings serve as anchors in our personal histories, but again, many such gatherings have no basis in the religious celebration.

So how do we resolve this battle over Christmas?  Shall we try to merge the two celebrations, to make the commercial Christmas more religious or visa versa?  Shall we separate them even more?  I think the latter would serve us all better.  Christians should do everything in their power to make Advent and Christmas a truly sacred season that is unique to their spiritual heritage.  Christians should not look to the government to support their celebration of Christmas.  That’s not the job of government.  Retail stores should not be expected to support the religious holiday.  They are not in business for that purpose.  When Christians more clearly distinguish the religious holiday from the commercial one, we can craft sacred events and rituals that remind us of the humble and frightening beginnings of our faith.  Then, if we want to join others in celebrating the cultural and commercial holiday season, we can do so with great joy.  We can join the predawn stampedes on Black Friday, we can shop ‘til we drop, and we can wish everyone “Happy Holidays,” because we are addressing the weightier spiritual matters in our own way.

Merry Christmas AND Happy Holidays!

Printed in the Abilene Reporter News, Sunday, December 2, 2007