A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Any Old Atheist Can Celebrate Christmas

Every Christmas season we endure the "holiday wars." Should sales clerks say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas?" Should Christmas trees on public property be called "holiday trees?" Should schools have Christmas break or winter break? I could give more examples, but you know where I am going here.

Each year both sides in this "war" get all bent out of shape in attempting to control the language of the season, because in any argument terminology does make all the difference. Frankly, I think both sides are a little silly. Those who want to change the language of the holiday forget the elephant that is in the room. They can call it a holiday tree if they want, but the only reason that it is standing in the rotunda of the capitol is because it is Christmas. A sales clerk can wish me a happy holiday, but the only reason I am standing in line having purchased things for people they really do not need is because it is Christmas. The public schools can refer to it as winter break all they want, but no one is off school because it is cold and snowy outside.

Those on the other side of this debate have no trouble showing their Grinch side just as much as their opponents. Who really cares whether someone says, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"? Why do they respond in anger over the renaming of the tree on public square as a holiday tree? Why not shake one's head and chuckle instead? Why have an emotional meltdown over school children being let out of school supposedly for winter break. Who goes around wishing other people a happy winter anyway? Why are there Christians so worried about who says what to whom about this season? Is their celebration of Christmas dependent upon the type of celebration, or the lack thereof, of the holiday season?

Perhaps Christians should ask a deeper question in the midst of the "holiday wars." How have we celebrated Christmas over these many, many years that our society even debates what to call it and how to refer to it? Some say, it is because we live in a diverse society and not everybody embraces Christianity. This may indeed be part of it, but frankly I believe it plays a small part. Rather, I think the problem is that our celebration of Christmas often does not look very Christian, which is proven beyond all reasonable doubt when there are people who truly believe that Santa Claus is a Christian symbol.

We celebrate the self-giving of God in Jesus Christ with Black Friday deals where people push and shove and use saving money as an excuse to enshrine greed into the celebration. That is not a Christian argument; it is turning the celebration of Christmas itself into just one more commodity to be exploited. Indeed, the commodification of Christmas has made it not only possible, but easy for anyone to participate in the celebration of the season. No thought is necessary as to what it means to worship God in the knowledge that the Creator of all that is has come into our existence in the frailty of human flesh in order to save humanity. And while there are vestiges of this truth all around on display during the Christmas season, they frankly take a back seat to what Christmas is truly about in our culture-- a time of greed and financial over-extension, of gluttony and an excuse to drink too much.

The truth of the matter is that any old atheist can celebrate Christmas. Why then are we surprised when those who have no vested interest in the Christian faith, but who do have a stake in the celebration of Christmas, want to change all the traditional vocabulary of the season? We Christians have created the issue that angers so many Christians.

I am not a Grinch when it comes to the celebration of Christmas. I enjoy the season as much as everyone else; neither do I care if those who are not particularly religious celebrate as well. Why not? The more the merrier, as they say. But I have no stake in remaking the language of the season because I find those who want to do so to be silly. I can call my car a horse if the word car offends me. That doesn't change the reality of what it is.

By the same token I have no interest in taking on the politically correct language police. Let them play their language games all they want. I find those who want to lead the offensive against those who have supposedly declared war on Christmas to be just as silly. I have better things to do with my time then insisting people describe gaudy, inflatable decorations on the town square with the word "Christmas."

I hope all who read this post have a happy holiday and... uh... a merry Christmas as well.

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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Robert Cornwall said...

I could care less how I'm greeted at Walmart -- as long as I'm greeted! And Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings have been acceptable alternatives for as long as I can remember. Oh, and remember that the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas because it was Catholic!

I am concerned that by raising a stink these Christian defenders have cast the one they seek to defend in a poor light. By demanding one's "rights" in this matter, they suggest that Jesus is petty and jealous.

If you want to put Christ back into Christmas, then pay attention to his life and his teachings! There are bigger issues out there than what one calls a tree. So, while you may find both sides silly, I find the "Christian" side just plain sad!!!!

Allan R. Bevere said...

Actually, Bob, I find both sides to be sad. "There are bigger issues out there than what one calls a tree." That is a word to Grinches on both sides.

PamBG said...

I don't think I've ever had anyone get angry at me for saying "Merry Christmas" (or "Happy Christmas" in the UK).

I honestly think that most people pick up on a kind wish that is kindly meant. And, frankly, if someone wanted to pick a fight over it, I would just think that they were a bit sad.

Allan R. Bevere said...


For some reason we only deal with this nonsense in the U.S.

PamBG said...

No, your post is actually quite pertinent to UK culture and to UK Christianity as well.

Olive Morgan said...

Pam's right. Your post is just as applicable in the UK.

"I can call my car a horse if the word car offends me." I know a Minister who calls her car her 'golden galleon'!

Angela Shier-Jones said...

Pam is right - it's a debated issue here in the UK too.
I agree with Alan on this - what language we use is a red-herring (as we say here!)
Christianity hijacked a pagan festival - the wise men knew that there will always be a need for people to holiday and rejoice around this time of the year..(darkest night and all that)
We can hardly complain about the holiday being hijacked back - especially when we have made so little use of it ourselves!

The celebration of Christ's mass - regardless of how it is called - is open to all (for God so loved the WORLD)
It can be a confirming AND a CONVERTING ordinance/holiday. It is not 'OURS!' to own or dictate - the sheer arrogance explains the failure of such 'evangelism.'

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks to all of you for clarifying the situation in the UK.

I just find it amazing that people on both sides of this thing have nothing better to do with their time than to argue over what the decorated tree on the courthouse lawn is called.

I have more pressing matters to deal with in my life.

John B said...


I love your title. Christmas as Americans know it and the celebration of birth the Son of God are two very different things. American Christian need to look at the log in their own eye and forget about the splinter in Wal Mart's.

Allan R. Bevere said...

John, Absolutely... Christians bemoan the excesses of the holiday, but have forgotten, or don't realize, that we have created them.

expatminister said...

If I had read your piece first, Allan, I would simply have linked to it rather than write my own rant *sheepish grin*

You are much more even-handed than I am, which is a good thing. It seems like adiaphora to me (argued in a mean-spirited and theologically empty manner) on the one hand...and an abject refusal to acknowledge the role faith has in shaping culture and habits on the other. Thanks for broadening my perspective.

(And I did think about all my British friends and if there was a hoopla over "Happy Christmas." It seems like this wasn't an issue when I was there in 05-06.)

Ted M. Gossard said...

I think Christmas is just a huge part of the American tradition, period. The question for me becomes just how do we Christians celebrate it (of course a few don't). Like Eugene Peterson says in "The Jesus Way," it all too often amounts to we Christians saying "in Jesus' name," and proceeding to live the American way, rather than the Jesus way.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Josh, Thanks for your comments. Actually, I think most people do not care about the pc hoopla, regardless of their religious convictions or the lack thereof. They simply want to enjoy the holiday. There are only a few loud-mouthed Grinches out there creating a problem for everybody.

Ted, it is a huge part of the American tradition, which means it isn't going anywhere soon.

JulianC said...

I'm a Canadian from Montreal, Quebec. I am also an Atheist but my family and I celebrate christmas. I think christmas has evolved into it's own significance to each individual. For my family it's just another time to get together and eat a huge delicious dinner and exchange presents we get for each other :D There is so much of this politically correct nonsense in Quebec it's hard to deal with... Why does it always seem like people are incapable of being content with their own lives unless they try to controll everyone elses? There are language police in Quebec, and I've had to deal with them the hard way. I used to work at Tim Horton's and i was on the drive through one night. The standard greeting on any given day is "Bonjour, Hi" (because of the 2 official languages), but instead I said "Hi, bonjour". English being my first language, it just naturally came first, and they fined me 250$ out of my own pocket because i spoke english first rather than french. The signs are also (BY LAW) at least 2x bigger in french than in english.. We are almost in the year 2010, and this is where we have gotten? If you don't call this blatent RACISM, then I don't know what to think of society anymore...