The old Christmas standard by Andy Williams opens with this melodic phrase: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Ah yes. Time for holiday parties, Christmas shopping, tree trimming, home decorating, present opening, and the onslaught of Christmas advertising that literally envelops us during this season. It’s also the time when the annual, inevitable, and cyclical cries of ‘foul’ erupt concerning the War on Christmas. When some people of faith hunker down to protect this much-maligned holiday against all comers. With the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the defenders of tradition, preservation, and Merry Christmas ‘nationalism’ now have a loud and angry voice on their behalf. Leading the charge from the bunkers. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
The War on Christmas is a tired, but surprisingly resilient, mantra. The use of this term isn’t new or unique to the Trump Presidency by any means. In fact, we’ve lived with tensions around this holiday for literally hundreds of years. The controversy over Christmas in the U.S. dates back to the 17th Century, when Puritan settlers here openly disapproved of the annual Christmas celebration. They argued that it fostered ungodly, wasteful, and morally questionable human behaviors—drawing far too heavily on pagan seasonal celebration practices from more ancient times. Since then, Christmas supporters have battled back against this Puritan view. And they’ve bemoaned the encroachment of secular society on our Christian heritage. They’ve argued strenuously that ‘Happy Holidays’ is a cancer of political correctness in our language. That the War on Christmas is symptomatic of a deeper fight: of Christians against the rising forces of multiculturalism in our country. A war to preserve the very Christian core of our country’s founding values, principles, and practices. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
Apart from a wide range of social, historical, and Constitutional problems with these arguments, the War on Christmas underscores some deeper, human spiritual issues that cut to the core of the holiday itself. When we see Christmas as something under attack, it becomes a religious or cultural ‘thing’ that we have to preserve and protect at all costs. In turn, this separates us from others who simply believe otherwise. And, in the process, the ideas that are supposed to surround Christmas (peace, good will, and the embodiment of Divine love amongst us) become subsumed and displaced by an ungodly ‘us versus them’ mentality. Perhaps even worse, Christmas becomes a happening, an event, and an interlude. An annual pause and a temporary interjection into our ‘real’ lives. A cease-fire or brief truce of sorts. An Olympic-like flame that we extinguish sometime after the New Year… when we resolve to return to our secular reality. But perhaps most egregious of all, Christmas becomes too easily co-opted, highjacked, and commoditized for someone else’s benefit. The holiday ends up as simply another excuse for disingenuous commercial manipulation in the service of selling products to us. When all these things transpire, we become victims of our own making, I’m afraid. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
So however you ‘slice it’, the War on Christmas is a mess. And a misnomer at that. But what if we could make it go away? And look inwardly to our very souls. Where we’d find that the war isn’t on Christmas, but Within Christmas itself. And that, within the ‘within’, there’s a way out of this mess. In this regard, here are some things to consider. First, we can start by viewing Christmas not primarily as an event or a thing, but rather as a Grand Idea. An overarching notion of shared, universal spiritual principles such as peace, compassion, love, and grace. A sign, if you will, of a new birth and a new start for all of us. A ‘reset’ of sorts. An opportunity to awaken our senses, our hearts, and our very souls. The re-kindling of our childlike wonder and curiosity. A chance to somehow make things better on God’s earth. Together and with others. If we were to make this shift, Christmas would transcend the actual day in new, powerful, ongoing, and transformational ways. Barriers might topple. Bridges might be built. We could evacuate our reinforced bunkers. And the real meaning of Christmas might actually thrive for a change.
Second, we, as Christians, can refocus our attention. Not onto Christmas itself, but on Advent. In the rush and lead-up to Christmas, it’s easy to forget the spiritual significance of Advent. Perhaps this is the real holiday to celebrate. For Advent is a time of reflection, remembering, soul searching, fasting, waiting, and preparation. It’s a meditative time of contemplating ‘God with Us’. The three comings of Christ: in the flesh at Bethlehem as a baby, in our hearts today, and in Christ’s ultimate return someday when God’s loving, full, and completed possibility for us is achieved. If we’d go down this Advent path, we’d be less stressed out, far less angry, and a lot less saddled with a year-end credit card debt hangover. We’d reorient our priorities. And relish in the free, abundant joy of all that Advent truly means. To our human ‘being’ and spirituality.
Third, and finally, we can save Christmas by actually recapturing some of the historically seasonal elements of the Winter Solstice—the ‘pagan’ holiday coopted by Christians. Perhaps not all of these elements. But the parts that best reflect the very sacred nature of our earth and its seasons. Winter is a time to slow down and ‘come inside’. To ‘warm up’. To ‘rest’. To enjoy and savor the things that we’ve already harvested and stored away. To practice gratitude and thanksgiving for the bounty of our many blessings. To turn inward toward our hearts and souls for a change. To think ahead reflectively to the New Year before us. To quietly await the promise of new life in the Spring. How ironic and sad that the Christmas holiday, as most of us celebrate it now, is the very antithesis of this idea.
Now, to be clear, I’m not against engaging in and enjoying Christmas. And I’m certainly not proposing that we become the Grinch or a Scrooge. No ‘Bah Humbugs’ here. But I am suggesting that we open our hearts to the real and profound import of the holiday. That we ‘stand down’ in the ‘Trumped-up’ War On Christmas. That, as people of Christian faith, we put our religious weapons of fear, protectionism, and loathing away for good. And acknowledge that the real War is Within Christmas. And, in turn, within our own respective spiritual souls. Souls that cry out to make Christmas a truly wonderful, simple, and sacred time. Not only on Christmas Day itself. And not as some ritual, event, or decoration on a tree. But as a living, breathing, lasting, and universally loving reminder of who we can become as God’s people. All year long and wonderfully so.