Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why I don't care if "Christmas" appears at Wal-Mart

A friend and soon-to-be blogger and I have been trading arguments about the "Christmas" controversy, basically whether Christians should get in a twist about whether retail ads and public displays at this time of year should explicitly mention "the real reason for the season." Of course, since "Christmas" is over for most, this may seem too late. But I'll remind you Catholics out there that Christmas has just begun, and goes until the feast of the Lord's baptism, Jan. 9, this year.

You may want to read his side first; it's posted as a comment to this entry. Just click on the "comment" link below:

1. It's said that 95% of Americans celebrate "Christmas"--I put the quotes deliberately. What are they really celebrating. I hate to say it, but I think a healthy chunk are celebrating the secular winter holiday that coincides with the Christian feast of the birth of the Lord. Think of all the pop culture Christmas icons: the movies (Miracle on 34th St., Wonderful Life, The Bells of St. Mary's), none of which have overtly Christian-Christmas references--even the one about the priest and the nun!; the TV shows are the same (Rudolph, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, the Grinch, Charlie Brown); the decorations (trees, lights, stars)--none of them explicitly religious, all of them have non-Christian winter festival roots. And I'm not convinced that a plastic light-up nativity is really a "religious" symbol, but I could be persuaded.

I guess what I'm saying is that there are two simultaneous "holiday" celebrations: the secular (T-giving to New Years) and the religious (Christmas, only one day, or for us liturgical types, Christmas extending to Epiphany or so).

2. The ACLU: I doubt there have been any lawsuits regarding retailers use of "Christmas" in advertising; retailers can do what they want, and what they want is the most sales, and I'd be willing to bet there is market research that indicates "holiday" sells better than "Christmas" (or Hanukah or Kwaanza or Diwali for that matter). No retailer is going to get "sued" for using "Christmas"; they might just lose business. There can be no legal "war on Christmas" in the marketplace.

As for public buildings, I imagine the ACLU has opposed explicitly religious displays, and I'd say rightly so, unless the public buildings in the south suburbs of Chicago, for example--with large Hindu and Muslim populations--are also going to use public or private money to decorate those buildings for Diwali (Hindu) and Eid al-Fit'r, al-Adha (coming up), and the Prophet's birthday (Muslim). It may be majority rule, but it is also minority rights, and I think a public display of the "majority's" religious symbols is problematic unless it is totally, and I mean totally, balanced by anyone else's--and that mean Wicca, like it or not. That's why I go with none.

For instance, the ubiquitous "God bless America" on public buildings: How would most evangelical Christians feel if it said "Allah bless America," or even better, "Vishnu bless America"? "God" may be common English for the deity, but I'd argue it's basically Jewish and Christian. And I bet there'd be hell to pay from religious right if "Allah bless America" appeared in Patterson, NJ, or the suburbs of Detroit, where there are majority Muslim populations.

3. I think the real problem is that Christians have spent more time trying to defend privileged status for our holidays, texts (10 Commandments), etc., than trying to truly distinguish our "holy day" from the secular "holiday." After all, the pagan celebrations, which I think our secular one descends from, predates Christmas by centuries.

If Christians tried publicly--in the appropriate forums like newspapers, church and private property, other media, etc.--to really distinguish the celebration of Christ's birth from "the holidays" we might actually affect the secular celebration as well--which means we'd consume less, serve more. Instead, too often we choose culture war over evangelization.


At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Robert J. Moynihan said...

I have taken some liberal ire this *holiday* season with my stand. One reporter called me a "True Believer who wants to insinuate my religion into every corner of the planet" while another lumped me with Falwell and O'Reilly, then apologized if she had been offensive. I told her that I thought Falwell and O'Reilly might want an apology. To be in the same corner with people I normally disagree with either says I am nuts or that they may be right. (Even a broken clock is right twice a day.) Anyway, I would rule out neither possibility. But I see two issues that are related only in that they involve the same thing.

1. Retailers using holiday language instead of Christmas in ads, employee interaction with customers, etc. I agree with Falsani who says this probably came about as a result of a retailer somewhere fearing a lawsuit or offense from a non-Christian, made the holiday season generic, this spread to retailers generally and they got what they never expected--a backlash from (some) Christians.

I get the part that says they are trying to be sensitive to all. But consider this. Walk down the toothpaste aisle of any store. What do you see? Twenty different kinds of toothpaste. Why? Because there are (apparently) constituents for each of these brands and variations. When it comes to the winter holiday season, 84% of the people use the same brand of toothpaste and another 11% buy that brand even though its not their favorite. What other decisions do retailers make that cater only to 5% of their clients?

2. The other issue has to do with the removal of Christmas language or images from the public square. One issue has to do with chambers of commerce hanging Happy Holidays banners where Merry Christmas ones used to hang. Others have to do with municipalities removing the creche and replacing it with Santa and a reindeer. I asked one mayor why they did that. He told me they did it just to be cautious, removing the possibility of offense or litigation. In another town, I went to a holiday program at the public library which had elements of Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas represented. The explanation of Christmas is that it is a gift giving, family embracing, Santa down the chimney and cookie leaving festival. The songs for the Christmas portion were Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I asked the library director why the real meaning of Christmas was not mentioned. He said they were afraid of offending non-Christians. An African American woman was leaving the library when a now suspended library employee said to her, "I guess I should wish you a Happy Kwanzaa." The lady replied, "Kwanzaa my ass. I am not from Africa. I was born in Racine. I am a Christian. I am a Baptist. I celebrate Christmas."

I am not really sure what's going on here whether there really is an ACLU plot to destroy Christmas or whether political correctness has touched a third rail. Another one of my snarly bumper sticker theological positions: THE DIVERSITY TRAIN HAS TO RUN BOTH WAYS OR ELSE I'M NOT BUYING A TICKET.


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