It’s that time of the year when we hear the usual Grinch’s grousing about the commercialization of Christmas. They complain that stores put their Christmas decorations up way too soon, even before Thanksgiving. Some Christians are disturbed that the religiosity of Christmas is overridden by Santa Claus and the gift-giving. On the other hand, some non-Christians resent the exceptional treatment Christians get for Christmas compared to their respective holidays. Atheists argue that nativity scenes in public places violate the Constitution’s separation of Church and state. Public schools have dropped the word “Christmas” and replaced it with euphemisms like “winter festival” for their seasonal events. Not wanting to offend anyone, many stores and companies call it the “holiday season” instead. And a lot of just plain folks feel pressured to replace the specific greeting “Merry Christmas” with the generalized “Happy Holidays.”
Not I. It’s still Merry Christmas for me and I’m not a Christian. But I’ve always loved the Christmas season, its spirit, sights, smells, food, fellowship, parties, the family gatherings, the exchanging of gifts ─ especially, that part, when I was a kid. And the music; Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” Brenda Lee “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Silent Night,” and “Handel’s Messiah.”
As I see it, Christmas has long had two dimensions. One secular and the other religious, and they’ve peacefully coexisted, even overlapped for centuries. Some people celebrate Santa Claus Christmas, some Jesus Christ Christmas and most people in this country celebrate both. It’s understandable that devout Christians may want to focus on and protect the religious identity of the holiday from the commercialization, but I suspect most 6-year-old Christian kids go to bed on Christmas Eve eagerly awaiting Santa’s arrival. And they don’t leave a glass of milk and cookies for Jesus.
Long before the birth of Christ, pagans celebrated the winter solstice at this time of year (after they discovered that daylight made its annual comeback then) with Christmas trees they obviously called something else. Not to be left out, Christians came to strategically schedule the celebration of Christ’s birth as a competitive event on an arbitrary date around the same time. Jesus surely never said “Merry Christmas” around his birthday and it certainly wasn’t an official government holiday in his day. Jesus’ precise date of birth probably wasn’t December 25 in the year zero since the Hebrew calendar started about 3,000 years earlier.
Retailers clearly market Santa Claus Christmas. Their decorations and window displays invariably feature Santa, the elves, Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman. Kids don’t line up in department stores to sit on Jesus’ lap.
There’s no need to euphemize Christmas. Hanukah comes at about the same time, but it’s not a legal holiday and Jews make up only about two percent of the population. If Hanukkah were celebrated in July it would fly under the general public radar just as Purim does. Kwanzaa? Come on. That was the fabrication of Ron Karenga, a violent felon and Marxist black supremacist who, in 1966, pulled the holiday out of thin air because he believed Christmas was too white. (Perhaps he thought Bing Crosby was singing about race not snow in “White Christmas.”) The vast majority of American blacks are Christians and celebrate Christmas along with everyone else. The same goes for Latinos. (In the spirit of the season, I can even forgive Jose Feliciano for the maddeningly repetitive lyrics of “Feliz Navidad.”)
Christmas isn’t going to be attacked anytime soon by the federal government as an offense to the First Amendment as long as government employees and the rest of us get the day off as a legal holiday. And I don’t see many people turning down their Christmas bonuses. Sure some people may exploit it. Like the apocryphal story of the letter carrier who left a Christmas card in someone’s mail box and followed up with a not very subtle second card a week later that read: “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Bob, your mailman. This is your second notice.”
The vast majority of the 320 million people in this nation are just fine with saying “Merry Christmas.” Even a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge exclaimed it from his window on Christmas Day after his education on Christmas Eve. It’s been Merry Christmas for centuries. How in the world have we been bullied by the PC police into being defensive about it? Let’s restore Merry Christmas to its rightful place this season. Shout it out! No one will arrest you.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.