Christmas and Culture

Over the past several years we’ve heard of numerous attempts to edge Christ out of Christmas. Some places simply shift to Santa and Snow. More recently the push has been to do away with the word altogether, settling for Winter Holidays.

While we may not be familiar with the secularization thesis from sociology, we see indications that it is at work. We even suspect that the secularization we see in our culture is not merely the inevitable consequences of urbanization, individualism and rationalism, but are the deliberate efforts of secularists – people who want to do away with God in public. (Christian Smith’s The Secular Revolution is a good place to start for more details.)

While “Happy Holidays” seems innocuous, we miss “Merry Christmas.” When we hear of retailers banning the “C-word,” we feel like we should throw it back at them. “Merry Christmas!” is what our mouths say (or growl), but sometimes our hearts are saying “Bah Humbug at your trying to dump Jesus.” If we’re going to say “Bah Humbug” about anything, it would seem that dumping Jesus would be an appropriate target.

But maybe we can look at little closer. Perhaps what we’re seeing in the retail sector is not the taking of Christ out of Christmas, but the removal of Christ from Consumerism. While the history of Christmas is rooted in Jesus – it’s his birthday, after all, the history of our celebration of Christmas is just as rooted in 19th century American culture. Retailers need to sell things – that’s how they make their living. If they’re going to sell more things, they need to create more occasions for people to buy things, even, perhaps, things they don’t actually need. I don’t know if anyone actually reasoned it out: “Jesus is all about giving. You can’t give what you don’t have. So buying is the other side of giving.” In the last couple of decades the link between Christ and Consumerism has grown to the point that “Shopping Days Until Christmas” has replaced Advent as the time of preparation. Instead of beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, this season begins with Black Friday.

Recently, however, two forces – political correctness and the expansion of “Shopping Days Until Christmas” back to Halloween or before – have served to make Christ less useful as a marketing tool. Since Jesus isn’t about marketing – about selling and acquiring stuff – maybe we can look at taking Christ out of Consumerism as a good thing.

So what about “Merry Christmas?” Ought we to say it? If your desire is to spread merriment and cheer – and even a little bit of Jesus – then wherever you think it might be received, offer it. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, when we were not at all inclined to find any joy in God, God was already taking joy in us and inviting us to turn to him. So try loving those Bah Humbuggers into Jesus style merriment this Christmas.

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3 Responses to Christmas and Culture

  1. i think you’re right.
    i’ve been ok with the separation of church and store.
    just because it is the Christmas season for us, doesn’t mean it is for everyone else. there are several other holidays in the month of December.
    and i’m quite alright with Christ’s name not being tied to hundreds of people screaming at each other about who was in line first for the Nintendo Wii.
    holiday shopping tends to not be very Christ-like.

  2. Steve says:

    Good stuff, Richard!

    Rachel and I are working on returning Christmas to the Christ. She is on the Board for ,a href=””>Alternatives for Simple Living, whose top claim to fame is Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?, which is a curriculum to help people take Christmas back from consumerism.

    She and I established last year a $30 limit on gifts for each other. It is actually much more challenging and creative to find “just the right gift or gifts” for someone you love if you are allowed to spend less.

  3. Kim says:

    Christmas hasn’t been the same for me since I discovered Santa was a game not a person. This will be the first Christmas for us where nobody in the family still believes in Santa anymore (as a person anyway). The kids still want us to leave out an unwrapped present for each of them — oh, and that includes Will, who’s 19 and lives in his own place.

    While all holidays probably are stressful, by the very nature of being out of your routine and requiring a certain amount of preparation, Christmas has become too much for me. Too much money, too much fussing, too much feasting, too much time out of my routine. i guess i’m a stick in the mud. But i just can’t get worked up over all the controversies surrounding Christmas anymore. My favorite part of Christmas is curling up in front of the fire with something hot to drink and Christmas music in the background. Add in ONE celebratory meal and ONE present for each person and I’d be happy. Yes Steve it would be harder to pick that present but it would be more fun.

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