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Opinion: Columnists

War on Christmas: Let secular culture have a 'happy holiday' while Christians have a merry Christmas

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Opinion,Timothy P. Carney,Columnists,Freedom of Religion,Religion,Holidays

Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays — whichever you prefer.

On this anniversary of the birth of our Lord, it may be time to retrench in the War on Christmas.

You see, Christians have two complaints about how our culture approaches Christmas: (1) Calling it “Christmas” is becoming verboten; and (2) Christmas is becoming secularized, stripped of its true significance. Here’s the good news: Those two problems might solve one another.

The “War on Christmas” is perennial cable news fodder, not only for conservative Christians in search of grievances, but just as much for liberals looking to mock conservative Christians. (More MSNBC shows than Fox News shows discussed the “war on Christmas” in the two weeks leading up to Dec. 25 this year, according to my search on Nexis.)

Conservative “War on Christmas” grousing includes some legitimate complaints about absurd political correctness — like a Nevada school district prohibiting its teachers from saying “Merry Christmas.”

Mostly this “War on Christmas” shows up in simply silly ways, like a Thomas the Tank Engine episode in which the trains, after locating a sought-after Fraser Fir tree, revel “Happy Winter Holiday!” and “What a lovely Winter Holiday surprise!”

Target and Home Depot, meanwhile, issue “Seasons Greetings” and implore you buy “holiday gifts” long after Hanukkah has ended.

At most, these “offenses” deserve an eye roll. But maybe Christians ought to welcome these linguistic twists and turns.

Consider the other prominent worry about 21st century Christmas in America: that Christmas is becoming secularized and commercialized, and turned into a stressful season that fosters avarice, envy and brawls at the mall.

Even some of this concern is overblown, from a Christian perspective. If we’re celebrating the birth of our savior, we’re celebrating the wholly undeserved gift of salvation. It’s fitting to celebrate it with abundance.

The Queen of England wishes her subjects “Happy Christmas” rather than “Merry Christmas,” Matthew Schmitz writes in the Catholic journal First Things, because “merry” suggest excess, over-exuberance and even intoxication. The Queen may have inherited this concern from 17th-century “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth” Oliver Cromwell, who cancelled Christmas because it flouted Puritanical austerity.

Cromwell notwithstanding, there is a good case to be made that our culture’s celebration of Christmas is too materialistic and too secular. Too much Santa and Rudolph for my taste and too little Mary and Jesus.

But this is how the two problems can solve one another. Various forces in Western culture — media, government, the growing non-Christian segment of the population — have created a new holiday. It’s a perfectly lovely secular holiday about good things like visiting family, giving gifts, sipping hot chocolate and wearing pajamas. Let them have that, and let them call it “Holiday” or whatever they want to call it.

The stores can have their “Holiday sales” and government schools can have their “Holiday concerts.” If the sales and concerts aren’t about Christ, Christians shouldn’t complain that they aren’t called “Christmas” events.

You don’t hear Jewish people grousing that the rest of society tramples on Passover by talking about Easter. They understand that Christians have changed the meaning of that season for them. Similarly, secular American culture has taken the celebration of Christ’s birth and turned it into a different holiday. Maybe Christians ought to let them do that and leave Christmas to Christians.

Imagine that: “Holiday” becomes the name for a secular celebration that keeps some of the trappings of Christmas, but “Christmas” becomes the name for a religious celebration about Christ.

Separating the “Holiday” from the Holy Day can unearth a Christian tradition largely forgotten today: the season of Advent. Thanksgiving to Christmas is not “Christmas,” in the liturgical calendar Catholics, Lutherans and Orthodox Christians follow. The four weeks before Christmas Day are “Advent.”

Advent is a somewhat somber season of contemplation. Catholics are prodded a bit harder to go to Confession during Advent, and violet — a penitential color — is the color of Advent.

Christmas in the Church calendar begins on Christmas Day and lasts for 12 days.

While the secular world kicks off “Holiday” after Thanksgiving, Christians could retreat a bit into Advent. And when everyone else crashes on the evening of the 25th, Christians would just be getting started in celebrating the astounding truth of Christmas.

There’s no reason both of these holidays can’t coexist. American Christians can even celebrate both.

So, dear readers of all stripes: May your “Holiday” be Happy. And may your Christmas be Merry.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.
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