I've been hearing about something called the "War on Christmas" but hadn't really paid a lot of attention to it. Finally that caught up with me when I read an article by Diana Butler Bass, one of my favorite authors, entitled "Fox News' War on Advent" which takes the network to task for statements that the US has declared war on Christmas through political correctness.
It seems that Fox News espouses the position that saying "Merry Christmas" is the only, one, true and eternal greeting appropriate for this season between Thanksgiving and December 25th. "Christmas" is a season marked by conspicuous consumerism and advertising campaigns featuring carols, trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, decorations and lots and lots of presents. It's more about commercialism then religion, but to hear some go on about it, it is a war on Christianity as a whole to have anyone say "Happy Holidays" or any other seasonal greeting. Now granted, Fox News is perfectly free to say whatever it likes -- as long as it doesn't scare the horses or cause riots in the streets. But for a commercial enterprise to dictate what greeting is appropriate for a period of time, whether or not that time is actually part of what the greeting represents, is a bit of what might be considered hubris.
Bass contends, and rightfully so in my opinion, that whole segments of Christianity are marginalized by insisting on "Merry Christmas" when those segments of Christianity are still in a period of waiting. For Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, the four weeks prior to Christmas Day are the ecclesiastical season known as Advent, a time of reflection and anticipation. Christmas for them doesn't begin Thanksgiving Day before the turkey carcass is off the table and does not end with the family post-prandial naps after a Christmas feast and orgy of present-opening. Christmas starts no earlier than the early service on Christmas Eve (3pm on December 24th is about the earliest I've heard of ) and, for traditionalists and die-hard members of the "It ain't Christmas until Midnight Mass" club, 11pm.
I talk to customers as part of my job. Many of them call me this time of year to tell me to hold delivery of their newspapers until sometime after January 1. Ok, they're going home for Christmas -- or maybe going home because the kids and/or grandkids are out of school and the whole family can be together. Does that mean they're actually celebrating Christmas? I can't tell from their names what religious group they belong to, so, being a good customer service rep (or trying to be), I hate to give a religious-specific wish to them as I conclude the call. Besides, many of these folks will be gone over New Year's which, last time I looked, was a holiday falling in the same time period. Come to think of it, so is Kwanzaa. So I choose to wish my customers a "Happy Holidays" and tell them we'll be glad to see them when they get back. They get the message. They may wish me a Merry Christmas and I will return that greeting as well, but honestly, I'd rather have a Happy Christmas rather than a merry one, but then, Jesus was considered a drunk by some of his contemporary detractors so maybe "merry" is the right term after all.
Come to think of it, Orthodox Christians don't celebrate Christmas until January 6, the day Roman Catholics, Anglicans/Episcopalians and Lutherans celebrate as Epiphany, the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of six or so weeks of the season between Christmas and Lent. Most Christians, though, have packed up the tree a week or so before and moved on to Valentine's day before the Christmas paper is even picked up off the floor and the stores haven't even bothered to wait until the doors close on December 24th before featuring big red hearts, lacy lingerie and boxes of chocolates. So much for celebrating Christmas. The Advent-celebrators must surreptitiously listen to Christmas carols on their iPods or MP3 players because they won't hear them on commercial radio or in stores or anywhere but church once December 25th rolls around. Everybody else has been listening to and singing them since December1 so they're ready for a change. So are we, but not the same change.
I don't see a war on Christmas, I see a skirmish to make one version of Christmas the only, true and official one. Frankly, I will take good wishes of any kind any time of year, and I hope my customers understand that. As for those who take down the lights and start buying Valentines on December 27th (the after-Christmas sales get top billing, I'm afraid), don't look at us like we're crazy if we wish you a Merry Christmas sometime between December 25th and January 6th. Next year, maybe those who are so insistent on saying Merry Christmas right after Thanksgiving could take a look at Advent. After all, you have to go through pregnancy and expectation before the baby finally appears, whether in a manger, a crib or a nativity scene.
As Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tucson so wisely put it, "Observe Advent, Celebrate Christmas, Have an Epiphany! Try it. Oh, and allow others the grace to celebrate whatever holidays are important to them and their faith this time of year. Even Jesus was tolerant toward the Samaritans and others who didn't exactly share his brand of Judaism. Think about it.