With the record-setting cold snap, this Christmas season will be long remembered – at least as long as it takes us to finish paying our heating bills.
It will also be remembered as the year that the line was drawn in the sand in the so-called “cultural wars.” Various Christians have taken a stand that the phrase “Merry Christmas” should not just be a salutation of the holidays, but a battle cry as well.
I find it grimly interesting that the celebration of the birth of the Messiah should be used to advance what is actually a political agenda. The culture war involves issues such as abortion, capital punishment, homosexual marriage, and what is called “secularism” in general. Whether or not to say “Merry Christmas” is a seasonal part of this conflict.
I wish how I could figure out how to post a cartoon from the front page of the Dec. 24, 1896 edition of the old Life magazine, a humor and commentary publication that preceded by decades the Life most of us know. It shows Santa in the stocks with a caption from the records from Mass General Court, May 11, 1659: “For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this Court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offense five shillings as a fine to the county.”
As you can see, Christmas has long been a source of controversy.
In the same issue there is cartoon that has Santa retiring as the turn-of-the-century children were too jaded and sophisticated for him.
In a Christmas issue of Life from 1922, there are pieces about over-spending at Christmas and the true meaning of the holiday. Ads use Saint Nick as a shill for Michelin tires and Murad cigarettes.
I always thought Santa was a pipe man.
My point is that Christmas has long carried with it a mixed blessing of genuine good will and religious observation with commercialism and social obligation.
And there have been at certain times in American history when the observation of Christmas was frowned upon and even illegal.
The historians at Old Sturbridge Village have reminded us for years that in New England in the 1830s no up-standing Protestant celebrated Christmas in the manner of those decadent European Catholics with their Christmas trees, gift-giving and tales of St. Nicholas.
So why do we have to continue this strife? Why can’t we all be comfortable with our own celebration of our faith and traditions? Why do we need to say things and do things that betray the most essential meaning of Christ’s birth?
I’m all in favor of putting the Christ back in Christmas. I support minimizing the commercial frenzy. But I will not support using a greeting that is designed to show caring as a weapon.
Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings.