Friday, December 16, 2011

Does it matter: Calling it Christmas

One of the ever-recurring hot topics in American Christianity is the name of the day observed on December 25th. A few years ago the big angst was "Christmas or X-mas?" Now it's all the way to "Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or what?"

I want to weigh in on this, because that's what a blog is for. Well, one thing a blog is for. Another is free stuff and shameless self-promotion, but we'll hit those on other days. Today, it's using the blog to grind an axe or two.

The first thing I would say about this whole debate is that I personally believe that there are two different standards of behavior relating to Christian days of observance or holidays. That's right. This is not a purely right-or-wrong issue in front of us. There are two groups of people in this world, to present it simply, and each group has a different obligation in this case.

What are those groups? Christian believers and not Christian believers. Or, to use the typical Baptist verbiage, the saved and the lost, though that merits its own explanation.

For non-Christians, the rule is simple: December 25th is one of several holidays of various religions, political groups, and families. If "Happy Holidays" works for you the whole time, then go with it. However, please refrain from trying to redefine a term or concept: that is a Christmas tree, those are Christmas presents—you are not joining Christianity by using the traditional terms. Neither will it hurt you that someone has a visible Nativity Scene any more than it hurts me to see visible New York Yankees propaganda.

For Christians, the rule is simple, too: if you celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ on December 25th, which there's no real reason not to do so, than say so. In fact, please refrain from adorning your churches and such with mixed messages that dilute from the meaning of Christmas. Please do not put "Happy Holidays" in your church bulletin. Go ahead put Merry Christmas in there. If someone comes into church, does not know Christ, is antagonistic towards God, and is not offended until they see Merry Christmas in the bulletin, your church has some real problems. Please take next year and read the whole Bible together and try to do some of it.

The real challenge for us, my fellow believers, is this: don't mix up the two rules. Yes, I find it irritating to see "Holiday Shoppe" or whatever in the stores. Especially given the lack of attention to Thanksgiving except as the kickoff for insanity, the near-total lack of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Solstice merchandise, which means you're really just selling Christmas stuff, so call it a Christmas Shoppe. Seriously, the Druids aren't going to be more offended at the lack of Solstice Cards in the Holiday Card section than seeing it labeled "Christmas Cards" so they know not to waste their time?

But we cannot expect Wal-mart to market the Savior. Nor Lowes or Home Depot or Target. And we need to keep something else in mind in how we handle the situation: there's really only one definitely rude person in the story of Christmas. It's Herod. (No, no relation to Harrod.) The whole story reflects a grace-filled God coming into this world. He does not demand attention, but receives it anyway.

We cannot expect to reflect Him well if we are going about being obnoxious to store people about their signage. If you don't like it, don't shop there. But I assure you of this: that guy at the checkout at Target whose name tag says "New Team Member"? He did not choose the script to give you when he said "Happy Holidays." So reaming him out really only makes you and Jesus look irritable. Odds are, he already knows the boss that told him to say "Happy Holidays" is irritable. That guy's a retail manager at Christmas. He won't get any sleep until January 3 and good profits now mean he hopefully gets a bonus next year: whatever he's getting this year was decided in October.

So, please, everyone: ease off the unbelieving segment of society. Celebrate Christmas. Do so openly: put up a nativity in your yard, decorate your church, go about with a "Merry Christmas" on your lips and a giving spirit in your heart. That is the best way to keep Christmas about Christ: let every step you take be a reflection of shepherds and Magi, angels and parents, even innkeepers and taxmen.

And let's celebrate Christmas with those who want to celebrate, without trying to drag anyone to the manger. Make sure they know it's there. Make sure they know He's there. Because He is.


  1. Some good comments Doug. How to handle holidays and celebrations is a real challenge, expecially for new believers and for those who wrestle with what's permissibile and what is not. Love in all things is a good rule. Some folks get all bent out of shape, and they make a miserable impact on others. We all come up wanting at some point or another. God bless.

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Dr. Willingham. Love and grace---much trouble would be avoided if that was our focus!


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