Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 20, 1999
Who put the 'Christ' in Christmas?
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Each year, fewer and fewer Christmas cards contain any religious reference, or indeed any specific mention of Christmas at all.
"Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" have crowded out "Merry Christmas," on most seasonal greetings from businesses, corporations, banks, schools, government departments and agencies, and politically correct individuals, all presumably frightened of annoying or offending someone by mentioning the Person whose arrival on earth the Christmas celebration commemorates.
Secularist commentators advocate a purely secular observation of the December holiday season, so that no one will feel "excluded." Some members of non-Christian religions, especially the "religion" of secular humanism, argue that items like creche dioramas displayed in schools or on other public property somehow violate their human rights.
The term "secular Christmas" is an oxymoron. There's something surreal about the assertion that Christ should not be acknowledged in a celebration called Christmas.
Perhaps the politically correct will soon pressure us to change the name as they have in England, where "Winterval" has beeen proposed as an alternative. While they're at it, they'd better attack "Happy Holidays" too, since holiday is a contracted form of "holy day." It would be more politically correct to say: "Happy Jolly Day," or perhaps "Merry Time Off Work," or even "Happy Hangover."
One wonders what sort of reception complaints from a Christian minority about civic observance of traditional religious holidays would get in predominantly Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist countries. The 1993 Angus Reid-Maclean's religion poll found that 78 per cent of Canadians consider themselves "Christian." Nineteen per cent professed atheism or no religion, and all non-Christian religions combined encompassed a mere three per cent of the population.
The dominant religious culture in Canada has been Christian for over 300 years, and our social observances naturally reflect that reality. It is absurd to alter one of our society's most cherished cultural traditions to accommodate a thin-skinned fraction of the secular and religious minorities.
It's true that Christians have sometimes callously disregarded the sensibilities of religious and cultural minorities, especially children, in institutional settings like schools. Since Christmas is such a socio-cultural juggernaut, it's not surprising that religious non-Christians feel marginalized by all the hoopla - even though these days little of the public celebration has anything remotely to do with Christianity.
In terms of religious sensibilities, much of the commercialized Christmas extravaganza ought to offend bona fide Christians too.
Christmas wasn't celebrated at all by the early Church, and birthday observances in general were shunned as trappings of paganism. Around AD 330, the Roman Church designated Dec. 25 as Christmas, thus co-opting the pagan sun god's feast and the Saturnalia.
Distaste for Christmas' pagan association led Oliver Cromwell's Puritans to ban the celebration in Britain between 1642 and 1652. Even after Royal restoration, the observance remained in bad odour among British Protestants - an attitude the pilgrims carried with them across the Atlantic. Christmas wasn't widely celebrated in the English-speaking Americas until massive 19th century immigration by Irish Catholics and German Lutherans.
Many Christmas traditions have pagan origins, including the tree (Roman and Egyptian tree-worship); mistletoe (Druidism); exchanging presents (Roman Saturnalia); and evergreen decorations (Teutonic-Norse paganism).
There's nothing essentially Christian about gut-busting turkey dinners. Even the image universally recognized as Santa Claus derives from a 19th century secular poem by Clement Moore and a 1925 Coca-Cola advertisement.
In popular North American culture, commercialism has transformed Christmas into a general purpose secular holiday and bonanza for retailers. However, it is the one time of year that Jesus Christ is spoken of in somewhat reverential tones within that culture, and that base is something devout Christians ought to build on - not beat a retreat from.
Must sensitivity to other religions and cultures dictate that we deny our own?
Rather than banning the crŠche from schools at Christmas, wouldn't it be more sensible to display and discuss it, as well as the festival symbols of other religions, in schools at appropriate times of year, not only out of respect for minority children, but as an important part of the educational experience for everyone.
Acknowledgment of religion as a vitally important part of life should be part of any worthwhile educational process. Merry Christmas!
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