Once upon a time there was a holy day called Christmas. This was replaced by the Holiday Season, which was one campaign in the War on Christmas and on all things Christian. For several years American conservatives have been waging their own war, the War Against the War on Christmas.
This year, however, we are witnessing the culmination of a new phase in the campaign, namely, the War Against the War Against the War on Christmas. According to the anti-Christian activists and news readers who decide what is permissible to say, anyone who says there is a War on Christmas is ipso facto (though they would not use a Latin phrase that conjures up the specter of Western Christianity) a—gasp—anti-semite. Does that mean that it is anti-semtic not to be philo-semitic? Jeemenetti, as we used to say in high school, life here in these United States gets complicated.
In past years I have expressed no little skepticism about conservative campaigns to put the holy back in holiday and the X back into Xmas. I was a little unfair. I have warm memories of Christmastime in the 1950′s. Despite being one of only two atheists in my elementary school (the other was my sister), I loved Christmas. My sister and I learned Christmas carols and hymns which we played on the piano and sang. We looked forward eagerly to the Christmas pageant in school, and in second grade I was chosen to read Luke’s Gospel. I was almost intoxicated by the beauty of the Authorized Version. It never occurred to me once that there was something wrong in celebrating Christmas, either in our non-believing house, where we did everything Christians did (my mother was still, at least superstitious and very probably a believer) or in a public school. And I do not recall a word of complaint from my father’s Communist friend or from my mother’s Jewish friend.
Well, as one of my favorite Jewish poets says,
“Riding in a Stutz Bearcat, Jim
You know, those were different times.
All poets studied rules of verse
And those ladies, they rolled their eyes
The problem with nostalgia is the way it blinds us to reality. Of course, it was a better world when I was a boy, but it was not a Christian world. I doubt that many of my little Lutheran friends grew up thinking much about their faith and I doubt that very many of them today are anything but occasional conformists to the holiday seasons. It is not so much Christmas that the pro-Christmas warriors are defending (Tom Piatak excepted) as the Xmas celebrated by people who do not know that the spot marked by the X is Bethlehem.
I get the feeling sometimes that the defense of Christmas has more to do with Nat King Cole and the Andy Wiliams Christmas Special—complete with the family Andy hired for the occasion, since his real wife was doing time for murdering her lover. Only a Grinch would object to Santa Claus, Rudolf, and “I saw mommy smoochin’ Santy Claus” (in Homer and Jethro’s comic version). To eliminate Christmas is tantamount to saying, with another and better poet, “And there’s no such thing as Dr. Seuss or Disneyland and Mother Goose, no nursery rhymes.” We have gone from the God who through His Son created all things visible and invisible to the god who made little green apples.
I have never understood why non-Christian conservatives like Rush Limbaugh or our friends at VDARE get so het up about Christmas. To their credit, they see our Holy Day as an important part of the Western/European tradition that is being eliminated by multi-culturalism and mass immigration They are right, of course, but there is something of an inversion of values. We could eliminate all the Christmas music ever written, outlaw Christmas trees and figgie pudding, carry out Scrooge’s wish: “If I could work my will any idiot who goes around with a Merry Christmas on his lips would be cooked with his own turkey and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,” and it would not matter that much to those who keep Christ in their heart all year long.
And so, though I deeply appreciate the support we Christians get from non-believers at this time of year, I sometimes wish they would not. We are allies in many wars, but perhaps this should not be one of them. Those who like Charles Dickens are scandalized by the name of Christ should not be defending Christmas. Leave that war to poor benighted Christians like Tom Piatak.
I suppose, in this miserable world, we should be grateful for any support we can get. Besides, well-intentioned non-believers are a little bit the way I was as a young atheist. Hearing and saying the words, listening to the songs, going through the motions—as it were—with friends and family may draw us ineluctably toward the Church. Peter (the saint!) tells Christian wives: “Be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” In this spirit, let us pray that all good men will be converted by their Christian wives—and friends.
[Next installment: The Triumph of Ebeneezer Scrooge”]