Reflections Unto God – December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is the celebration of the single most significant religious, historical and cultural event in the Western world. It marks a turning point in human history, a new era for the human race. God had come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had become man, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, and dwelt among us. Our relationship with our Creator had changed. God was no longer an unseen, unknown divinity that was beyond our comprehension. Now he was a personal God with a human nature and form, with experiences to which we could relate.

The birth of Christ has been celebrated from about 200 A.D. Yet, since the nineteenth century, there have been increasing movements to deemphasize the religious meaning of the event. First, the holy day was changed to a holiday and commercialized. It now is the norm to exchange untold numbers of cards with relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even business contacts. These winter greetings too often display winter scenes, sleighs, trees, bells, birds, Santa Clauses, and about anything other than a reminder of what occurred in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

This commercialized season also calls for an inordinate amount of gift-giving. Already, the shopping spree is well underway. Even before Halloween, stores began to display Christmas decorations. What once was a month-long marketing blitz starting at Thanksgiving is now a two-month effort. It is not done to recognize the meaning of Christmas and to prepare us for the birth of Our Lord and Savior, but to convince us to spend money on material goods. Gifts are fine, if kept within proportion. But, too often we get caught up in the frenzy of the season and focus on the material aspects, exchanging gifts that frequently neither person really needs or desires.

Shortly after World War II, there was a distinct split between the religious and secular observances of Christmas. For several decades Christmas was often referred to as Xmas, with the presumed rationale that X stood for the Greek letter chi, the Christian symbol for Christ. While the latter is true, it deemphasized the focus on the birth of Our Lord.
C.S. Lewis published a satirical essay in the 1950s titled, “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.” He lampooned the two simultaneous, but distinct celebrations of the holiday. One, “Exmas”, is observed by a flurry of compulsory commercial activity and expensive indulgences, which are prepared for over a 50-day period called the Exmas Rush. On the day of the festival, most people are exhausted from the frenzy of the period, lie in bed till noon, then eat and drink five times as much as on other days. On the day after Exmas, they are very grave and internally disordered from overeating, drinking and the reckoning of how much they have spent on gifts.

The other celebration, “Crissmas,” is observed in an opposite manner. Those who keep Crissmas, set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child, adored by shephards and certain animals. They rise early and go to their temples where they partake of a sacred feast.

What Lewis wrote about half a century ago is increasingly true in America today. Too many people, in spite of what they may think, do not really celebrate Christmas. They celebrate Exmas.

But even the focus on Santa Claus, gift-giving and Xmas was not enough. More recently, in the guise of tolerance and inclusiveness in our increasingly multiculturally-sensitive society, there are efforts to eliminate all references to Christ. Christmas programs and traditional carols that refer to God are removed from school programs, while students have a winter break. Shoppers hear the sterile refrain, “Seasons Greetings”, as they purchase “holiday” trees. Nativity scenes are banned from city halls and shopping malls, but menorahs, crescents, and other symbols from non-Christian religions are permitted.

Major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, K-Mart, JC Penny and others had for a time stopped using the word Christmas in their advertizing and in their stores. Gap even instituted a television ad campaign which inclued the lyrics: “Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go solstice… go Christmas, go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you Wannakuh”. It was only major boycotts of these stores, and the resulting loss of revenue, that convinced them to once again use the word Christmas and for Gap to launch a new commercial with a “strong Christmas theme.”

The return of Christmas to the malls is welcome. But efforts to remove God from the public square are far from over. The attacks on religion will continue in this and in other areas of national life. Christians must be willing to publicly celebrate their religious traditions. They must not allow secular forces to remove God from the culture and thus to preclude his public recognition from the experiences of our children and grandchildren. While celebrating the birth of Christ is a sign of faith in God, this event should be reflected in our culture, our outward behavior and in our art.

The silencing of Christmas is more than just being concerned about the sensitivities of non-Christians. It is a step toward suppressing those moral beliefs that stand for the protection of the unborn, the sanctity of life at all stages, the inviolability of tradition marriage.

As members of the Knights of Columbus, let us not be hesitant to express our religious traditions. In the days ahead, let us patronize retailers who recognize Christmas, send religious greeting cards, display the crèche in our homes and yards and say a short prayer when we see it, promote seasonal songs that praise God, and prepare ourselves spiritually during the Advent Season so that when we go to Mass on Christmas Day, we can be truly joyous about the birth of our Lord. Merry Christmas!

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