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New column: My rant about the Christmas wars

December 5, 2009

Ah, this felt good to write. No punches pulled. Just me venting about one of my biggest gripes: the Christmas wars.

Here’s the link.

And the full text.

Happy Advent.

Amid the Christmas wars, are we forgetting the purpose of Advent?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

It wasn’t even Thanksgiving when I woke up to hear local radio talk show hosts talking about a public school using the term holiday tree instead of Christmas tree.

That prompted a series of indignant calls from listeners who saw this as another example of liberal secularists trying to destroy Christmas. “This is a Christian country,” one caller railed.

The radio hosts agreed and made a point to wish the callers “Merry Christmas.”

As I said, it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet.

Sometimes I think Christians are their own worst enemies when it comes to protecting the sacredness of Christmas.

If a battle must be waged (and sadly, we’ve come to referring to these debates as the Christmas wars, a seasonal version of the culture wars), why not fight for that too-often-forgotten season of Advent, the four weeks of solemn preparation for the birth of Jesus? Why insist that Christmas be attached to everything — from a tree to a store sale — when the Christmas season hasn’t even arrived (and arguably has little to do with those things anyway)?

I should note that each year I do see more Christians embracing the Advent season, resisting the mad consumerism and dedicating themselves to preparing spiritually for Christmas.

But every year, too, plenty of Christians arms themselves for the Christmas wars.

The American Family Association, a nonprofit that bills itself as a pro-family group on the “front lines of the culture war,” last month announced a boycott of the Gap because the clothing chain did not use Christmas in its ads. The boycott ended because, as the association trumpeted on its Web site, “After thousands of phone calls, e-mails and petitions, Gap has just released a very ‘Merry Christmas’ television commercial. On Nov. 28, Gap’s Old Navy division broadcast a television commercial featuring its ‘Supermodelquins’ proudly cheering ‘Merry Christmas,’ along with Christmas trees, lights and ornaments.”

And this honors Jesus how?

The association features on its Web site a list of companies that are “friendly” to, “marginalizing” and “against” Christmas.

Let’s be realistic. These companies are trying to make a buck. By demanding they use a holy day to make an even greater profit, what have Christians won? Doesn’t tying the birth of a savior to a corporate ad campaign actually cheapen Christmas?

I’ll bet you can guess my answer.

Not all conservative Christians concerned about the influence of secular culture support this Christmas battle. In a column published in World magazine, evangelical journalist and author Warren Cole Smith argued:

“First of all, Jesus is most certainly not the reason for the orgiastic spending spree modern Christmas has become. I certainly think anyone should be able to say ‘Merry Christmas’ if he or she wants to. But given what this holiday has become, there’s a part of me — a big part of me — that wants to keep the Jesus I worship as far away from this commercial debauchery as possible.’

Smith wrote that the Christmas wars have ironically become the “ultimate commercialization of Christmas.”

But what about the argument those callers made on the radio program that November morning? America was founded as a Christian country, they said, and people should proudly celebrate Christmas in the public square.

As my history teacher father liked to remind me growing up, the earliest settlers were not exactly fans of the yuletide. The Puritans, ever committed to rejecting the traditions of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, disdained the pageantry of Christmas as papist frivolity.

They even banned Christmas celebrations in Boston.

I’m not calling for a ban. I’m merely suggesting that we end this obsession with whether corporate America (or anyone else for that matter) is acting sufficiently Christmasy. And that we have a little patience.

Liturgically, the Christmas season doesn’t actually begin until Christmas and (depending on the tradition) extends through the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6 or Candlemas on Feb. 2.

This season, Advent, is the time for Christians to consider the importance of the birth of Jesus. In rushing to celebrate that before it happens — or in demanding that retailers promote it to sell their sweaters and blue jeans — believers miss an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It’s like skipping Lent and diving right into Easter. These religious cycles have their purpose.

Roger Temme, a local nonprofit leader who is leading an Advent series at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in North Austin, said this season is part of his spiritual journey, offering “a moment we can be still … reflect … shout out the rancor and be quiet … so we can hear what is the next thing we should be doing.”

For Christians who truly want to resist a secular culture that has commercialized the birth of their savior, now is a perfect opportunity to show just how countercultural they are.

Eileen Flynn blogs at eileenflynn.wordpress.com.

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