When I was young and growing up no one ever had to say nor did I ever hear the slogan “Keep Christ in Christmas”. While the majority of Christmas cards available in stores pertained directly to the Christmas message depicting the Nativity, angels, shepherds and wise men with holy figures’ silhouettes against dark star-lit skies there were also cards featuring Santa Claus and reindeers and winter scenes as well. The word Christmas appeared everywhere and it was the only thing you heard people say. Today, however, one would be hard pressed to find ‘religious’ cards in retail stores, particularly high-end ones. Stores display huge decorated windows inviting shoppers to prepare for the ‘holidays’ by shopping in their stores for everyone on their list and radio stations, like the CBC in Toronto, advertise constantly and early-on their “Sounds of the Season” annual fundraiser which wonderfully supports the cities local food banks.
While many fundraisers and causes that are supported by so many at this time of year are worthy of support and do great work there is always what I would call that thin lie that is just beneath the surface and so abundantly apparent in the retail marketplace. Christmas is like a dirty word everyone knows but doesn’t want to say out loud. It’s politically correct and politely incorrect all at the same time and it perpetuates the lie that the time in December which culminates somehow quite magically on December 25th has nothing to do with the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. Just as the pagan feasts were replaced by Christian feasts now the reverse seems to be happening. In an increasingly secular society the religious reality of Christian feasts – Easter, Christmas, Advent – are fast becoming seasons of no purpose but an excuse to ‘celebrate’.
Now think about it. We all take holidays whenever we get the chance, particularly in our northern climate, summer holidays. Yet no one would use the word ‘celebrate’ in the context of summer holidays. You would never hear radio and TV ads that blared out Prepare to celebrate your summer holidays by booking your flight with us!. The holiday itself is the goal and focus. The word celebrate in our common language use usually pertains to a day, a specific day like a birthday, an anniversary, a family reunion, Thanksgiving or a gathering. Even our Christian occasions suggest a day of celebration such as a First Communion, Confirmation, Baptism, a wedding and even a funeral Mass. But again, our secular culture puts great emphasis on marrying the word celebrate with the word season, even though for three seasons out of four (spring, summer and fall) we never apply the word celebrate. It is only the ‘season’ that surrounds the Christian mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ – God taking on a human body – that has become the playground of the thin lie. And then this untruth continues to use all of the Christian props of Christmas but sanitizes them of any religious reference so that the Christmas Tree becomes the Holiday Tree effectively removing any reference to Christ and His birth, holiday gift-giving replaces Christmas presents.
In fact, Christmas in the Christian calendar is a season which ironically begins just when the secular is finished with it. For eight days Catholics celebrate the Birth of the Saviour known as the Octave (8) of Christmas. Our Christmas trees should be up for the 8 days of Christmas as a tangible witness to what we believe about this season of Jesus’ birth. Problem is, so often we anticipate Christmas perhaps way too early and are sick of the tree by the time the 25th rolls around and down it comes and out it goes the same day. We should also continue to say “Merry Christmas” to people for the eight days following Christmas Day as a living witness and evangelization tool in teaching others through a genuine salutation that Christmas is not over on December 25th, Christmas Day. I’m sure that the time before Christmas many years ago became known as the Christmas Season which then became the Holiday Season even though in reality only retired people and pre-school children would be on holiday during the whole season.
There is also a similar problem within Catholicism itself about the proper celebration of Christmas whereas many Catholics around the world will rightly celebrate Christmas Day by going to Mass, most Catholics will not.
Recently someone sent me a Youtube song video which suggests that believers in Christ shouldn’t shop in stores where you are not greeted with “Merry Christmas”. While it’s a nice idea we all know it will go nowhere fast. If, in fact, Christians en masse refused to shop, purchase or buy anything from stores, restaurants and businesses that didn’t reflect the true meaning of Christmas there would be a huge backlash and a tremendous loss of revenue to the stores which would force them to support the true meaning of Christmas even if only in the use of the word Christmas.
Truth is, the biggest culprits in dropping the meaning of Christmas, are Christians themselves. The retail industry caters to where people are at and what they are willing to buy. I dare say that Christmas has been replaced as the Holiday Season because we Christians, and principally us Catholics as the largest group within Christianity, have dropped it and the secular world has picked it up, re-decorated it, changed the language and has presented it as something new and different which fits perfectly into months of retail buying ending on December 25th. Blessed Fulton J. Sheen said that what we Catholics drop the secular world picks up. When we dropped the Rosary the rock stars and porn stars picked it up rendering the power of it as symbol into meaninglessness. When we dropped Sunday as a holy day and a day of rest it was picked up by the world of sports so that most people have difficulty attending to anything religious because it interferes with sports and sporting events.
Each year the Knights of Columbus and other groups have sold Christmas cards that bear the meaning of Christmas as the Birth of Jesus and more recently have introduced lawn signs which herald the challenging message to Keep Christ in Christmas. And I would suggest that their target audience isn’t the secular part of our society that doesn’t believe in Jesus or even any suggestion that they have somehow stolen it from us. No, the most challenged readers of those lawn signs will be our fellow Catholics and fellow Christians who have dropped the baby as the reason for the season for a Christ-emptied celebration of nothingness. Just as Smokey the Bear used to say, Only YOU can prevent forest fires, we could add, Only YOU can keep Christ in Christmas. It begins with us. (Father Charles)