Other than references to Bob Hope’s touring shows for the troops, the words “war” and “Christmas” shouldn’t go together any more than “Thanksgiving” and “triceratops.”
Yet the battle over how we celebrate our December holiday continues to rage. To many, the encroachment of secular celebrations upon Christmas is a sacrilege, and any changes to the holiday’s traditional trappings should be rejected.
Others, meanwhile, have tried to scrub expressions of faith from the holiday in a ham-handed attempt not to offend anyone, and in the process have offended many.
This year, a new twist emerged: whether Santa Claus — and, for that matter, Jesus himself — is white. That spat began with an online column about a biracial view of Santa. The flames were fanned by a cable news anchor, and on they burned through cyberspace and the TV and radio airwaves.
This pointless tiff over a non-religious figure is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the argument over keeping “Christ” in Christmas.
Truth is, Christmas for centuries has been a combination of the religious and the secular. Flying reindeer, mistletoe and fruitcake have long shared the day with manger scenes and “O’ Holy Night.” But to many, this nod to the two sides of Christmas belies the holiday’s true intention, lamenting when a store greeter chimes “Happy Holidays,” rather than “Merry Christmas.”
The conflict really heats up when governments and schools try to sidestep endorsing Christianity by watering down public displays of religious symbolism. Such an example was seen last week in New York, where a choral performance at a Long Island school removed all references to Christ from the lyrics of “Silent Night,” angering some parents. It was indeed bizarre, since the birth of Jesus is the basis of the song; one wonders why they didn’t just sing “Jingle Bells” or “Frosty the Snowman” rather than butcher a beautiful, sacred hymn.
This was another example of political correctness run amok, an attempt to avoid bothering anyone by removing all references of faith from the celebration. Most such efforts are rather clumsy, even when well-intentioned, yet should be greeted by a shake of the head rather than anger. What the “PC police” don’t realize is that most people of faith, and for that matter most non-believers, are not that easily offended by someone’s else’s profession of beliefs.
But a lack of tolerance for different views can cut both ways. It appears our ongoing national divide over politics, culture, economics and other issues has trickled down to how we define a day that signifies love and brotherhood.
And now comes a debate over whether Santa is as white as the snow he stirs when he lands on the roof.
Why does it matter? We all know Kris Kringle actually is — spoiler alert, divert the children’s eyes — make-believe. So why argue over his pretend race? It’s not as if he needs to check the proper box on a census form. Let him be whatever those who embrace him want him to be.
That same attitude can apply to other facets of the holiday. People can keep Christmas in their own way, or like Charles Dickens’ unredeemed Ebenezer Scrooge, “let me leave it alone then.”
Perhaps many cling so tightly to their cherished traditions in an age when change is our only constant. Marriages, jobs and homes have become as disposable as TVs, cars and phones, leaving little we can count on. The images of Yuletide ingrained in youth remain a touchstone for adults seeking to relive a childhood they remember as more innocent, pure and uncomplicated than it likely was. That rigid idea of what Christmas should be leads them to project it onto all those who may view it differently.
But instead of arguing over the colors, shapes or priority of the images linked to Christmas, why not focus on what it symbolizes? Christmas is celebrated not just in our public squares and homes but in our hearts. Like a holiday buffet, it offers multiple choices for everyone to enjoy. The fact that others may define it differently doesn’t have to influence how each of us feels about it or its importance.
Santa represents joy, giving and love of children, qualities that know no color or nationality. Though his origins are Northern European, he is a jolly elf for all the world, and should be able to assume whatever persona makes people happy.
While some enjoy the secular side of Christmas, for most the holiday remain a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Yet Gospel scriptures focus less on Jesus’ appearance and more on his teachings: Love, charity, compassion, forgiveness and redemption, the true messages of Christmas.
If we spent a little less energy arguing and more trying to live up to those standards, we could end this phony war on Christmas and savor the holiday for what it is intended to be: a blessed time of peace on earth and good will toward men for all who celebrate it, however they may do so.