You may be aware of a continuing controversy regarding the appropriate salutation to offer at this time of year.
There are quite a number of people who continue to express their annoyance at policies requiring the use a non-religious greeting. In some cases, all mention of “Christmas” is said to have been prohibited, to be supplanted by more generic terms: “seasonal tree” and “holiday party” among them.
The thing is, you'd be hard-pressed to actually find such a policy.
The so-called “war on Christmas” gained a lot of foot-hold thanks to opinionated television commentators like Bill O’Reilly, who bemoaned that any mention of the term "Christmas" or its religious aspects was being increasingly censored by advertisers, retailers, governments, and other public and secular organizations.
It is true: for whatever reason, there were organizations, businesses and governments that did send out a memo advising that a more generic term should be substituted. But… these were not as widespread as people have come to believe, nor were the reasons for such policies a “war on Christmas.”
In many cases, especially with retailers, it was an acknowledgement of the shifting demographics.
While some claim that retailers and others use terms like “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” so as not to offend people of non-Christian backgrounds, the fact is that they were doing so to appeal to them.
Perhaps in the future our society will become truly multi-cultural, and we will celebrate a wider variety of “holy days.” For now, many of our observances are legislated, and are derived from the Christian tradition.
Christmas is the biggest event in the retail calendar. Rather than trying to no offend non-Christians, retailers have simply adapted to entice them into their stores.
And it is true that the Ontario Government did send round a memo in the early 90s, instructing various departments and agencies under its jurisdiction to use more generic terms. Here again, rather than being non-offensive, this edict was more about being inclusive of the many thousands of employees from other cultural backgrounds.
Yes, I have hear the argument “People who come to Canada should learn to adapt.” Indeed, they have adapted, but this does not mean they should abandon their ethnic, cultural and religious practises entirely.
Too many people forget that Canada is a nation of immigrants, populated by the descendants of those who chose to leave their homelands for any number of reasons, some who were persecuted for the beliefs they held and brought with them to this new land of opportunity.
And so, this is Christmas.
There are those who are fighting back against this perceived “war on Christmas.” There is a faction that wants to “keep Christ in Christmas,” that decries the secularization of one of our most holy days.
By contrast, the secular approach — underscored by the crass and rampant commercialization of Christmas — seems to focus on the material aspects of the “holiday” — gift-giving, and parties.
For me, I can see both points of view.
Whether we like it or not, whether we agree or not, “religion” has fallen out of favour with many in our society, although they do like the handful of days off work that religion has provided. But, for the most part, many people see religion as archaic and unnecessary.
They believe that religion had its place, and since we now know right from wrong, and have a basic sense of morality thanks to religion, then we can get along just fine without it, thank you very much.
Of course, we also see the other side of the coin: the conservative ultra-religious, who believe in every jot and tittle of the Bible, and who are certain that non-believers are on track for eternal damnation.
As in so many issues, I believe that there must be a middle ground, somewhere between the two extremes.
I believe that the secular elements of Christmas are not necessarily “anti-religious.” I also believe that the religious elements of Christmas are not necessarily as damaging as some atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers would suggest.
My belief is that the “spirit of Christmas” embraces the ideals of Christianity and other faith traditions, and the morality and general sense of good will found in secular society.
There are those who suggest that Santa Claus has no place in Christmas, that Santa is merely a symbol of the commercialization, a shill for the toy manufacturers and retailers. In one sense, that is true.
For many, religion has let them down. We have to be honest, there has been a lot of awful things happen in the name of religion.
But as I said earlier, it is in the middle ground that we can find some commonality… and that is what we should be striving for.
For myself, I see Santa as being truly representative of the spirit of Christmas.
“The Singing Cowboy,” Gene Autry, is well-known for his rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but he also wrote and recorded another Christmas favourite, Here Comes Santa Claus.
As with many popular songs, many people only recall the first verse or two, and at first glance Here Comes Santa Claus does seem more inclined to the commercial aspects of the season.
Indeed, the first two verses speak of Santa and the reindeer, and children waiting for toys to be delivered.
But the third and fourth verses harken to the Christian ideal…Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, Right down Santa Claus lane He doesn't care if you're rich or poor He loves you just the same Santa Claus knows we're all Gods children That makes everything right So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer 'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!
Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, Right down Santa Claus lane He'll come around when the chimes ring out That it's Christmas morn again Peace on earth will come to all If we just follow the light So lets give thanks to the lord above That Santa Claus comes tonight!
Autry saw that the spirit of Christmas could be encapsulated into the Santa Claus story… “He doesn't care if you're rich or poor / He loves you just the same.” That Autry also invokes the name of God in his song speaks volumes to me… “Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children / That makes everything right.”
The ultimate message of Christmas — “Peace on Earth” — is also echoed in the lyrics.
Another secular story with a religious foundation is Dr Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The story itself is familiar — in many ways it echoes Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where the curmudgeonly Scrooge discovers the true meaning of Christmas.
When the Grinch tries to steal Christmas away from the Who’s, he discovers that despite the decorations and celebrations and feasting, or rather, even without the decorations and celebrations and feasting, the Who’s still gather on Christmas morning and sing for joy.
In the animated television version, to lengthen the story to fit the time available, three songs were written. One of these song, Welcome Christmas, truly expresses what, for me, is the spirit of Christmas.
Leaving out the “Dahoo dores, Fahoo foresee,” the lyrics read as follows:Welcome Christmas come this way Welcome Christmas, Christmas day Christmas day is in our grasp So long as we have hands to clasp
Welcome Christmas bring your cheer Cheer to all Whos far and near Christmas day will always be Just so long as we have we
Welcome Christmas bring your light…
Welcome Christmas while we stand, Heart to heart and hand in hand.
That’s a message that appeals to people of any faith tradition, and even of no faith tradition.
Yes, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus… the birth that, most likely, didn’t actually take place in December, that most likely was a secondment of the pagan tradition of Saturnalia.
Christmas is bigger than just “church.”
When I hear people saying “Jesus is the reason for the season,” I can agree… but I take it a bit further. Christmas, as a holiday, happens in December.
But Christmas is more than that… it is how we treat one another, how we live our lives. For believers, every day should be Christmas.
We should all be singing along with the Who’s…Christmas day will always be, Just so long as we have we; Welcome Christmas while we stand, Heart to heart, and hand in hand.
This excerpt from the final chapter of the Dickens story speaks to the “spirit of Christmas.”Some people laughed to see the change in him, but Scrooge let them laugh, for he knew that nothing good ever happened in this world that some people did not laugh at, at first. What was more important to Scrooge was that his own heart was laughing — laughing with joy at giving and helping others… People began to say of him that he truly knew the meaning of the spirit of Christmas, perhaps better than any man alive. And he lived with that spirit not only at Christmas time, but all during the year. And Ebenezer Scrooge’s words, for the rest of his long and happy life, were Tiny Tim’s words — God bless us, everyone!
Even in it’s own, wacky way, the movie Christmas Vacation offers the same message: whatever happens, however much we want everything to be perfect, what matters is simply being with family and friends.
I hope that all of us will find inspiration in any of the Christmas stories, not just in the stories of the Bible, but in any story that speaks to our heart, and encourages us to live life to the fullest, to love and honour one another, to look beyond our differences and accept each other as “neighbour”, and most importantly, to live with the spirit of Christmas throughout the year.
There’s a meme making the rounds on Facebook, which reads: