I am in the middle of a war and I am not sure which side I am on. At times I am on one side. At others I am fighting for the opposition. In other moments, I feel like a noncombatant caught in the middle. The war in question is the “war on Christmas” and now as the holidays fade and the new year takes hold I am starting get a handle why this war is a mess. There are lots of battles in this war and lots of parties involved.
First, I will admit there are times when I am in the opposition as people talk about a “War on Christmas.” I am one of those folks who do question the need for Christmas displays in public spaces and Christmas activities in public schools. I would prefer that people in stores say “happy holidays” because I am very aware that there are others, like myself who don’t celebrate Christmas. It is a reality of wrestling with religion in public sphere. None of us should be uncomfortable expressing our religion in the world. Yet, in our country, which embraces diversity, and a Constitution that protects it, we cannot use government space-public schools, city halls, civic meetings, tax dollars to carry out a particular religious story. This plurality creates boundaries and limits to our individual expression so that folks don’t feel marginalized or devalued. While I voice this opposition I would also powerfully declare that none of these perspectives actually takes “Christ” out of Christmas. My not celebrating Christmas and being part of a diverse pluralistic society is going to have an effect on Christmas observances, but this should not diminish the holiday for you. Are there really not enough churches and private homes with nativity scenes or Christmas trees, that if there isn’t one in a school or city hall or the State Capitol that the sacred story and values of Christmas are suddenly going to disappear? People of other faith communities, cultures, who say not every public space, greeting has to be laced with one particular one are not trying to take down Christmas. We just don’t to be marginalized or demeaned. Our holidays/sacred times are just as valuable and meaningful to us. Diversity, awareness and respect for the other just makes us stronger.
There is a threat to the holidays, but not just to Christmas. When shopping and football, decorations and eggnog (or latkes for that matter) dominate the discourse something is off. The rituals that should be helping us tell our sacred stories, helping us bring values of caring, generosity, sharing light and dignity into our world have become the ends in themselves. When we spend more time shopping than caring for someone in need or more energy on football games than visiting with family and friends, our actions and intentions are out of sync. The consumerism and immediate gratification/superficial habits of our culture undermine our skills and opportunities to use the rituals of these holidays to tell sacred stories and live out the values they embody. We do fun stuff, eat good food, escape, hang out, get good deals on all sorts of clothes, jewelry and gadgets, but is this really bringing something sacred and powerful into the world?
It isn’t just “Christ and Christmas”, it is rededication and Chanukah, light and Chinese New Year, heritage and Kwanza, care for humans and Humanism. Whatever the story we may tell, we have to make sure we live it out. In this season we have to take care to connect our actions to the tradition and values of these sacred stories.
We have to be careful when we declare war. This is an important reminder about choosing our battles. There are times when, instead of conflict, we actually need dialogue with our opposition to make us all more aware and stronger. Then in turn, we can all work together to challenge and change the habits and attitudes that diminish us all.