It's also become a source of contention between groups that seem to be at war.
First, you have many Christians who claim it as their holiday, and who are hurt, offended, or angered by the implications that anything other than a Christian viewpoint on Christmas is a travesty. Then you have the rest of the nation - people who don't see themselves as Christian either because they have a different religion or don't identify with a religion altogether, or they are ambivalent about the Christian roots of our current Christmas celebration.
Facebook is awash with usually-sincere, sometimes obnoxious, often overly-capitalized memes being shared by those in the former group. Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas!, they say. It's merry CHRISTmas! JESUS is the REASON for the SEASON! Personally, I'm not big on public displays of ANY religion, so they just make me eyeroll in the same way that I roll my eyes over verses, inspirational quotes, and "#blessed" hashtags. Pipe down, Sparky. Nobody cares what you believe if you're annoying or preachy about it.
But I think the topic is worth discussing. To clear things up, I was raised in a very strict Christian home, went to Christian college, and am engaged to a Christian man. I've taught Sunday School almost every year since I was in high school. But I'm nothing like your "classic Christian." I got kicked out of that Christian college. I got pregnant to an atheist weeks later, and didn't attend church for years afterward. My daughter is now 9. I had her the day before I turned 21.
I drink and swear and am living with the aforementioned fiance. After attending a whitewashed Christian college that sorely disappointed me, I found myself looking at Christians and Christianity through a new lens: not the Christian lens (which seems rose-colored and ill-fitting to me) or the non-Christian lens (which seems hopelessly gray and loose to me at times), but through a different lens: the realist's lens, which is forged of necessity from an eye that's tried on both lenses. I have friends who range anywhere from "self-proclaimed Jesus Freak" to "Staunch Atheist." (The agnostics are my favorites because they're the most open-minded.) After years of pretending to be someone I wasn't, I threw off the chains of Public Opinion and decided that I would only believe what I personally believe because I've researched the facts and feelings and have decided that it works for me personally, and me alone. If I had to title my "religion," I'd say that I'm a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, non-denominational libertarian with an affinity for etymology, facts, and honesty and a regular penchant for hedonism slipping through. That's the truth where it stands. I'm not going to pretend to be a great example of Christianity just so you'll respect me or identify with me more or less, or so that you can share this on facebook and say "Yes! THIS GIRL GETS IT!". If I did that, it would be a lie, and lies are for teenagers and criminals. If you'd like to discuss whether I'm a hypocrite, I'm absolutely open to the discussion because I'm constantly wondering the same thing myself. Seems I only see my hypocrisy in retrospect.
So. Because of my unique perspective of being a super-religious Christian throughout adolescence, getting rejected by churches and Christians in early adulthood, going through a rebellious/finding myself phase, and slowly coming around to just core beliefs...I feel like I can speak frankly and honestly toward both crowds.
I saw this link from Honest Mom come up on my facebook feed from Nicole Leigh Shaw, one of my favorite writers on Facebook because she shares mom-relatable stuff with a dry wit and a good heart. Going on her recommendation and the title of the article, I clicked it with the hope that some other blogger had captured my words so that I, lazy and busy at the same time, wouldn't have to write something up just to get these words out of my brain, which happens often for me.
The article made some excellent points: Christmas is not only "ours" as Christians. It's a secular holiday now, celebrated by people of all religions in various countries. Christmas has roots in Christianity, but many of our traditions are pagan as well. Christmas is only about commercialization if you make it that way. All excellent points, and all worth discussing in a respectful setting. I personally was displeased with the article because it also focused on not offending people, which is a silly concept. Yes, we should be respectful. But as soon as you bring the word "offended" into the mix, this isn't about respect, it's about pandering to popular opinion. If you look around, you'll see groups of people just waiting with baited breath to be offended. You'll see politicized groups watching the news with the hope that someone on "the other side" will say something that can be attacked and dissected and used in out-of-context memes forevermore. While the Bible calls Christians to LOVE, it does not call them to people-please. I don't mean to be dismissive of the article - it's a good article and the author is obviously a genuine and thoughtful person. I was just hoping for something a little more... in-depth, I guess?
So, to the keyboard I go, and here we are.
To my Christian friends sharing these memes and hurting because this holiday that you feel strongly about has become something that feels dismissive of your beliefs:
I'm glad that you care so strongly about your faith. It's nice to see genuine, passionate people in a world full of ambivalence.
But please understand these four things:
- Many employees cannot say "Merry Christmas" without penalization because many business do not allow this. Businesses often do not want to take a stance on issues that are politicized, such as religion. Understand that they might do this for various reasons: they don't want to lose profits, they don't want to be in the middle of a political firestorm, they don't want to alienate their employees. Those are all respectable viewpoints. A business is allowed to make a profit. A business is allowed to be politically correct. Businesses are usually started to sell a product, not a viewpoint.
- Fellow Christians understand the meaning behind Christmas as a religious holiday. But unlike various other religious holidays, this one is celebrated nationally by non-religious entities like the banks and public schools that close on Christmas. Therefore, Christmas as its current definition stands is not so much about Christ, as it is about 'a holiday.' And the joy with holidays is that you can make them out to be whatever you want them to be. Your Spring Break in college might have included community service; mine included sleeping a lot on my parents' couch and probably fighting with my sister. Your family Thanksgiving might include lavish decorations; mine is all about board games after we eat. This is okay. It's okay to define a tradition for yourself. It's okay if someone's definition doesn't match yours.
- When you try to "take back" this holiday, you're alienating other people. No, you shouldn't say "Praise Allah" just because your neighbor comes from that other religion. You shouldn't change who you are or what you believe just to appease The Masses. The Masses can shut their pie holes. But you should step back and realize that when you talk about "taking back" Christmas and how this country is going down the drain, please understand that you're dangerously close to 'that dude's a bigot!' territory, which really doesn't jive with the whole "Jesus loves you and died for you" goal of the Bible. Yes, Christmas is a Christian holiday in tradition and original definition. But it's not yours. It's not ours. It's not 'theirs.' It is what it is: a holiday that's got various traditions attached by various groups. Shouldn't we be more focused on the giving spirit and the loving nature of Christ, than in telling people that their commercialization/politically correct/pagan-ish/not-Jesusy-enough/etc celebration offends us? Stop it. And go read that verse about how we should clothe and feed people physically before we try to feed them spiritually. Feed the world. When that's done, you can try to change their beliefs. (Hint: that will never be done.)
- If we truly believe in the Bible, and if we truly believe that God gave us free will, then we as Christians absolutely should not want Christmas' official definition (for government use, let's say) to be about a religion. While various arguments exist about whether this nation is truly a "Christian nation" (the founding fathers had many religions; this nation was founded on freedom of religion but not on religion itself, etc - google that and come back in 7 hours when your head is spinning), should we actually want this country to be a "Christian nation?" Prayer was taken out of schools. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Think about it. Do you really want a state-run public school to be teaching religion or leading our children in prayers? I don't even want my neighbor having discussions about morals and ethics with my impressionable daughter - not because I want to brainwash her, but because I want to do the opposite. I have a way of presenting viewpoints that allows for discussion, in the privacy of our home where peer pressure does not exist and parental pressure is intentionally nonexistent. Why would I want a school teacher that my daughter naturally adores to stand in front of a classroom and tell a room full of little children about someone's opinions? We live in a country where freedom is the most important thing for many of us. It is not freedom to have a state religion; it's exactly the opposite, in fact. God gave us free will. This means that you have the freedom to make choices for yourself, whether they be helpful or harmful to you or others.
To my non-Christian friends:
- Sorry about this whole "attack mode" that a lot of Christians go into if you dare to suggest that your personal Christmas isn't about Christianity. Please understand that when someone strongly believes in something, they have a tendency to may make misguided statements or take misguided actions in their passion. It's really hard as a Christian to believe that the people you care about might not be going to heaven. Hell sucks. Seriously, it sucks; I don't want you to go there if it's real. So sometimes Christians get overzealous and try to go on missions to save the world. We love you. Just like an older brother who slaps you around out of love, sometimes we Christians get slappy with our faith. I'm sorry. We're sorry.
- Christians are often defensive because they are attacked, constantly. I know, I know: other groups are attacked, too. Atheists and homosexuals in particular face a lot of disadvantages in the workplace even in today's day and age. But it seems that Christianity is the only group that is universally mockable with no repercussions. Just watch any comedy show, stand-up special, late night talk show, or even sitcom. You'll see it. Christians are portrayed as small-minded rednecks who cling to their religion and are also usually racist. That stereotype would never fly with any other group. Seriously, replace "Christians" in that sentence with Muslims, atheists, women, gay men, or any minority group and you'll feel indignation boil up inside you because it's unfair and stereotyping and untrue. But put "Christians" in there and you'll squint and slowly nod. "Sounds about right." That's because we're all seemingly okay with mocking this one religion harder than any other religion. I've met Christians who fit that stereotype, but I've met atheists who do as well but who cling to their non-religion just as heartily. I've also met Christians and atheists who are the exact opposite of that. Stereotypes are for ninnies. In addition to this, Christian viewpoints are constantly being attacked and minimized through politics and social norms. So many Christians feel minimized and marginalized. This whole Christ in Christmas thing is just a symptom of the existing problem.
- Thank YOU for being open-minded in your beliefs. As an American, your likelihood of being Christian is much higher than in other nations. (And in other nations, different religions are more common.) You went against the grain in your belief system and that's so respectable, even if it scares some Christians. Since science cannot and will not ever be able to prove or disprove the existence of God, many Christians have a hard time with the disparity that comes with fully believing something, having a logical mind, and having rational human doubts. Christianity is a lesson in faith, and faith is not something that comes easily to anyone - especially faith in the unseen. Please understand that Christian faith is terrifying and unsure but also it's uplifting and comforting, and that's okay. We do appreciate that you have different viewpoints, but we're not always open to discussions because it seems like an attack (seriously, watch TV for one day and see how many times Christians are mocked).