Thursday, December 13, 2012

What if Christmas were only recognized by Christians?

(From the December 13, 2012 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)

I have a Jewish colleague who was upset earlier this year when a meeting was scheduled on a Jewish holiday. She felt disenfranchised because she could not participate in the meeting.

I see her point, to a point. It may seem frustrating when American workplaces have days off during major Christian holidays, but the special occasions of other faiths are not recognized or noticed.

On the other hand, where would we draw the line on days off for Jewish, Muslim and countless other holidays? According to a 2010 survey, the U.S. does have more Jews than any other country besides Israel. But the number of Jews in the U.S. is 5 million, which is less than 2% of the US population of around 300 million. So changing official holidays for a minority does not seem to make sense when a Gallup survey says 78% of Americans consider themselves Christian.

But there is another thought that came to mind when I thought about the recognition of religious holidays. I actually sort of envied my Jewish friend.

What if Christmas were only celebrated in churches? What if the day were only recognized by people who consider the occasion to be one only of spiritual significance? What if the Christmas returned to being what a “holiday” really is supposed to be, a holy day?

It might mean not having an automatic time off at work for Christmas. But some are already calling the season a “winter break” or something of that sort. I have no problem with that. We could still retain the worshipful celebration of the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of all who believe in Him. All the other aspects of our modern Christmas would cease, but I think that might be refreshing.

I mean, my Jewish friend should be careful what she wishes for. Would she really want society to do to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and Chanukah what has been done to Christmas? There would be a jolly, fat Rabbi appearing in silly movies and TV specials. There would be a plethora of record albums blending pop music with sacred songs. People would frantically invade shopping malls to participate in some tradition gone amok, largely missing the point and spirit of the season even as they refer vaguely to “the true meaning” of the holy day.

My Jewish friend seemed offended that others did not recognize her holy days. She would likely be more offended if society embraced Jewish holidays to the extent that Jews no longer recognize them.

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of the cultural aspects of Christmas that I enjoy—the food, the lights, the time off, and even the Jim Carey version of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” But at times I sit back and think about the true, really true, meaning of Christmas and I get a little sad and even offended about what has become of a holy day.

The goofy movies and TV “Christmas” specials rarely if ever mention Christ. There are movies focused on Santa Claus, elves, and all manner of tragic and hilarious family relationship issues that are resolved in the end because people remember the “true meaning of Christmas.” What that is exactly is always understated, left to the viewer, or ridiculously light of moral reason.

I also do enjoy Christmas music. At our house there is a whole separate CD tower of just Christmas music. But that’s also because a lot of what is played on commercial radio is just plain annoying. It’s hard to name one professional musician who has not marketed a Christmas album. They don’t do this because they suddenly found Christ. They do this because Christmas albums are easy to make and sell. Many of them are not even very good. I recently heard a free version of Rod Stewart singing “Silent Night.” I’m glad it was free. I would sooner pay for an album that was a recording of an actual silent night.

The most upsetting is the commercialization of Christmas. I get annoyed when ads remind me that there are a certain number of “shopping days until Christmas.” As if buying things and boosting the economy is why God sent His Son into the world. I want to reply by asking sarcastically how many shopping days until Jesus comes again, because I may want to load up on stuff to take with me.

My colleague is understandably upset that she is part of a minority faith group whose special days are not recognized at work or by society at large. But to that I want to tell her: count your blessings; your holidays are kept holy.