Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I realize that as a Christian pastor, in a liturgical tradition that takes its time in getting to Bethlehem, that my experience in December may not be quite the same as that of others. Still, they do let me out of the church every now and again and I am, by nature, not a terribly "sheltered" or "parochial" person.

Signs of Christmas are all around me. No one, as far as I can tell, has declared war on Christmas. There are wreaths aligning Main Street in the town where I live. This weekend I went to the campus of Harvard University (that bastion of liberalism!)- to the Memorial Church, located in the heart of Harvard Yard, to worship at the 101st year of their "Service of Lessons and Carols." Absolutely lovely, but no "war" there as far as I could see.

We were at Harvard to hear my oldest son singing in the choir. Tonight we are headed to Wachusett Regional High School--our local public school--to hear our younger son sing. It won't be a worship service, but Christmas will be more than recognized through beautiful, and dare I say, "sacred" music.

I could go on: the Christmas tree at the White House, the music on the radio, the decorations in the drug store... But my point is simply this: where the front lines of this "war on Christmas?"

Or is it possible that it is just imagined? Is it possible that where there is smoke there is in fact, no fire at all?

I know that the old Protestant hegemonic powers are coming apart, and as an old Protestant I have to be honest: I am glad for that. I think Christians have done much better, historically, when we are a little bit under the radar than in the halls of power. But in the month of December, I just don't feel under attack. If anything, I find myself wondering what it is like to be a non-Christian this month: what it feels like as a Jew or Buddhist or Muslim, what it's like to have it "beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go" when it is not your tradition. Do we really think that "real" Americans celebrate Christmas?

As a Christian - as a follower of Jesus - I feel compassion for those whose holidays are not so supported by the culture. (Although I also feel just a twinge of envy sometimes too, because I think it's hard for Christians to separate out the cultural parts from the faith parts. But that's another rumination...)

I don't need to tell my non-Christian neighbors, "Merry Christmas." It feels, quite frankly, rude to me. Literally, of course, wishing them well as they attend the Christ-Mass...really? Why would I want the clerk at the Walmart to say this to me, unless she happens to be someone I will in fact see in the pews at the Christ-Mass on December 24?

These are holy days for many, a season of celebrating light in the darkness. Happy Holidays! That includes my faith but it also shows respect, and hospitality, and friendship to those whose beliefs differ from mine. I don't think it is even remotely disrespectful to Jesus.


  1. I love hearing the different opinions...debates ...about this topic!
    I was working at friendly's in high school (I went to a Catholic high school) and said Merry Christmas to a little girl and innocently asked her what she wanted Santa to bring her. "I don't believe in Santa" Hearing this from a 3 or 4 year old amazed me. Then her mother laughed and said "that's because we're Jewish." That little girl taught me a lot!

  2. I try not to get frustrated by e-mails from friends that tell us that to be American you need to be a white christian natural born citizen. I'm never sure whether these come from friends because they simply pass along whatever they receive without giving the content much thought or they really believe in the content of the mail.
    I have a Santa style card mail bag from my parents that must be over 80 years old and it says "Holiday Mail Bag". I love it.