Christians and their attacks on Christmas

December 17, 2009

I’m fascinated by all these news of Christians attacking Christmas (who would’ve thought googling Christians, Attack, Christmas, would turn out with so many results!)

There’s one camp of Christians, led by orgs like Focus on the Family, who stage campaigns and rail against the secular commercial industry for taking the Christ out of Christmas. These guys don’t like how stores try to be PC and use slogans such as “Happy Holidays” instead of making Christmas a celebration focused on the birth of Jesus. They put up billboards with signs that say, “I miss you saying – Merry Christmas. Jesus.” Or they rate various stores on how “Christ-friendly” they are on the basis of how they market their products.

Another camp of Christians says to the previous group, “Seriously? Seriously? You’re gonna take issue over whether stores say Merry Christmas while going on spending sprees with no regard for the poor, sick, and hungry? You think Jesus cares about holiday slogans more than He cares about justice?” These guys campaign against widespread consumerism during the Christmas season and encourage everyone to spend less, give more to charities, and buy gifts from companies who take social and environmental responsibilities seriously.

Then there are those of us (and I say us because this was my context for the past 6 years) who celebrate Christmas overseas and are safely distanced from the marketing tactics of retailers in America. We live in a place where Christianity has not largely influenced recent history and tradition, and thus Christmas is superficially celebrated with some cheesy music and decorations and young people exchanging gifts. It’s sort of like Valentine’s Day with red and green. These guys celebrate Christmas by claiming this window as a precious opportunity to share the gospel in a context where precious few have heard of what Jesus is all about. These guys spend the bulk of the Season working on various evangelistic outreach events.

I actually park my feet pretty firmly in camp number two. Camp number one confounds me a little bit. Why would we expect non believers to care about celebrating Christmas? Retailers are trying to make a profit and if being PC gets more customers buying, then of course they are going to chant Happy Holidays. Camp number three is exhausting and I often doubt its effectiveness. I believe we need to share the gospel through a tradition that is meaningful and relevant to the host culture instead of forcing a very western Christmas on them and then trying to share the message of the gospel through that. That is an outdated missionary model, I believe. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ who came to bring us salvation. I believe it is a salvation which delivers those of us who are held bondage to our consumer oriented society AND a salvation who delivers the poor, neglected, oppressed, marginalized. So it is quite appropriate to celebrate Christmas by spending less and giving more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint. We definitely have a very large tree set up with presents under the tree for our kids. I do see the value of creating a sense of wonder and excitement for my children who are only children for a short time. They deserve to imagine santa and eagerly anticipate what’s wrapped underneath the tree. I just hope at the same time we can work towards giving more children around the world the opportunity to be the children they deserve to be instead of being worried about hunger, disease, violence, being orphaned, or risk of being trafficked.

However, if there was a camp (and if there isn’t one, I guess I’ll invent one) of Christians who see a need to decrease Christmas and increase Easter, I would stand in line to sign up. Like N.T. Wright says in “Surprised by Hope”, if we lose Christmas we lose a couple of chapters in the gospels. If we lose Easter, we lose the entire New Testament! Easter is our Day of Celebration! Easter is when we need to hoot and holler, pause and meditate, adjust our year’s resolutions to match up with the MEANING of Jesus being risen. Maybe more Christians ought to channel our passion against various issues during Christmas into uplifting the celebration of Easter.