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Christmas Has Not Been Stolen

It only takes one look at tinseled-out storefronts to see that Christmas is alive and thriving.
 
 
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It's that time of the year again. The holiday shopping season is in full swing. The stores and city streets are decked out in all their holiday splendor -- tinseled trees, angels, reindeer, Santa.

And, despite these abundant public Christmas displays, the right-wing pundits have begun their annual campaign to convince the faithful that "the liberals", led by the ACLU, have waged a "war on Christmas".

Maybe I'm missing something, but, if there really is a war on Christmas, a quick trip to the local shopping mall should convince any skeptic that Christmas has surely won that battle. And I have yet to see throngs of ACLU members picketing the decorated stores. It looks to me as though the Christmas spirit is alive and thriving, as gaudily obvious as ever.

Furthermore, those who think that the evil, godless liberals are out to steal Christmas from them might find it interesting to look at the history of our Christmas traditions. Like many Christian holidays, numerous Christmas customs and symbols have their roots in pagan traditions. Most historians do not believe that Jesus was born on December 25, and there were no pine trees in the desert around Bethlehem. These elements were borrowed from the pagan winter holidays of Saturnalia and Yule. So, ironically enough, the early Christians were the ones who originally stole the holiday. But that's fine, in my opinion. There should be enough holiday spirit for everyone to share.

I admit there are some people who do make a fuss over public displays of religion. They are generally the humorless, militant atheist types who could use a lesson in tolerance (and a big, strong cup of eggnog). Here in the United States of America, we have freedom of religion. While that also includes the right for nonbelievers to practice no religion, they are doing themselves a disservice by trying to interfere with other people's right to observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, or any other holiday of their choice, religious or otherwise. But the right-wing zealots need to realize that these types are a very small minority. The ACLU will go to bat when there are complaints about blatant sectarian displays on tax-funded property. But these are very specific incidents. They pose no threat to Santa at the mall.

That said, I have to question the motives of those pundits who, year after year, whine about this imaginary war on Christmas. Are they really so insecure in their piety that they need to blatantly splash their iconry in every public square?

And didn't Jesus himself preach that we should practice our religion in private and secretly, and not in public? According to Matthew 6:5-6, "when thou pray, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy father which is in secret, and thy father which seeth in secret shall reward thee." I could find nothing in the gospels advocating giant displays of reindeer and mistletoe.

But I will enjoy those displays, even though I am not a Christian. After all, we live in a free country, and it is the multi-cultural nature of our melting-pot society that makes this nation so special.

Happy holidays to all.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She currently serves as Philadelphia Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed in this article are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: mary@maryshawonline.com

 
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