What Happened To Christmas?

Photo courtesy of wolfsavard

A funny thing happened on my way to writing an article about the latest atheist campaign launched to coincide with the Christmas holiday. Reading statements from the American Atheists regarding these efforts, I found some things that did not sit well with me. However, in doing my research I also stumbled across an excellent blog post by Jen Hatmaker and felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I was planning to expound on how the American Atheists were attempting to sabotage the meaning and relevance of Christmas when a cold, harsh reality hit me–atheists don’t have to try to undermine Christmas, because the rest of us have gone a long way toward cheapening it ourselves. Yeah, I said it. We’ve tarnished Christmas all on our own. Calling out the American Atheists for belittling Christianity/Christmas without casting a harsh light on my own treatment of the holiday–and the treatment it is given by much of America–would be the height of hypocrisy. Sadly, Christmas is being threatened on all fronts these days.

Back to my initial intent, let’s start with the latest campaign by the American Atheists. The AA has launched a new marketing campaign aimed at getting more atheists to “come out of the closet” and fess up that they don’t really believe in Jesus Christ or His heavenly father. Their latest poster has side-by-side images of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa, and Satan, with a tagline that varies by state. For Ohio, the billboard states: “1.6 million Ohioans know MYTHS when they see them. What do you see?”

Image courtesy of the American Atheists

I am annoyed by this marketing ploy on a couple of fronts. First, my own son is old enough to read, still adores Santa–and knows the meaning of the word myth. Images like this are going to raise questions for those kids, and put a lot of parents in the uncomfortable position of having that Santa conversation sooner than they intended. Second, imagine for a moment what would happen if the head of a Christian organization were to craft a similar campaign against followers of Islam. Suppose this Christian group made a similar poster, replacing the picture of Jesus with one of Muhammad, with the tagline “Muhammad is a Myth”. I have no doubt that the media would be in a tizzy, calling the posters examples of “hate speech” and calling those behind the campaign narrow-minded bigots. Somehow, in our anything goes, come as you are culture, Christians seems to be the last population it’s okay to mock and deride.

Photo courtesy of Sweetplace

Again, in all fairness, the atheists aren’t the only ones doing a number on Christmas, even if their attack is more direct. After all, atheists, by definition, are not big on honoring religious holidays. What’s more disappointing is realizing how my fellow Christians and I have dropped the ball on Christmas. For us, the whole reason for celebrating Christmas (Christ’s Mass) is supposed to be to remember and honor the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. And yet, we too get caught up in the feeding frenzy, spending ridiculous amounts of money on gifts for family and friends and struggling to pull off the whole Santa experience for our kids. A friend of mine just said the other day, “How weird is it that we buy presents for everyone else on Jesus’ birthday? Can you imagine if one of our friends had a birthday and we celebrated by giving other people presents?” She has a point. Christmas morning falls on a Sunday this year; how many families will skip church because they will be too busy watching the kids open presents and seeing what Santa brought? What does it tell our kids about our priorities that we will wait two hours at the mall to get their picture taken with Santa but we won’t carve out an hour on Christmas morning to honor the birth of Jesus which is supposed to be the reason we celebrate in the first place?

Of course there is a vast middle ground of people who celebrate Christmas not so much as a religious observance, but as a time to cherish those they hold dear and to reflect on the year that has been. Even for those people, haven’t things gotten more than a little out of hand? These days we tend to celebrate the “Fat Elvis” version of Christmas: bloated by excess, lacking the thrill and excitement it held for us when first we discovered it, failing to meet the expectations we had at the start. We run ourselves ragged from Black Friday till the big “Day after Christmas” sales, exhausting ourselves financially, emotionally, and spiritually, and vowing that next year we will slow down and simplify…but we almost never do.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Manning

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that for me, and probably for many of you, things could and should be simpler at this time of year. I think we get a lot of things right: it’s fun to decorate the tree, make cookies, sing Christmas carols, put up our Nativities, read the Advent story, or write letters to Santa. I just think we should focus more on those things that bring us genuine joy and eliminate the things that stress us out. A friend of mine gets her kids three gifts each year, with the following guideline: Something I want, something I need, something to read. Her kids are perfectly content with a small number of gifts and she is less overwhelmed with the pressure to buy a boatload of toys for kids who already have so much. We could pare down other areas in a similar ways: cutting down our Christmas card list, turning down a few Christmas party invites, or even hanging fewer decorations. If we truly want to celebrate the joy of Christmas, nothing the atheist movement says or does should deter us–but we also need to make sure we don’t sabotage ourselves along the way.