As I have grown up to become a curmudgeonly old man, I have started to have more and more of a problem with the Christmas music that seems to sprout up everywhere right after Thanksgiving. As soon as my father turned on the car to drive me back on Saturday, there it was. I am not sure how this started, but it is likely that working retail helped since everyone loves listening to “Jingle Bells” eight times a day.
At any rate, my position as an outsider coming into the U.S. gives me a good venue point to make some observations about how Christmas is approached in this country. Starting with the commercialization of Santa Claus and—with it—the loss of the very real and very important story of the historical St. Nicholas, it would not be controversial to question whether we have, at some point along the line, lost the original meaning of Christmas.
As a child, I remember a conversation that I had with my bishop (I was cool like that) about the prevalence of the theme of joy in Christmas hymns. He asked me why I thought that was the case, so I responded that this was due to the fulfillment of the prophecy that God delivered to our ancestor Adam in Genesis 3:15 of the coming of the One who would strike at the serpent’s head. Of course, this was due to the fact that I was an altar boy and paid attention to his sermons. Certainly, this is the case for liturgical hymns, if not Genesis 3:15, Deuteronomy 18:18-19, or Isaiah 7:14, or Isaiah 9:2-7, or Micah 5:2, and so on. It would be difficult to argue that the same is true for our contemporary Christmas music. In fact, it is pertinent to ask what the source of that joy is. Is it getting presents? That happens at other times also. Is it holiday parties and family coming back home? That also happens at other times. What is it that makes Christmas special; that makes it different? Is it just another holiday where we bow down before the idol of commercialism?
I do not mean to sound merely like a curmudgeonly old man. Much more than coffee cups, festivus poles, and whatever silliness the Satanic Temple will come up with this month—none of which have any bearing on Christmas or affect serious Christians in any way—I find the attitude that some Christians employ during Christmas to be the real issue. I ultimately have no problem with secular Christmas music, Christmas trees, presents, and any other traditions that for most people define the Christmas season so long as we are conscientious of the fact that all these are outward signs of our inward joy and hope. If, on the other hand, Christmas is merely about parties and presents, if it’s merely about “rocking around the Christmas tree,” then our joy is hollow and our hope is pointless. So, next time you hear people scream about the “war on Christmas,” remind them to make sure they are not aiding the issue by harping on inconsequential topics while ignoring the actual issues at hand.