This article first appeared on National Review OnLine.
My eight-year-old grandson recently had occasion to show off his Christmas tree to a neighbor who had dropped by unexpectedly. The tree, decorated primarily by John and his sisters, ages three, six, and ten, is heavy on gaudy red tinsel and has a high density of non-breakable ornaments on its lower half. It is, frankly, more Charlie Brown than Town and Country. But it has its own charm, and they definitely feel ownership of the tree.
John soon pressed the neighbor into service, offering him an ornament to place on the tree. As the boy carefully added his decoration, under John’s helpful supervision, the neighbor noted that he hadn’t had a Christmas tree in years.
Undeterred, and irrepressible, John asked cheerfully, “Oh, so do you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa?”
John’s question illustrates the fine line we all walk in appreciating and protecting the rich diversity of a multicultural nation. His question also points out the dilemma we face – the mediocrity of homogenization.
This season, America has embraced the homogenization of Christmas with a vengeance.
After the steady decline from celebrating the birth of Christ into heralding the flight of Saint Nick, our culture is sinking quickly into hallowing Billy Bass, the singing fish.
Ironically, while social critics for years have been decrying the increasing materialism of the Christmas season, it may just be that this commercialization is inherently self-defeating. Exhibit A: Wal-Mart says its “holiday” sales are down even with the upturn in the economy.
No wonder! Merchants cannot denigrate Christmas and, at the same time, expect people to consider it significant motivation to spend lots of money on presents. Frankly, a plain ol’ holiday won’t continue to motivate people to go all-out, go into debt, or devote great effort to planning, shopping, decorating, partying, wrapping, and celebrating. Obviously, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of money. Most harried households would be glad to cut out the work and save the money.
What’s the point of spending a bundle for an event that no longer has a shared cultural significance, rooted in spiritual resonance? Why continue a tradition that, at best, has the potential for awkward social faux pas?
For years Christmas has been dangerously close to becoming merely a commercial commodity. Merchants, media, government, and culture have all worked together to transform the sacred celebration into a homogenized, generic holiday. Christmas has become a product to be sold; a holiday like any other, with a theme and a decorating code dictated by Bobo aesthetics (no red tinsel). The various holidays on the annual calendar are becoming interchangeable: Happy Winter Holiday! Merry Memorial Day! Joyeux Casual Friday! Let’s Party During Spring Break!
But, they can’t have it both ways.
It’s no mystery why merchants are seeing their bottom lines drop. Main Street Americans are getting the message – Christmas is just another day, after all. The crass advertising lures Christians to the stores; once there, their beliefs are trivialized; their Savior is ignored. Increasingly, clerks have been forbidden to acknowledge “the reason for the season” with a cheery “Merry Christmas.” Instead the marketplaces ring with bland “Happy Holidays” – the mandatory, politically correct greeting.
Forget the merchant’s bottom line. Maybe this final degradation of Christmas won’t be so bad. It could even be good for Christmas – and Christians. Finally, we will have to acknowledge the impossibility of worshipping both God and Mammon, especially on the same day. Those of us who are true believers can spend our efforts worshipping Him instead of shopping and partying. We can return the winter-solstice celebrations back to the pagans. After all, the birth of Christ, formerly a religious celebration, became a federal holiday by fiat – another day off from hard labor. The commercialization and trivialization of the day’s significance can degenerate even further so that Christ’s birth date can come to rival the birth date of George Washington – now tossed in together with Lincoln’s birthday to make just another amorphous three-day weekend named Presidents’ Day, celebrated as time off to buy a mattress on sale.
Instead of enduring endless checkout lines as harried shoppers scurrying to find the perfect gift, perhaps true believers will find the time to stand outside a place of worship, in a live crhe, in mute witness to the babe in the manger.
Or, better yet, maybe they’ll work to make it legal again to place the nativity scene in the public square.
Otherwise – well, ho, ho, hum: another holiday. What’s this one called? Didn’t people use to buy gifts, have parties, and make it a big deal?
– Janice Shaw Crouse is a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America. She is author and editor of the Christian Women’s Declaration.