With the regularity of the tides (you can’t explain it), Bill O’Reilly began his whining about the terrible “War on Christmas” a couple of weeks ago. He rails about salespeople saying “Happy Holidays” and the lack of Nativity scenes in public areas and Christmas trees becoming Holiday trees. He spews and foams at the mouth about how atheists and humanists and pagans (oh my!) are trying to take Christmas away from the poor, besieged Fox News viewers. Oh, what a show he puts on! But who is really waging war on Christmas?
The War is, according to Fox and O’Reilly, being waged by the atheists, the Pagans and the “evul Libruls.” Anyone who believes that the Constitution forbids a state-supported religion is a threat to their holiday celebrations. For some reason, they are much more concerned about what they can’t do than what they can do.
But this is about more than the naming of a tree or a salesperson’s greeting. It’s a question of the spiritual symbols of the holidays being co-opted. It’s about the commercialism that has replaced the true meanings of those symbols. In the face of the media onslaught, the never-ending ads for sales, the songs, the decorations – the whole brouhaha that Christmas has become – so many of us have lost the spiritual side of the season. This isn’t about saying “Happy Holidays” or Christmas trees or reading Luke at a school pageant. It’s about what the holiday should mean to those who celebrate it.
For Christians, this holiday is about the advent of their God, His becoming flesh. It’s about how their God decided to become human and try to show everyone on Earth how to do the same. Now, I’m not Christian but I know that the real meaning of this holiday is very deep and profound. It is the very basis of this religion. Christmas should be a celebration of this miracle. But instead, Bill-O and his pals focus their ire on superficialities.
What does saying “Merry Christmas” truly have to do with how the holiday is celebrated? The irrelevance of a greeting is stark in contrast to the real meaning of the day. What does dropping almost half a billion dollars on things have to do with the birth of Christ? The real affront to the season – no matter which holiday one celebrates – is the mad consumerism. The material frenzy has become a desecration of the miracle that the holiday is based upon. It’s fine to celebrate the season with gifts and decorations but can’t we be a bit more… I don’t know… less conspicuous? Do we really need to have lights on every inch of the house with 20 foot rubber snowglobes and Santa on the roof? Do we need to have a dozen gifts for each family member? Do we have to be so greedy?
Jesus was a poor man. He ministered to the poor. He loved the poor, the sick, the elderly and the young. I think He would be appalled at how his birth has become a wallowing in materialism. I think He would be heartbroken.
And that’s just one aspect of this trumped-up War on Christmas. It’s interesting that some of the traditions that Bill-O and his minions get so worked up over are ones that were…stolen is such a harsh word; how about co-opted…from Pagans.
The Christmas tree goes as far back as the Romans, who decorated the trees in the Sacred Grove of Diana during Saturnalia. Germanic Pagans venerated evergreens because they did not “die” over the winter. Druids and Vikings alike would bring evergreen boughs into the house during Yuletide.
The date of Christmas itself is Pagan in origin. The 25th of December was a Roman holiday, Dies Natales Solis Invectus, the Birth of the Unconquerable Sun. The Persian god Mithra was also born on that date. Most biblical scholars agree that Jesus had to have been born in the Spring, but the Pagans celebrated the birth of many gods around the date of the Winter Solstice. Hence, the date was adopted by the Church in the 4th century as a way of making the transition from Pagan holidays to the Christian one a little easier.
There are many other traditions that were adopted by Christianity. But that’s not really very important in the scheme of things. All of the traditions and stories and foods and festivity have been homogenized into a secular holiday. And most of us are pretty okay with that, whatever our religion.
If there really is a “War on Christmas,” it is being waged by Bill O’Reilly, Fox News and everyone who chooses to look away from the bright light above the manger in favor of the bright lights of the Mall. Whatever holiday you celebrate this season, try to reach beyond the stuff to the spirit. Happy Holidays!