We’re still a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, but the battles over Christmas have already begun. Christmas music is playing in many stores and the malls already have their decorations up. Hallmark channel is playing Christmas movies, and every day brings a new stack of catalogs to my mailbox filled with Christmas gift ideas.
While many people sigh and shake their heads in dismay, retailers big and small are already battling to get their share of your holiday spending. It’s serious business to them, with some, like Walmart, adding more Christmas cheer to draw in buyers and others, like REI, hoping to catch some goodwill by actually closing their stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. With “Black Friday” deals already available in many stores, it seems the whole of November will soon be known as “Christmas Shopping Month.”
Of course, the real battle over Christmas is whether we’re even allowed to call it that anymore. Many public schools now have “winter break” instead of a Christmas holiday. The same stores which are desperate for your shopping dollars have instructed their employees to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The big outcry this year is over Starbuck’s decision to offer a plain red cup during the holiday season rather than something more festive like snowflakes or Christmas trees. ““This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories,” is the official reason for the change, causing many Christians to respond with accusations of political correctness and a hatred of Christmas.
But let’s face it, the “Christmas” we’re fighting over doesn’t have a lot to do with the story of a baby in a manger – God Incarnate sent to earth to die for the sins of mankind. Snowflakes, fake evergreen trees, twinkling lights, and songs about a jolly guy in a red suit – whether they show up before or after Thanksgiving – do little to remind us of the greatest gift ever given or help us show our love and gratitude for that gift.
I’ll admit it. I like all the holiday trappings, the lights and garlands and pretty wrapping paper. They lighten my heart and make me think that the world can be a beautiful place. For the most part, though, our world is not a beautiful place. It is filled with poverty, violence, despair, war, greed, ignorance, dissension, and disunity. We can’t decorate our way out of that reality, although we can disguise it for a while.
I wonder if that isn’t the reason many Christians put so much focus on Christmas and want everyone around them to celebrate it with them. We don’t show too much concern over whether our neighbors know who Jesus is or why he came to earth to be born in a lowly manger. We just want them to put lights on their houses, put decorations on their cups, and say “Merry Christmas” with a smile on their faces so we can feel safe and protected in our own little winter wonderland for one more Christmas season. We want to forget our responsibility to tell them what Jesus did for them. We want to want to pretend Christmas miracles will make everything all right, if we all just believe.
Charlie Brown once asked, “Will somebody please tell me what Christmas is all about?” Before you wade into the Christmas wars this season, ask yourself that question. Then ask what will you be doing this season to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and to share God’s gift of Jesus with your neighbors and with the world?
What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.