Sunday, December 21, 2008

We don't have to take Christmas back...

Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
December 31, 2004

We don't have to take Christmas back -- no one took it away // The Light has come into the world and the darkness will never be able to put it out.

Author: Fr Andrew Greeley
Section: Editorials
Page: 37
Article Text:

I've never been able to figure out why we who are Christians are so eager to share our Christmas merriment with those who are not of the household of the faith. We have much to celebrate this time of the year -- the Light has come into the world and the darkness will never be able to put it out. So let's celebrate! But how can we expect that those for whom the Bethlehem event does not mean what we think it means to be merry with us?

(Patently I use the word "Christian" in an extended sense and not in the sense of the Bible Christians for whom most of the rest of us who follow Jesus of Nazareth are not really Christians, especially Catholics.)

It's our festival. We must defend it's unique and powerful meaning. Let the radio stations play all the Christmas music they want, so long as it is secular music -- like "Rudolph" or "White Christmas," but we must protect the real music, "Adeste," "Stille Nacht," "First Noel," "O Holy Night" from commercial profanation. We will listen to our own carols on records. It's all right for the fine arts stations to play the medieval and renaissance carols as fine arts music, a compromise with technology that doesn't hurt anyone. However, our lovely sacred music is only profaned when it is sung in godless public schools.

We must protest against crib scenes in department stores and on public property. We certainly don't need them because we have our own in the warmth of our homes and we should not accept the blasphemous use of them to enhance sales or for public propaganda. God doesn't need them either. We may tolerate the appearance of angels in such situations because almost every religion has angels of one sort or another; hence we have no monopoly on them. Indeed Gabriel, as is obvious from his name, is a Jewish angel. The Wise Men are a dubious case because they were probably either Persian or Arabian (one of them, I'm firmly convinced, was from Ireland).

However, the shepherds are ours because they were poor outcasts that no one loved. So is the candle in the window for the homeless. Santa Claus, it is worth pointing out, is a Catholic saint and patron of little children. Leave him alone, please.

The Christmas tree is also a problem. It is the German pagan tannenbaum -- a phallic symbol reaching up to impregnate the sky to bring down life-giving rain. Our appropriation of it might well offend any wandering German tribesman who happens upon our city plazas. However, we decided long ago that it represents Jesus the light of the world, so it's ours. If others want to use it, more power to them.

I'm trying to take Christ out of Christmas, you say, just like the secularists with whom the evangelicals are fighting these days? You bet I am! I don't want Him to be contaminated by all the nonsense. More precisely, however, I want to separate Christmas from the holidays. Christmas, for us, is not a holiday at all. It is The Holiday par excellence which we do not want to confuse with other holidays that occur at the same time. We may say "happy holidays" to those we know who are not of the household of the faith, out of respect for them, but with one another it can only be "Merry Christmas."

What about the generic "happy holidays" or "season's greetings" on television (along with execrable "Christmas" programs)? We should be tolerantly amused. A generic holiday is no holiday at all. I congratulate Jewish friends and colleagues at Hanukkah time and give them presents, but I don't kid myself that it is in the same order of meaning or importance for them that Christmas is for me. When the media speak of "holidays" they should be concrete -- "have a great festival of light" or "merry winter solstice" or "enjoy a fertile saturnalia!"

So with all due respect to our "evangelical" brothers and sisters who fight to "take back" Christmas, I am arguing, with some irony, that they've got it all wrong. We don't have to take it back because no one has ever taken it away (even the New England puritans who kept public schools in Boston open on Christmas in the late 19th century). Nor can anyone ever take it away.

The Light came into the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.

Copyright 2004, 2005 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
Record Number: 2250692

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