Season’s Greetings or Merry Christmas?

This article was published in the St.Catharines Standard.

It’s time for the annual Christmas discussions. Is Christmas too commercialized? The obvious answer is “yes”, but does it matter? Aren’t we all free to decide to make this season all about shopping, or to take a more balanced approach?

Another typical question: How do we know Jesus was really born on December 25th? We don’t, and in fact there is good reason to think He wasn’t, but does that change anything?

Then the big one: What’s the proper greeting, ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy Holidays’, or the all-encompassing ‘Season’s Greetings’? This debate is primarily between committed conservative Christians, who want to ‘put Christ back in Christmas’, versus politically correct adherents of the Christian religion. I spend a lot of time with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists and I’ve never heard a concern from them. In fact they are often the first ones to wish me “Merry Christmas”.

The argument for replacing ‘Christmas’ with ‘Holiday’, or ‘Season’s’, goes something like this:

Today we live in a multi-cultural society, and there are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, atheists etc. Unless you are from the Christian background, Christmas has little or no meaning, so it is discriminatory or even offensive that December 25th is celebrated as a special day. Consequently, there is no room for public displays of the nativity scene or any greetings that includes the word ‘Christ’. Politicians and corporate executives should be careful not to push a single religious message. Why would retailers or politicians want to offend those who they rely upon to be consumers or voters? Some go as far as to suggest that Christmas cards are a form of aggressive evangelism. 

A few years ago I was traveling in Great Britain just before Christmas and the debate was raging about new ‘holiday’ stamps issued by the Royal Mail service. The stamps lacked any religious theme and this was viewed by “the faithful” as a betrayal of the Christian roots of the U.K.

On the other extreme you have ultra conservative Christians, who claim that back in Roman times the Christian institutionalized church simply took over the dates and celebrations of the pagan mid-winter festival, and according to this logic, Christmas is a pagan holiday. Pagans in ancient times put up trees in their houses, so the story goes, and out goes the Christmas tree.

My response is; get a life. Instead of asking, “Is Christmas too commercialized”, how about,  “Are religious people in general just too easily offended?” My faith in Jesus Christ is not shaken or offended when Muslim friends tell me about their observance of Ramadan. I am happy to receive greeting cards from Jewish friends celebrating Hanukkah, Hindus enjoying Diwali or Muslims celebrating Eid. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I stayed in a hotel where the call to prayer from a nearby minaret echoed through our room five times per day. That’s not offensive to us, and neither should Christmas be to anyone. This time of the year is not a generic vacation, but a celebration that a Savior for the whole world was born 2000 years ago.

In an ideal world, as I see it, every card and sign would say ‘Christmas’, but none of this is my real concern. Gospel-believing Christians face a lot more important issues than nativity scenes and religious themes on stamps. The oldest book in the New Testament, Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, addresses the Christmas theme, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman”. A few verses later, the apostle corrects the new Christians in Galatia, “You observe days and months and seasons and years. I’m afraid for you”. The point is not to discontinue special days, as Paul himself participated in festivals and celebrations, but to stop majoring on the minors. 

The real issue is not nativity scenes outside city hall or Christmas carols in public schools. The apostle explains that what matters is if you have experienced what it means to become “a new creation” in Christ. Christmas is about how the unlimited God caused His Son to be begotten inside the womb of Mary. The story continues today, as the same unlimited God wants to put the Spirit of Christ inside of people, making us new creations. Bottom line, I am not nearly as concerned about Christ put back in Christmas, as I am about Christ coming in to every heart and home. Now that is real Christmas: Immanuel, God with us.

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