It’s Christmas again, which means we were granted another year. Ben Franklin was right: “Time is the stuff life is made of.” It behooves us to give thought to its swift passage.
I get discouraged and agitated when I see school marquee signs that say “Winter Holidays.” Every reader of this sentence knows why our schools close in late December. It’s not to celebrate winter’s arrival. If we’re closing schools and workplaces for Ramadan, let’s say Ramadan. If for Hanukah, let’s say Hanukah. If for Christmas, let’s say Christmas. Verbal obfuscation is silly and misleading. It’s also rampant.
“Holiday” truly is a variant spelling of holy day. Ask any linguist or etymologist. “Winter Holidays” not only doesn’t hit the mark, it also evokes images of the winter solstice. Sadly, such imagery is as far from Christmas as anything can be. The winter solstice is about the natural world. Christmas is about the supernatural.
Attempting to cleanse our schools of religious reference, we have merely switched religious reference. “Winter Holidays” has cleansed Christian reference for sure, but no one can claim that “Winter Holidays” (holy days) is not religious. Pagan animism (ascribing spiritual significance to natural phenomena) has always been a religion. School boards, of course, didn’t have this in mind, but effect is always more significant than intent. The effect? The denial of a centuries-old Western tradition which, incredibly, must now be defended.
Yes, we engage in all kinds of verbal contortions in order to avoid offense. Never mind that the new names cause offense as well. Name any great leaders you wish and consider how little attention they gave to avoiding offense. Leaders and pointers of the way, if they move heads and hearts at all, automatically give offense, bestirring us one way or another. Putting up with contemporary leaders who prefer tip-toeing around egg shells appears to be the plight of us moderns.
Christmas, however, is too wondrous a spirit and too deep a set of truths for timid leaders to diminish it. If America’s leaders wish to whisper about Christmas, those who choose to herald it can still do so.
And herald it we should. To the Christian, Christmas is about the coming of Christ to a planet that needs a savior today more than ever. Christians believe Christ was God because he said he was and because they have seen so many lives transformed by his gospel. But even if one rejects Christ as God with us, the spirit and the proper celebration of Christmas can and does affect everyone positively.
For example, Christmas reminds Christians of what every other day of the year is supposed to be like. In one of his best-selling songs, Elvis Presley sang, “Why can’t every day be like Christmas? If every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be.”
Well, of course. Christmas reminds Christians and everyone else that they should be Secret Santas the year round and that “peace on Earth” is not just a nice slogan but an evident reality for individuals who experience personal peace even in a crazy world. Christmas reminds believers and unbelievers alike to tip, as generously as possible, all of the twenty-somethings who are holding on to their dreams while in low-paying jobs.
Christmas has always been about gifts because the first Christmas involved a gift. Gifts have always equaled love. Seems to me the world could use a great deal of love. We certainly don’t need more war, divorce or crime.
The sounds of Christmas such as bells ringing and children laughing are thrilling. So are choirs singing (though not in churches where choirs are just not cool). But Christmas can also inspire silence. Theologians tell us that between the prophet Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, and the gospel according to Matthew, the first book in the New Testament, there was a 400-year period of silence as far as God’s revelation of any kind to Israel is concerned.
Just as significant is the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) into which Christ came. It may have been a false peace -- peace at the point of a Roman spear -- but it was still quiet on that first Christmas. With all of the happy noise, I say we need some silence in the mix as well.
Philosophically, there are actually only two worldviews, naturalism and supernaturalism. Naturalism says we are all here “as on a darkling plain” awash in confusion. Christmas, which is distinctly supernatural, whispers “No, there is meaning to life and peace can be had, even while the world is in strife.”
Roger Hines is a columnist for the Marietta Daily Journal.