Posts Tagged Christmas
I guess it’s becoming a holiday tradition for me to make spicy chocolate crunch, since this is the second year in a row that I’ve done it. Pretty astounding for me to stick with anything that long.
So I wrapped up a package of candy and topped it off with a Fuentes cigar tied with a red ribbon, to take over to my next door neighbor’s house. Walking up their front steps, I considered how to greet them, as they are devout Muslims. I decided that this year I was going to go against my better instincts and say “Merry Christmas”. For the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been a staunch advocate of the “Happy Holidays” approach.
When Asan opened the door he beat me to the punch with his own hearty “Merry Christmas”! And why not? It’s an American custom, a tradition that really has little to do with religion anymore. The Christmas season has always been about the universal ideal of “peace on Earth, good will towards men”. That is, until some mean old Christians went and ruined it.
No one used to worry about offending anyone with “Merry Christmas”. I used to work for a reformed Jewish fellow and we made no bones about the season being about Christmas. Hanukkah fell in their somewhere, but it surely wasn’t a Hanukkah season. We put a tree up in the restaurant lobby every year and, yes, there was a menorah on the mantle. We both enjoyed the season and we both enjoyed the business that the season generated. I never gave my personal greetings much thought, but probably gave equal time to Christmas, the Holidays and New Year.
But then some overly sensitive, paranoid and doctrinaire Christians became offended by the lack of “Christ” in the Christmas season (as if Christ hadn’t been upstaged by Santa Clause since long before WWII). They mounted a national campaign designed to regain uncontested control of the holidays. Coming from their lips “Merry Christmas” was no longer a heartfelt greeting meant to wish people joy and happiness, it was now a challenge like “I dare you to knock this frankincense off my shoulder!” Or the Christian equivalent of the Black Power salute: a symbol of defiance in the face of ‘secularists’ and solidarity among the ‘faithful’. Where is the grace in that?
All of a sudden it became difficult for the rest of us to wish people a merry Christmas. These zealous Christians had created an air of tension where there was none before. It wasn’t the ‘secularists’ or the rare militant atheist who made the Christmas greeting into a politically incorrect statement – it was the result of needy, insecure Christians demanding that everyone confirm their religious tradition. In their fervent devotion to the idealized story of the birth of a baby God they effectively buried the adult Jesus’ message beneath the sands of a mythical Bethlehem.
But not quite. I find it heartening, when a devout Muslim man is able to share the true spirit of Christmas with a jaded, cynical Christian like myself, without compromising his own faith in the process.
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah!
The tragic Wal Mart Black Friday Riot reminded me of this story in the Bible:
“A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank, into a nearby mall and got all their Christmas shopping done.”
A stampede of shoppers in a Valley Stream Wal-Mart on (Black) Friday morning left one worker dead and at least three patrons injured after an impatient crowd broke down the store doors and trampled the seasonal employee, Nassau police said.
Jdimytai Damour of Jamaica, Queens, was pushed to the ground by the 2,000-plus crowd just before 5 a.m. as management was preparing to open the store, which is located across from the main Green Acres Mall building. Hundreds stepped over, around and on the 34-year-old worker as they rushed into the store.
“This crowd was out of control,” said Nassau Police Det. Lt. Michael Fleming, whose squad is investigating.
“Nobody was trying to help him,” said shopper Nakea Augustine, who was in the line. “They were rushing in the store, rushing, rushing, rushing.”
Ah…Christmas. There’s a certain magic in the air. Can’t you smell it?
Each winter it got very dark in the garden, especially during the last month of the year. Some of the children would become sad and depressed during this time, remembering those that had passed before and pining away for the warm sunshine and green plants of summer. But on the very darkest and shortest day of the whole year there was much gaiety and laughter. For on that day most of the children would celebrate with candles, bonfires, music, song and feasting. On that day all the children in the Old Man’s gardens would throw festivals to remind themselves that starting tomorrow the days would become longer and brighter, bringing the promise of spring.
All these festivals were a bit different from each other, though. Each one revolved around the distinct customs found in all the various garden’s of the Old Man’s. The children brought these customs and traditions with them over his many bridges; bridges built by his Son built to help bring them closer to the Old Man.
Often the Old Man could be seen at these many different festivals, singing, dancing, talking and laughing with the children. Wherever there was a celebration of life and friendship there you would also find the Old Man.
One day some of the leaders in the garden were talking; “You know, all these festivals are great fun, but none of them say much about the Old Man” said one girl (who had been one of the first to find the garden.)
“So?” the others asked.
“Well, we owe him so much and he has been so kind. Don’t you think it would be great if we held all the winterfestivals in honor of him?” she said.
Of course! It seemed so obvious to them. Everyone loved the idea. So they decided to take the best from each festival and created one great big one dedicated to the Old Man. It was to be called Old Man’s Festival. There was even more food, more music, more dancing, more decorations, candles and bonfires than ever before. It was a wonderful time and the Old Man seemed to love it.
Soon the Festival got so big that it took almost a whole month for all the preparations to be made. If there already wasn’t enough to do, someone came up with a new idea.
“The Old Man, he doesn’t get a birthday like the rest of us. I’ll bet he gets sad about that. Why don’t we bring him gifts during the festival?” Who could (or dared) say no to that?
The first year that everyone brought gifts, the Old Man seemed embarrassed;“Children, you needn’t bring me things. What can I possibly need? I own everything in the garden as it is. All I want is your love and for you to love each other.”
“Well, if he once us to love each other let’s give the gifts to those who can use them.” First they started with the needy kids but then they began to give them to anyone that they liked. They loved to give (and receive) gifts and this soon became the most important part of the festival (even more important to some than remembering the Old Man). Each year it was important to find that perfect gift, to show that you really cared for the person you gave it to.
Eventually the children had so much to do for Old Man’s Festival that they started to lose track of their time. The preparations began earlier and earlier. They worked harder and harder at cooking delicious food, decorating the yard with thousands of lights, and hanging colorful ribbons and bows. Mostly, though, they were frantically making or buying all the gifts they needed to make the Festival a success. Sometimes the Old Man would be seen coming down the hill to talk with a few of the children but they were much too busy getting ready for his feast day. He would often walk through the campgrounds, trying to get the attention of the busy children.
Meanwhile, more children kept coming across the bridges and they brought along their own customs and traditions. They would set up their own midwinter’s feasts, with the all lights and food and music but of course it all would be very different from the established Festival traditions. Of course, these children would be invited to join in the Festival, if they were willing to give up their old customs and ways. Few of these new arrivals could understand why this was necessary so most of them respectfully declined. Even so, they were always reminded that their winter festivals weren’t the real thing, that their celebrations should only be about the Old Man.
The Festival season became bigger and better and the season lasted longer and longer. Soon everyone involved could be seen running to and fro, frantically trying to get everything done in time for the big event. This year was to be the biggest and best so far. Finally the time had come–it was Festival Day! The party was tremendous, the food delicious, the children’s orchestra and choir had never been better. White and colored lamps and candles, ornamental flowers, ribbons, bows- it was fantastic. The hall hung with tapestries. Dozens of cooks and servers laid out great platters of exotic and exquisite meats, cakes and sweets- more than they could ever possibly eat! Children put on plays and skits and dancers displayed their skills. And the gifts! – what wonderful gifts! No expense was spared. Wrapping paper flew through the air and there were squeals of delight (and occasional groans of disappointment.) Singing, laughing – so much noise and revelry. It had been exhausting and frantic but the day was finally here. This was worth all the headaches and stress. Now it was time to have fun. It was Festival!
But something seemed to be out of place. The celebration was just not quite right. There was an uncomfortable sense that a very important element was missing. Where was the Old Man?
He was supposed to be here- after all it was his party. But no matter how hard everyone looked they could not find him. What a terrible disappointment! All this work, all this excitement and anticipatioin – and for what? They looked around at all the dishes and glasses and silverware that needed to be cleaned, all the torn paper wrapping and bits of string, the dying plants and sagging festoons. Was this it? Everyone became very quiet as they pondered how much time and effort they had spent preparing for this one day. And how much more work now faced them.
Just then then, drifting in on the wind, there could be heard the faint sound of laughter, and perhaps just a bit of music. The wind was blowing in from the west, from around the hillside and they all listened. Yes! That was laughter- and song! Where was that coming from?
Some of the children decided that they must find the source of these delightful noises. The others pleaded with them; “Dont’ go! You must stay and help clean up!” But they turned and ran out into the darkness, towards the west and the source of the laughter.
They ran and ran and finally came to the shoulder of the great hill. The horizon was glowing softly and as they crested the rise they saw below them an amazing spectacle. At the bottom of the hill there lay a small camp, made up of some of those children who had recently come over the bridge. There was an open bonfire circled by many children, all wearing simple yet colorful clothes. They were singing and laughing and dancing. Nearby stood some others with violins and tambourines and they were playing a simple rhythmic melody. Over the fire the carcass of a goat sizzled slowly on a spit while a young boy kept a close watch on it.
Off to the side they were astonished to see the Old Man sitting quietly on the ground. Surrounding him were a dozen or so children and they all seemed captivated by what the he was saying. Sitting at his feet they listened quietly, and when they occasionally asked him questions he would listen too, nodding his head and smiling. Beyond them could be heard the dancing, laughing and singing but it was never so loud that it drowned out the Old Man’s voice. Seeing the newcomers on the hillside, he beckoned for them to come closer.
Over the course of our friendly debate about the “Christianity” of Christmas there has been a number of different opinions presented; One suggests that the secular world, fueled by the “New Atheism”, is determined to remove any vestige of religion or spirituality from the public sector . Another suggests that Political Correctness is sucking the true meaning out of this Holiday season, homogenizing the story of God’s incarnation in it’s attempt to appease all faiths. There are those, some Christian, some Atheist, some Pagan, who point out that this is not a Christian holiday at all and should be identified for what it really is– a celebration of hope in the darkness of midwinter.
I have been of the opinion that, although all of the above suggestions are true to some extent, what many of us now call “Christmas” or the “Holidays” is something completely different, more along the lines of an extended holiday version of of the Memorial, Independence and Labor Day sales of the summer. It has been co-opted by commercial interests and the fervor to publicly stamp Jesus’ name on them is misspent energy. In fact, considering his anger in the temple, why would he want to be associated with advertising campaigns designed to only increase profits? As I said last month;
Well if you have collectively already captured the Christian market for this holiday ( we are going to go shopping, no matter what) then how do you increase your business? Expand your market to include non-Christians and you help accomplish that by sanitizing the religiousness out of it. Heck I’ve known people that have had Hanukkah trees years ago, exchanging ‘winter’ gifts and all that. And now we have a tremendous influx of Muslims and Hindus into the country with a fair amount of income at their disposal. So let’s make Christmas a ‘universal’ holiday – let’s get everyone to buy gifts!
Well, apparently someone else agrees with me. In the December 31st issue of National Review (not yet online), Jonah Goldberg says this in an article entitled “Merry Holidays” (page 12):
…conservatives in America very rarely pay attention to the fact that, while the extremists of the Left seek to purge the public square of Christmas in its entirety, the Right – in the form of capitalism – seeks to water down Christmas almost everywhere else. Each year a Wal-Mart or a K-Mart, a Sears or a Home Depot, arouses the ire of patriots for Christmas who cannot stomach the use of “Holiday Trees” on its signs or “Happy Holidays!” in its TV commercials. Often these Yuletide partisans will try to suggest that Big Business is caving to political correctness. And there’s some truth to that, to be sure. But there’s something else going on: Businesses like to make money from everybody. It is in their interest to appeal to as many “holiday” shoppers as they can, be they Jews, Muslims, atheists, or pagans.
…Jesus’ question—What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his sown soul?—seems ecumenically apt enough. Some things aren’t for sale at any price……..Wal-Mart couldn’t care less about menorahs or crèches in the public square—so long as they were bought you-know-where.
National Review is not known to be adverse to capitalism or conservative religious causes so I think Goldberg’s take here is very much on Target’s.
‘Twas the Very First Christmas
by ric booth
‘Twas the very first Christmas, when all o’er the earth
Not a creature took notice when a virgin gave birth.
She wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes,
Nursed Him; held Him; Still, nobody knows.
The sheep were sleeping in flocks where they lie;
While shepherds stood watch under His sky.
With the Son in a manger and mama close by;
listening close, would we hear God cry?
Then all of a sudden angels appeared in the skies;
And the shepherds fell back, afraid for their lives.
The angels sang out, “A Savior is Born!”
Still no one knew; the curtain was torn.
The darkness trembled in the still of that night;
New hope was dawning with this baby of light.
“He is Christ the Lord!” the angels did sing.
How could it be, heaven had sent the king?
In hundreds an’ thousands in numbers they came;
some poor an’ some rich; all lost just the same.
A light in the sky would guide them they thought;
what little they knew of this child they sought.
All weary and broken and tired they came;
His father in Heaven calls each by name.
They’re seeking a child and an answer to “Why?”
For them God became man, to suffer and die.
Magi carried gifts to a far away town;
Gold, frankincense, myrrh they laid down.
Humbled before Him; God had come near;
How could they know, the gift was right here.
He left golden streets and His crystal sea;
choosing instead, the hill of calvary.
He went about His mission, beginning to end;
A message of love, determined to send.
Nobles and peasants, their lives He would lead;
Still no one knew; for us He would bleed.
In a barn they knelt down where the child did lay;
No one knew death would die the third day.
Like a whisper He came from Heaven above;
to finish His work; to show us His love.
People would wonder, still most do not know;
what happened in Bethlehem so long ago.
Many rulers and kings and powers that be;
have plotted to stop Him from setting us free.
Yet, centuries have come an’ centuries have gone;
their kingdoms are dust; the Christ child lives on!
You can catch this poem and more of Ric’s work over on his blog;
There is a British woman, a school teacher, who just stood trial in the Sudan after being charged with “insulting Islam, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs”. Her crime was that of permitting her students to give the classroom mascot, a Teddy Bear, the name of Mohammad. Mohammad is very common in the Sudan, with numerous boys in the class sharing this name.
But apparently it is offensive to Muslims to name animals, even those that are stuffed with fluff, after the Great Prophet. It is considered sacrilegious and a violation of divine law and nothing demeaning should be associated with the name of the one that means so much to the Islamic people. This school teacher stood to receive 40 lashes and 12 months if convicted. She was found guilty and sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by deportation.
In the West we are aghast at the idea that religious zealotry could exact such brutal punishment for an infraction of such triviality. But is our astonishment really generated by the zealotry or is it more likely due to the extreme punishment?
Every year there is a holy war waged by certain elements of the Religious Right to get Christ back into Christmas. Or so they say. Today a long list was read over the radio by James Dobson naming all the retail stores that refer to the Holidays instead of the Christmas Season, suggesting a mass boycott. Almost daily, the American Family Association sends out blast e-mails identifying another merchant that has chosen to ignore the Christian roots of this holiday. We are exhorted to write the CEO’s of these corporations, threatening to withdraw our patronage if they don’t tow the line.
But it is a free country, even for businesses. By what evangelical imperative do we go about demanding merchants use the Greek version of Jesus’ title of Savior in their marketing schemes? Does Christmas, as this country has come to celebrate it, have anything at all to do with the Gospel? Spend spend spend -sell sell sell – buy buy buy – more, bigger and better. What does any of this have to do with Jesus? It’s these same stores that commercialized the Christmas holiday in the first place. Why are we now expecting to see Jesus’ retail stamp of approval on them?
The holiday traditions can be great fun – Bing Crosby and “White Christmas”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story” with Darrin McGavin, eggnog, pine trees, candles, friends and family – these are all things to enjoy. But they have little to do specifically with Jesus, any more so than any good thing at any time of year does. Let’s be realistic – this has become a secular holiday for most of the country. Time to pick some better battles.
How does it look to non-Christians when they see us trying to bully people into respecting our traditions, especially when everyone knows that those traditions were purloined from the pagans? Of course there is no law that citizens must conform to specific Christmas traditions. But there have been (and still are) certain ‘blue laws’ on the books that have nothing other than Christian sensitivity as their goal. Whether Target, K-Mart, PetsMart, Lowes or the Gap label their most profitable season after Jesus seems sadly trivial when compared to the greater challenges now facing the nation and the church.
Kind of like making a federal case out of a Teddy Bear’s name.