For as long as Christmas has been observed in America, there has been criticism about the way it is celebrated. For the Puritans in Plymouth Colony, Christmas was simply another day of work and prayer. There was no reason for Christmas festivities because none were mentioned in the Bible. Any merry-making was pagan, and an offense to God. The Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies outlawed all celebrations of Christmas and imposed a stiff fine on anyone who made an occasion of the day. Christmas celebrations were decriminalized by 1700, but New England society continue to discourage any Christmas decorations or feasting. The modern idea of Christmas as a festive day of family and faith only appeared in the late 19th Century.
Yet Americans still hear criticism about the way they celebrate Christmas. Critics, ministers, and even journalists tell us our Christmases are too commercial, too shallow, or not Christian enough.
The criticism appears with such regularity that it has become one more tradition of the season. In contrast, we offer a 1965 Post essay by April Oursler Armstrong. Author of “The Greatest Faith Ever Known,” a narrative of the New Testament begun by her father, Fulton Oursler, Oursler was a student of theology at Fordham University and had written several books on religious themes. So it’s surprising to read her argument to “Keep Christmas Commercial.”
Every year right after Halloween the world becomes Christmas-conscious—and people begin deploring. If only we could have a real Christmas, they say. The good old kind. Quiet, inexpensive, simple, devout. If only we could retrieve the holy day from the hands of vulgar money-grubbers, they say. They say, with earnest horror, that the price tag has become the liturgical symbol of the season.
As a Christian, I do find facets of the Christmas season ridiculous, offensive or disturbing, but I believe most complaints about the commercialization of Christmas are unconsciously hypocritical nonsense. I’m afraid that often the complainers are kidding themselves, striking spiritual poses.
I’m not ashamed to admit that if I had to spend Christmas somewhere far from the crowd and the vulgar trappings, I’d hate it. I love the lights… I love the Santa Clauses… Cut off from the whole wild confusion, I’d not be holier. I’d be forlorn. So, I suspect, would most of us.
What’s supposed to be so wrong with a commercialized Christmas?
With rare exceptions, it is foolishly pompous to get scandalized and accuse manufacturers, advertisers and vendors of desecrating Christmas by trying to sell what you or I may think is silly junk. Obviously some people like it and buy it, and that’s their business.
It’s said to be the fault of the commercializers that parents buy overpriced, unnecessary toys for children. And that’s a fancy alibi. If you don’t like what’s being hawked this Christmas, you don’t have to buy it. And if you’re a sucker, your problem isn’t seasonal.
Christians began giving presents to each other to celebrate Jesus’ birthday in imitation of the Wise Men who came to Bethlehem. The basic idea was and is to bring joy, to honor God in others, and to give in His name with love for all.
No one can buy or sell Christmas. No one can steal it from us, or ruin it for us, except ourselves. If we become self-seeking, materialistic, harried and ill-willed in this Christmas melee, that’s our problem, not the fault of the world in which we live.
Some people are dismayed today in a different way, because they honestly fear Christmas is being de-Christianized, made nonsectarian. They are upset when someone who does not share their faith sets up a tree and exchanges gifts and wishes them “Season’s Greetings” instead of naming the holy day. They resent the spelling “Xmas.” Others fret over the way Santa Claus and snowmen crowd out the shepherds. Put Christ back into Christmas, these offended people cry.
As far as I know. Christ never left it. He could never be cut out of Christmas, except in the privacy of individual hearts. The antics of the rest of the world can’t change Christmas. Why on earth should we expect everyone to share our special joy our way?
I believe the root of complaints about commercialized Christmas is that we’re falling into the dangerous habit of thinking that religion is somehow coarsened by contact with real people. I suspect that unconsciously we’re embarrassed at the prospect of trying to live with God here and now.
It’s always easier, if you’re not doing very well religiously, to insist that the world prevents you from devotion. Christmas is meant to be lived in the noisy arena of the shopping-day countdown, amid aluminum trees, neckties and counterfeit French perfume.
Christmas is a parable of the whole Christian venture. The Christian’s attitude toward it, his willingness to make it relevant repeatedly in his own time and space, is a symptom of his whole encounter with God. The first Christmas happened, so Christians believe, because God lovingly plunged Himself into human nature to transform it. He is not honored by men and women who want to disown other people’s human nature in His name.
Let’s not make the mealy-mouthed error of complaining that paganism threatens Christmas today. Christmas has already absorbed and recharged the vestiges of Druid feasts, Norse gods, and sun worship. Christmas took the world as it was and built on it, and it’s still doing just that.
In good taste or bad, by your standards or mine, the fact of Christ, the good news of the meeting of heaven and earth, the tidings of love and peace for human nature, are announced everywhere. It is still true that he who has ears to hear will hear.