Truce for now, the Christmas Police are Gone

In some ways it’s a relief that the holidays are over. I grew weary of the ceaseless Facebook posts reminding me that when people wished me seasons greeting and happy holidays it was an affront to Jesus. Yet another year of the war on Christmas. For eleven months I don’t have to listen to it.

It seems that any seasonal greeting has to include the name of Christ in it because Christmas is, after all, Christ’s birthday (it’s not, of course, Jesus was born in the spring, but that’s another topic). Anything less was an affront to God. No doubt you’re used to this; many of you probably insist on it. But it seems to me that while the Christian Right is complaining about the PC police, they’re turning into the Christmas police, determined to tell everyone in America—Christian, Jew, Muslim, or plain old freethinking couch potato on Sunday slob—how they have to celebrate their holidays.

And that’s about as unAmerican as it gets.

Now I grew up a Baptist Preacher’s Kid, so I was used to complaints about XMas (which I never understood because I thought that was putting the Cross in Christmas, even if it was a little lopsided). And nitpicking faith was a particular Baptist pasttime. If your sister wore her hair too long she was offending God, if you sneaked a peak at the Revised Standard you were recrucifying Christ, if you held hands with a girl you were committing adultery in your heart, and there wasn’t a well meaning sentence you could utter that couldn’t be challenged by some verse in the Bible.

But at Christmas, even Baptists would let stuff slide. Those feelings started at Thanksgiving, and ran until the last bowl game on New Year’s Day (that’s right, the bowls used to end with the Orange Bowl on New Year’s). That meant there was a whole season of God’s blessings to celebrate. So from my childhood on I remember people not just saying, “Merry Christmas,” but “Happy Holidays,” and “Seasons Greetings.”

And no one got mad. Not even Christians.

Image courtest of gatesfd.org

But then, a few years ago, someone on the Christian Right learned that the song “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin to be a purely secular Christmas song. Uh oh. And then the Christian Right learned that stores would post ”Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” to be inclusive seasonal banners for all of their customers, including those who weren’t Christians.

That’s right, “Happy Holidays” and ”Seasons Greetings” arent intended to piss Christians off, they’re meant to include Christians and non-Christians. It’s called sharing. They’re meant in the spirit of Christmas, which is to share the love and joy of family (Thanksgiving), New Years and Jesus.

For some reason, however, the Christian Right wants to play the Grinch and police how the rest of us celebrate (even when some of the rest of us are Christian). For some reason, when a festive celebrater says to a Christian, “Happy Holidays,” they say, “You’re stealing Christ from Christmas.”

What a way to deflate the joy of the season. You’d think they could at least turn the other cheek.

Here’s the bottom line: There are two Christmas celebrations in America. The Christmas Christians celebrate, and the Federal holiday created by law. Sorry, Christian Right, that holiday has nothing to do with Jesus. That holiday is for all Americans, Christian or not, and it’s theirs to celebrate as they please. It would not just be wrong for you to ruin their Christmas to be a buzzkill by telling them what they can and cannot say to you in their attempts to share the joy of celebration.

It would be unAmerican. And it would be a sin.

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PS. After a years hiatus, I’m back. I took time off because of health problems and to finish my novel Cigerets, Guns & Beer on iBooks, Kindle and Nook. I won’t be posting as regularly because I’m also working on a new novel, Seeing Jesus, and posting a blog on Goodreads.

 

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The subversion of Christmas

Why is it that no one wants to talk about the subversion of Christmas? We're so focused on the war that we forget the real danger is the Fifth Column, a subtle and insidious element at work to erode the foundations of our faith.

What is that Fifth Column? We are. Every time we drop a dime on a Christmas gift. Nor do I mean Santa Socks, Angry Bird Ring Toss, Star Wars 7 Pre-release Action Figures with Working Prototype Weapons, or the Ultimate iPad Christmas App and its Android knock-off. Or shopping at Wal-Mart where your dollars are recycled to China and Union-busting anti-labor initiatives instead of paying the workers a living wage.

I'm talking about buying things from Christian vendors as well, many of well-meaning, and others out to make nothing but a buck and all geared for the cash crop that is Fifth Column Christmas. I browsed the lists of recommended Christian gifts and most of them boiled down to Bibles (you can never have too many of those, even though you need only one and early Christians managed to get along without one at all), CDs, DVDs and Christian books, most of which have more to do with promoting agendas (even agendas I approve of) than Jesus.

Here are a couple of suggested Christian gifts:

Perhaps my favorite recommended gift would be the Christian Weekend Retreatfor $150.

It doesn't matter where you turn, Christmas is about spending money. As much and as often as possible. Christians can fool themselves into believing that a genuine leather Scofield Reference Bible with Concordance, Maps and authentic photographs of the crucifixion and resurrection is a Christian act and not an act of consumerism, or that a red and green sweater with wreaths and Christian cross patterns is a gift Jesus would give, but the Gospels suggest differently.

To Jesus, the act of giving requires a sacrifice. And it was something you do year-round. The Christmas holiday we celebrate was actually campaigned for by businesses to boost sales, much like Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentines Day and parent days. This may sound cynical, but you can't imagine any of those holidays without their connections to commerce. Each, in fact, has its own commercial symbol whether it be bunnies, cupids, turkeys or men in red suits.

This doesn't mean that charity isn't associated with Christmas. It's just that charity is an afterthought. For Jesus charity was first and foremost.

There are charitable gifts available. Oxfam allows you to give sustainable gifts to people in developing countries in the names of your friends and family members.

Redefining Christmas allows you to donate to friends' and family's favorite charities.

There's no guarantee the money will be spent completely as you want. For instance, giving to Samaritan's Purse for their sustainable as well as evangelical projects. But they also donate monies raised to undermining gay marriage rights. Would I give a present to my evangelical family through them even though I wouldn't even buy a chocolate peppermint Christmas shake from Chic-Fil-A? In a heartbeat. They still do good work. I can give an equal amount in support of same-sex marriage to another organization, and my evangelical family members would appreciate it far more than they would a gift through Oxfam.

Unfortunately, even special charitable gifts miss the point. Spending money you would have spent anyway requires no sacrifice, even if it is to a good cause.

I would like to be positive about this. The real truth, however, is that the Fifth Column forces of consumerism, sponsored in part by the Corporate Christian Complex, have too strong a grip. Our kids don't understand the gift of sacrifice. If they haven't received every disposable, breakable junk item on their list, they feel they were sacrificed to a higher principle. And too many friends do as well.

I would never tell you what you should do at Christmas. It is your holiday to celebrate as you choose. Even if you choose not to celebrate at all. But before we continue to escalate the war on Christmas, perhaps we should ask ourselves if the holiday has anything to do with Jesus at all.

So the real question, I suppose, is WWJD? And the surprising answer is probably that he wouldn't celebrate Christmas. His birthday, after all, was most likely in the spring and, as far as I can tell from the Gospels, he never celebrated when he was with us.

The real meaning of Christmas

This past Christmas was a first for Carol and I. Carol’s parents left us enough money to fly the grandkids down for Christmas and splurge on presents. As you may have guessed, blogging isn’t profitable (in fact, we lose money every time I write) and Carol’s retirement isn’t close to what she made before the Republicans forced dozens of career state employees into retirement so they could create new executive positions with twice the pay the Democrats allowed.Bryan lives in Michigan, which has an unemployment rate of just about everybody, and where high school students dream of going to college to become greeters at Walmart. Bryan was disabled while serving in the marines (fortunately, just before the Iraq war or he might have had it much worse) and given a medical discharge, which means he can barely afford to raise Eilonwy and her sister Cora.1So we flew them down and spent everything Carol’s parents left us on cool stuff for Bryan and the kids. We got a HiDef 3D TV and Blu-ray player, stereo surround sound system, iPads, iPhones, an X-Box, a Wii, dolls, clothes and, my favorite, a remote controlled velociraptor. Bryan assured me that the girls would love it. On Christmas Eve we treated them to dinner at Hudsons on the Bend, and then, when we realized the girls didn’t really like the espresso-chocolate-chili rubbed smoked elk back strap topped with jumbo lump blue crab and a lime chipotle beer blanc, or the grapefruit and avocado salad on butter lettuce with a buttermilk poppy seed dressing sprinkled with fresh pomegranates, or even the desert of ginger cheese cake with a blood orange marmalade, we took them to McDonalds for chicken nuggets and they loved it.(After we finished our grapefruit avocado salads, elk and ginger cheese cake, of course.)We watched Elf and Miracle on 34th Street (although the girls slept through most of Miracle on 34th Street since it was in boring black and white) then shuffled the girls off to bed. Then we stayed up until one o’clock setting up the new TV set, stereo system, iPad and toys, even though we knew we would tear it all down, repack it and ship it to Michigan when Bryan and the girls returned.With the girls sound asleep and the rest of us bone tired, we fell into our beds to dream of sugar plum fairies and sugar-fueled hyperactive children filling the living room with pile after pile of shredded wrapping paper. Around four in the morning I heard a clatter on our lawn and rose from my bed to see what was the matter.I ran to the living room to see Santa Claus climbing out of our living room window, and, what is more, our living room was practically bare. I followed Santa through the window and found him packing a Ford SUV with everything you were taken.”What are you doing?” I demanded.Too be honest, I didn’t exactly say, “What are you doing?” However, I shouldn’t repeat what I actually said in a column meant for Christian edification. Should you really want to know, I will refer you to a certain scene in the movie A Christmas Story. You know which one I mean.”What does it look like I’m doing?” Santa said, although at the time I doubted highly that he was, indeed, Santa. “I’m taking presents to needy children.””It looks like you’re stealing presents from my grandchildren,” I accused him.”Not at all,” he assured me. “But you know as well as I do that the economy’s bad. BP and Halliburton bought up all the shares of the North Pole and laid off all the elves. This is the only way I can get toys for children who are really in need.”In fact,” he assured me, “as soon as I leave I will be delivering most of this stuff to the School for the Deaf.”By this time I was furious. “At four o’clock in the morning?” I asked with no small degree of skepticism (or sarcasm).”Did you want me to show up when the kids were awake?” he replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” I demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” Santa assured me.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” he said. “At least they can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”You might imagine that I had had enough by that time, and you would be right. To add to the excitement, our argument had roused Carol, Bryan, Eilonwy and Cora from their sleeps and they stood with us, albeit barefoot, on the lawn. It’s a good thing there is no white Christmas in Austin or we might have caught cold.Carol had her iPhone with her, as she always does, even in her sleep (in case a cat should need early morning rescue) and was about to dial the police when, lo, an angel of the Lord appeared before us in all her glory.None of us could agree as to what, exactly she looked like. In fact, Bryan didn’t even see the angel because he was trying to stop Cora from turning the hose on our neanderthal dog Chutney, which was something she seemed to find incredibly funny because Chutney would simply swell her chest to three times her size and then shake the water over all of us.I’m not even sure the angel was a she, but Carol, who didn’t see her either because she was trying to find a reception spot for her iPhone amidst all the trees in our yard, insists God would have never sent a male angel on a mission of such importance.Santa was trying to wrestle the TV into the back of the SUV. He might have seen her, but I didn’t ask.The girls, however, were delighted to hear that I saw a real live angel and insist they saw her too. Eilonwy, however, says she looked like Yvaine, from the movie Stardust, but with wings. Cora swears she looked like Dora the Explorer. With more wings.”Fear not,” the angel said, the night glowing bright around her. “It is better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.” And then the she disappeared and the night went dark.I took her appearance as a sign from God, and even though Carol thought I was crazy, I helped Santa load the rest of the presents into the SUV and I waved as he pulled out of the drive way.I explained to Eilonwy and Cora that they were very fortunate to be able live with their dad, and that many kids in state schools didn’t even get to go home for the holidays. Some deaf kids don’t even talk to their parents because their parents refuse to sign and it’s very hard to read lips or hear adults—even when they’re mad and yelling really, really loud.So instead of the Christmas we planned, we hauled out the old 27 inch TV and watched It’s a Wonderful Life on one of the many cable channels that re-runs old movies all day long. We drank hot chocolate with marshmallows and ate Carol’s homemade chocolate orange pound cake. During the commercials I explained that, when Carol and I were the girl’s age, a 27 inch TV was just about the biggest television you could get. And that we didn’t get color TV until we were much older and our parents made more money.We planned to do Christmas dinner at Threadgills and all was right in the world except that just as we were leaving for lunch a county deputy showed up. He told us they arrested the Santa burglar and wanted us to press charges against him. It seems the Santa burglar devoted his Christmas eves to burglarizing houses while dressed as Santa, and even drinking the milk and cookie children left out for the real one. This was the first time they caught him with the goods still in his SUV.The deputy didn’t remember me, but I remembered him. You see, this was the same deputy that tried to break up a protest when an out of state company wanted to build a gravel plant in our neighborhood. “I don’t care what your beef is,” he told us, “these are legitimate business men and they don’t deserve to be hassled by the likes of you.” Then he said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up and go home and be good citizens and stop behaving like riff raff.”I suggested he arrest us all and explain to the JP why they were having to conduct bail hearings on two hundred local residents. The rest of my neighbors decided that was a good idea and only after he radioed the sheriff to tell him he was arresting us all and listened to shouting we could hear several yards away did he let us lose.A couple of years later he pulled me over for a rolling stop at my street corner. I explained that I had stopped completely, but he said, “If you know what’s good for you you stop, and count to ten, and then slowly accelerate. Otherwise, if I catch you, it’s a ticket.”Sometimes I don’t think before I speak and when he handed me the ticket I said, “Next time I see you that’s exactly what I’ll do. I won’t even wait to see a stop sign, just in case.”He ran my license plate and discovered I had an outstanding parking ticket. I assured him that I had paid that ticket, and I had the receipt at home to prove it. He could follow me if he wanted. At that point, he had me pull my car off the road, arrested me and hauled me downtown to the Travis County jail for outstanding tickets and resisting arrest. The entire drive he told me that the problem with guys like me is that we never knew what was good for us.Carol brought the receipt proving that I had, indeed paid the ticket, but the deputy wouldn’t release me on bail for resisting arrest because she only had her debit card. She had to drive to the bank to get cash. Before they released me seven hours later, the deputy personally came to greet us and told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll pay the next ticket before I have to throw you in jail. I have no patience for riff raff like you.”The judge dismissed the case, but several times Carol reminded me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll just say ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir,’ the next time he pulls you over.And now, four or five years later, he stood at my front door and, believe it or not, he was still just a deputy. I probably would have gone ahead and pressed charges, except that before I could get a word in, he told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let us put the riff raff away for good.”For some reason, when the deputy said those words, my entire history with him flashed through my mind. At the same time I pictured the angel telling me it was better to give for the right reasons than to not give for the wrong reasons. I knew what Jesus wanted me to do.I told him that I would not press charges. The so-called Santa burglar was delivering those presents for us to the kids at the School for the Deaf.”At four o’clock in the morning?” he asked with no small degree of skepticism.”Did you want him to show up when the kids were awake?” I replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” he demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” I assured him.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” I said. “They can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”The deputy was furious, but I sent him off with no charges to press. Besides, I doubted he would remember me next time we met.Carol, Bryan and the kids had the best Christmas ever. Bryan did a really good impression of the deputy, and soon the girls were doing it as well. We found a deck of cards and I taught them a wonderful game called “Bullshit,”2 which involves guessing who’s lying about the cards in their hands. We found White Christmas on another cable channel and the girls were bored to sleep which was fine with us.I don’t know what happened to the Santa burglar, but I hope they gave him a nice meal before they let him go. It was Christmas, after all. I also pray that at some future Christmas the Santa burglar will visit your house and allow you to relearn the meaning of Christmas as he did with us.And the next time someone asks you for a dollar to catch the bus home or change for coffee, don’t rationalize that they will just spend it on drugs. That’s not what Jesus ever did. It really is far better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.


1His wife didn’t divorce him because he insisted on naming his eldest daughter after a character in a fantasy novel only fans have read, but most of us would consider it sufficient reason for filing. Sorry, Bryan, but a little constructive criticism….Well, what am I thinking? Kids never listen.back
2Some people call the game “I doubt it” around their kids but to me that’s like telling them there’s no Santa Claus. Childhood should be spent having fun, not learning to behave appropriately around adults who will judge them harshly no matter what they do.back