"Put Christ Back in Christmas," a Language Problem More than a Reality Problem
Every year near Christmas, the phrases “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Put Christ back in Christmas” are sent throughout the world by way of cards, emails, radio, television, and now Facebook. Folks at Fox News such as Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin recently resurrected their so-called “War on Christmas.” O’Reilly criticized Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s use of the term “holiday tree,” rather than Christmas tree, and criticized the use of the words “happy holiday” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Referring to Palin’s new book, America by Heart, Gretchen Carlson on Fox News asked Palin: “Why is the manger such a threat to this society?” She replied: “The vast majority of Americans don’t have a problem with the manger scenes as reflection on the true meaning of Christmas. So when the politically correct come in and want to squash that and take away from the enjoyment of most Americans, it gets frustrating.” She went on to say, we need “to put Christ back in Christmas.”
The two phrases are popular among conservative Christians. To make that point, one only has to visit a website that is shared on face book called, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” On that website, 147, 833 people have commented on the phrase. This phrase has become such a constant song and dance in our world that hardly anybody can escape their lyrics and beat. The imperative, however, seems to be more words than reality.
One of the troubling things about religion—especially the Christian religion—is that so many persons get so hung up on the language of religion that they cannot recognize the reality in religion. For example, when Muslims use the Arabic term, Allah,” rather than the English term “God,” many Christians say they are talking about a heathen god. They fail to recognize that the word “God” in English and “Allah” in Arabic refer to the same reality. More to the point, they fail to recognize that the word “God” is merely a symbol that points to what is sometimes called by biblical scholars “Ultimate Reality” or “Eternal Spirit” and that to use other names does not take away the reality.
To use another example, your name may be Michael. In reality, Michael is not you. Michael is merely a language symbol to point to you; if your name is changed to Martin, you are still you. So often, therefore, language gets in the way and hinders persons from seeing reality.
And so it is with the term “Christmas.” So many persons seem to focus on the word “Christ” in Christmas rather than focus on the reality of Christmas. Indeed, the Christmas tradition in the United States is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ (Although Jesus was not born on December 25), the exchanging of gifts, the decoration of Christmas trees, the sharing of meals with family and friends, and getting a visit from Santa Clause. It is both a religious and secular holiday. During the season, hardnosed bosses become compassionate enough to give gifts to their so-called underlings, television programs shift their focus from the culture of violence to the spirit of love and compassion, soldiers lay down their weapons to feast and fellowship together, and department stores stop playing secular music over the public address system long enough to play Christmas music. During the season, hardly anyone can escape the indescribable feeling of peace and goodwill—the spirit of Christmas.
The argument for putting Christ back in Christmas and keeping Christ in Christmas seems to be no more than a language game played by many, either as a means of trying to show how religious they are or as a means of attacking the courts that have ruled on cases involving religion in the public square, particularly those that upheld the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Using the language of Christianity, however, does not mean that the user is indeed Christian, and to cry to keep Christ in Christmas does not mean that the crier is seeking to be like Christ. When they become mean-spirited and disrespectful of others, their argument becomes empty—void of real meaning. Their mantra sounds like “a noisy gong or a clashing symbol,” as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13:1 when discussing the absence of love in the heart.
Governor Chafee who used the words “Holiday tree” and merchants who use the term “happy holidays” are merely being respectful of their constituents and customers who do not consider themselves Christians—and rightly so. Those constituents and customers, no doubt, feel that their religion—or no religion at all—is as authentic as Christians feel that their religion is, and that they, too, should be protected by the First Amendment. Besides that, the English word “holiday” means, among other things, “a religious feast day” or “holy day,” according to Webster. To use the term “happy holiday,” therefore, does not mean that “Christ” is taken out of Christmas, except in language. And to use the term “holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree” does not mean that the tree is not dedicated to the same purpose. It’s a matter of language—and reality trumps language any day.
It’s time to stop this silliness and enjoy Christmas.
As long as there are persons in the world who exemplify the spirit of Christmas (the spirit that makes them more selfless, friendlier, and kinder), whether they use the word “Christ” or not, Christ will never be taken out of Christmas.