and happy holidays.
(I’m testing the theory that a potentially contentious post can be defused via a boring title and first line. As Principal Skinner would say, “Prove me wrong, kids! Prove me wrong!”)
So in my Sunday School lesson this week about strengthening our communities, more than one class member commented on the need to stay on top of what was happening in the community so that unrighteous developments don’t take you by surprise. The same type of example was used more than once: that Target has banned references to Christmas (which is apparently half urban legend) and that the local tree lighting ceremony in Austin now involves a ‘holiday tree’ instead of a ‘Christmas tree’ (which report I can neither confirm nor deny). The conclusion was that these are very bad, essentially Christ-denying developments, which the commenter would have liked to have known about in advance so that s/he could have expressed support for keeping the word ‘Christmas.’
But I’m conflicted about that. Genuinely conflicted.
(1) Have you ever had a spiritual experience because the banner encouraging you to buy overpriced junk in a box store said “Christmas”? Do you think non-Christians are inspired by those same banners to reconsider their affiliations? I didn’t think so. Maybe it would be better to leave His sacred name out of certain things.
(2) Should we make a distinction between what a store does and what the city does?
(3) Does it matter that Christians are the majority? The largest grocery chain in Central Texas, H.E.B., always runs special ads for Jewish and Muslim holidays (as well as Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, and probably a few others I am forgetting) and I don’t think that anyone complains about those. Should they?
(4) Is there something to be said for us, as Christians, respecting the rights of minorities by not acting as if everyone shared our celebrations? I need to confess that before I joined the Church, references to Christianity that assumed it was an unquestioned norm used to make me think that Christians were a bunch of arrogant jerks. (I’m not saying that I was right to think that; I’m just suggesting that that is how some people feel.)
(5) Has Christmas become so ubiquitous that it is incorrect to think of it as a Christian event anymore anyway?
(6) I realize that (1) through (5) above probably make it sound as if I have no problem (and possibly support) the removal of references to Christmas. That’s because part of me does. But the other part hates the fanatical removal of references to religion from every facet of public life and to the extent that deChristmasization is part of that, I think it is a bad idea. I also seriously doubt that Target’s decision was the result of, say, a massive outpouring of complaint from their customers but rather the result of one over-anxious mid-level manager who didn’t want to get anyone upset and so self-censored too aggressively. That’s no way to make decisions.
(7) We could also talk about school districts having Winter Break instead of Christmas vacation and school choirs singing everything but Christmas carols at their Nondescript Holiday of Your Choice Concert. Not to mention creches on public property. In other words, this isn’t an isolated issue but a small skirmish in the larger battle over the role of Christianity in public life.
How, as Latter-day Saints, might we think about this issue?