It's Beginning To Look Alot Like Festivus

David Kiley

As a commenter on all things marketing and media, I have been going back and forth between bemusement and disgust about the preposterous conversation going on in the public media square over whether some schools, retailers or liberals are at war against Christmas.

I doubt that this little bog o‘ mine will drown out the hysterical pin-headed ravings of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly on the subject. But perhaps a few sobering thoughts might be food for thought.

I’m not going into every case in detail. We know it by now. Target and Walmart have been bullied into advertising and promoting Christmas items instead of “Holiday” items. Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Centers have been taking flack for selling “holiday” trees instead of Christmas trees. And so on. And so on. Yada. Yada. Yada.

Here are my Christmas thoughts on the subject for consumers, retailers or those who find themselves caught up in a conversation about who is right and who is wrong on this ridiculous topic:

--For all of my 42 years, religious leaders I have come to respect have annually decried the appropriation of Christmas by retailers and big business. So, why do some religious leaders, ministers and those in the media purporting to advance a Christian moral lesson care one way or the other if Target or Walmart or Home Depot use the word Christmas to sell more stuff?

--I buy an evergreen tree every year (this year we bought an artificial tree so as not to add to the madness of growing trees just to hack them down for a few weeks of symbolism...also, the watering and the needle clean-up last year finally got us down), but it doesn’t become a Christmas tree until it goes up in my house, the lights are on and the angel is on the top. We make a tree a Christmas tree, not Home Depot.

--This conversation about whether religion is under fire, or that we are living in an increasingly secular society (as if that’s a bad thing) inevitably reaches the point where somebody (paging O’Reilly or Sean Hannity) mentions that we have “In God We Trust” on our money. My catechism and four years at a Jesuit University requires that I ask a theological rhetorical: “Does anyone think Jesus is happy about having ‘God” on our money?” Here is a quote from one edition of the New Testament: "Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? (Matt. 22:15–17). Jesus saw through their trickery immediately. They thought Jesus would be forced to give an answer that would trap Him no matter what He said. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he said to them them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's (Matt. 22:18–21).

--When I look around my commercial surroundings, I see: Christmas symbols strung up around suburban towns; inflatable manger scenes on the front lawns of churches; a more tasteful crèche in my home town erected on public property by the town; eggnog sampled at Whole Foods, Christmas music playing in stores; a giant Christmas tree in the lobby of our office building; catalogers promising delivery by December 24; and so on, and so on. In short, there are no shortages of public displays and acknowledgements of Christmas.

What seems undeniably at work in this imaginary conflict advanced by conservative commentators, and cheered on by conservative office-holders, ministers and advocates is an attempt to elevate Christianity in the public/marketing square above other religions. It’s simply not enough to these people that stores, schools and towns advertise or decorate in a motif that adequately gets across a holiday feeling that would encompass Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

To them, Christianity must be at least one step higher on the social/commercial plane, or they aren't happy. Look--in terms of the impact on the economy, does anyone doubt that Christmas packs more wallop than Hanukkah and Kwanzaa? Is it necessary to ram it down people’s throats? Did President Bush, as an aside, in his speech last night need to mention Americans celebrating Hannukkah and Christmas in another week or so, and leave out Kwanzaa? I wonder why he did that?

As a Christmas-celebrating, church-attending Christian, I am baffled by the indignation being expressed over a creeping secularism in the public schools, town halls and commercial marketplace. In my reading of the bible, all the expressions of Christmas being singled out by the complainers are those that, according to my upbringing by a Father who was an ordained Deacon, would likely cause Jesus to turn over the tables as he did in the temple. Christmas sales? Holiday sales sound better to my ear.

I have friends who don’t like to celebrate their birthdays, and really hate the idea of a party being planned and thrown for them as the center of attention. Taking in this absurd conversation in the media marketplace the last few days, I think Jesus probably is getting to feel the same way.

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