This time of year, the holidays are in full swing and everywhere you look there are holiday themed decorations, advertisements and songs. Interestingly enough, along with all the merry-making and joyful celebration comes a fair share of holiday hostility.
Recently, the group American Atheists put up a billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel with a background of three wise men traveling to Christ’s creche via a star bearing the words, “You KNOW it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason. American Atheists, reasonable since 1963.” To say the least, this board is already generating plenty of attention and raising the hackles of Christians in New Jersey, New York and across the nation (listen to the hilarious blitzkrieg over the billboard here).
Not to let the “attack” go unanswered, the folks at the Catholic League of New Jersey decided to “counterpunch” against the American Atheists by putting up their own billboard on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel. A Merry Christmas “counterpunch”? Really?
On the American Atheists’ website they state that the three primary purposes for posting such a proclamation are: 1) To address those atheists who “go along to get along”, and to encourage them to come out of their closets, 2) To attack the myth that Christianity owns the solstice season and 3) To raise the awareness of the organization and the movement.
While the American Atheists seek to promulgate their own position they also bring up the contemporary conundrum of whose holiday season this is anyway. December and January are filled with a myriad of meritorious celebration across religious and ethnic lines. Jews observe Hanukkah, African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Pagans honor the solstice, Christians mark Christmas and corporations enjoy the holiday sales season.
Amidst the fray of festivals everyone fights over whose “holy” season it really is. As atheists attack the mythos of the Christmas holiday, Christians simultaneously fight to keep the “Christ” in Christmas, engaging in publicity campaigns and themed sermon series with the hope of reclaiming Christmas. Most recently, a spat of churches in the US are going through the Advent Conspiracy, a program aimed at taking back the Christmas season from rampant commercialism. On their website they state, “What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists.” While meaning to encourage more giving and love, the Advent Conspiracy movement takes on warfare terminology using terms like “conspiracy” and “revolution.” Although I support the sentiment of the Advent Conspiracy, I think they could transform the terminology.
Another Christian movement called the “Wish Me a Merry Christmas Campaign” takes the word-exchange that much further as it declares that wishing someone “Happy Holidays” is an “attack” on Christmas and wearing one of their buttons which says, “It’s OK, Wish Me a Merry Christmas” is a way to counterattack and “turn the tide” against the forces of darkness wishing people “Happy Holidays.”
Joining the cacophony of cantankerous exchange, Jews counter that the season was never about the birth of a savior, but the miracle of a menorah or protect their holiday with humor. Pagans chime in and contend that Christmas usurped traditional solstice celebrations. All the while companies try to wrestle away any religious passion left in the holidays and direct it towards their own “festival of consumer capitalism.” As Carlos Cortes of the University of California Riverside notes, the whole holiday season and its concomitant inter-religious turf wars are akin to “unarmed combat.”
Through it all, one thing becomes clear: a holiday season, in all its religious forms, meant to unite the world in peace and goodwill quickly descends into apologetic warfare as pundits draw battle lines and wrangle for possession for the winter festival season. In the end, many of us promote greed and conflict in our words and deeds over and against the peace and generosity meant to be evoked this time of year. Whether it be fighting over this year’s hit toy at the local superstore or arguing about who gets to claim the season for their own, this year it would be encouraging to see people of all backgrounds spend more time lauding (and practicing) the peace, distinctive shalom, unity amidst diversity and thanksgiving that the various holidays of the season are intended to conjure in people’s hearts.
However, that would mean changing the question from “whose holiday is it anyway?” to “who can I share the spirit of this holiday with today?” That type of a question is much more reasonable this time of year and befits any and all who might still believe this season means something.
Peace on earth, good will to all,
P.S. WATCH THIS VIDEO FOR JON STEWART’s HILARIOUS TAKE ON THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS!
Ken Chitwood is a graduate student in Theology and Culture at Concordia University Irvine, CA. He also serves as an intern with LINC Houston, a charitable organization working towards the development of whole communities in the diverse urban landscape of Houston, TX. Ken speaks on theology and religious issues on a regular basis, having taught in the United States, New Zealand, South Africa and Indonesia and maintains his own blog on the subject of religion at https://ubuntuspirit.wordpress.com.
Advent Conspiracy, “Christmas can (still) change the world.” November 30, 2010: http://www.adventconspiracy.org
American Atheists, “Atheist Billboard is Up!” November 22, 2010: http://atheists.org/blog/2010/11/22/atheist-billboard-is-up
Carlos E. Cortes “Season’s Greetings: A Conversation About Diversity.” November 18, 2010: http://blog.orgsync.com/2010/season’s-greetings-a-conversation-about-diversity/
Wish Me a Merry Christmas Campaign, “Attack on Christmas.” November 28, 2010: http://www.wmamc.com/attackonchristmas/
Use of the phrase “festival of consumer capitalism” is credited to: Richard Horsley, Religion and Empire: People, Power and the Life of the Spirit. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2003) p. 106.