During one of my Advent sermons this year I remarked, “I don’t think there really is any such thing as a ‘War on Christmas.’ At least, if there is one then they’ve apparently missed. I do, however, think there might be a ‘War on Advent,’ and that churches and retailers are inadvertently allied in that the war.” The more I ponder that thought, the more I wonder if I’m actually right on that score. The more I talk to people during the month of December the more stressed it seems that people become. They need to get their shopping done, they have parties to host or attend, they have cards to mail, and they have gifts to wrap. And why do they feel this way? Because we’ve been told that this type of stress is what the “holiday season” is about.
If that’s the case, then “Bah humbug.”
The thing is, the Church doesn’t really actively promote an alternative to this understanding. Look, I get that Christmas has become a retailer’s dream come true over the last 100 years or so – and I realize that retailers (in an effort to get more money) are trying to appeal to people who may not celebrate Christmas™ and so are saying, “Happy Holidays” instead. I accept that as the reality on the ground, the desire for ever-increasing revenue is neither relationally healthy nor sustainable – but it’s where people are at. Sadly, however, too many Christians has focused on the word “Christmas” being unchallenged in the winter holiday corpus and so have started campaign after campaign to let Christians know which stores said, “Merry Christmas” and were, therefor, ok to shop at. I guess it could be considered a successful tactic in the culture war – but it does absolutely nothing to challenge the notion that December is for spending money, and lots of it, as fast as you can with as much stress as you can bear. Redirecting that stress to “acceptable retailers” isn’t going to expunge it from our hearts. Nor is the presence of “Xmas” on signs part of the war on Christmas. “X,” which is the Greek letter “Chi” is the first letter of the word “Christ” in Greek, and has been acceptable shorthand for Jesus’ title for almost the entire existence of the Church. It’s OK, folks, take a deep breath and breathe.
A War on Christmas? Whatever.
But there seem to be a concerted effort to expunge Advent from the Christian calendar in order to replace it with the “Christmas Shopping Season.” Advent, you see, is a time of reflection which is meant to develop a sense of hopeful anticipation for the arrival of the Incarnate Son on the scene of history (both his first and second comings). To this end, Advent is a season where we ready our hearts and minds to enter in to Jesus’ Kingdom. The Christmas Shopping Season, on the the other hand, is a season of never-ending festivities, consumption, and the anticipation of a “good haul.” The differences are huge, and the problem is that there really isn’t all that much difference between the “Christmas” that Christians are trying to defend and the “Christmas (that is, ‘Holiday’) Shopping Season” that the retailers are showing down our throats from September through December. Christians are out shopping, decorating, planning parties, attending parties, standing in line, and preparing the yearly “haul” – just like everyone else in the country. The only difference, it seems, is whether or not you say “Merry Christmas” at a store instead of “Happy Holidays.”
Even worse, the idea that the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are “The Christmas Season” impacts Christian worship. By the 2nd Sunday of Advent the hymns for that Christian season are spent (if they are sung at all) and so Churches immediately switch to Christmas carols because, “it’s Christmas.” The deliberate creation of anticipation that is at the heart of the Advent Season gets lost, and so Christmas becomes nothing more than the marking of “Jesus’ Birthday.” By the 1st Sunday of Christmas church-folk are already beyond the celebration of the Christmas Holiday and are gearing up for the new year celebration, just like everyone else. I still remember setting up the Sunday worship following Christmas day at the first church I pastured, and annoyed looks I got from people by the audacity to sing Christmas carols “after Christmas.”
Look, I don’t pretend to be some Advent Saint. I got my Christmas present already because my phone was on it’s last legs and I happened to need a new one. My house has been decorated since the first week of Advent, and I’m frankly Christmas partied out by this point. The fact is, if there is a “War on Advent” then I’m afraid that I’ve lost the battle just like most of the other people I know. Kinda sad, but there it is.
Maybe someday I’ll get a bunch of people who will do all their Christmas celebrations during the actual Christmas season, so we can spend Advent remembering to long for Christ’s coming.