With Thanksgiving Day behind us, we now enter the Christmas season at full gallop. Of course, Christmas has been peeking out here and there since Halloween, but now it’s official. It’s all here–the shopping, the lights, the traffic, the music and the controversy. Controversy? Yes, sadly it’s true.
With the arrival of the Christmas season we can get ready for the next round of “Saving Merry Christmas.” For the past several years certain Christian groups like the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, Reclaiming America, and so on, have discovered a fund-raising bonanza attacking retail establishments that use the phrase “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” in their advertising.
The rationale seems to be that unless we bully retail outlets into saying what we want them to say, we will lose Christmas. It’s just another way, believers fear, that secularists and the pluralists will pry Christ loose from our culture.
The stores, for their part, are simply trying to market to everyone. Christians and Christmas may dominate, but they are not the only game in town. Stores are trying to make money. They want to appeal to as many customers as they can.
So let’s think about this for minute. If Christmas is in danger of being lost because department stores don’t put “Merry Christmas” in their ads, does that mean that retail is responsible for the Gospel story? Will there be a person somewhere who will never understand Christmas because the full page ad started with “Happy Holidays?” Do we really want to put that burden on the stores at the Mall?
After all, isn’t it the work of families and the church to tell the Christmas story? Aren’t we responsible for making sure that we don’t take “Christ” out of Christmas? If there’s a danger of losing the meaning of Christmas, it’s not the fault of retail–the failure will be found much closer to home.
So I have a modest Christmas proposal. Let’s don’t fight the Saving Merry Christmas war this year. Let’s tell all those Christian activist groups out there that keep the controversy going for their own benefit that we are weary of their made-up battles. Let’s tell them that the meaning of Christmas does not depend on what’s happening at our local department store.
If Christians want to say Merry Christmas to everyone they see, let them. If clerks are trained to say Happy Holidays, let’s praise them for doing the job they are hired to do. And if retail stores want to recognize the diversity that characterizes our nation, then let’s thank them for including everybody.
If we are worried that we are losing the meaning of Christmas, then let’s make sure the children in our homes know the story by teaching it to them. Instead of shopping until we drop, why not do something Jesus might do like visit the sick in the hospital. Or instead of standing in long lines waiting to buy the latest gadget, why not spend a day serving food to homeless people—another Jesus thing, you know.
And when the flyer or the e-mail alert arrives with an urgent plea to “Save Merry Christmas” from all the bad people out there trying to undermine our faith, let’s send it back with a note which reads: “We’re too busy celebrating the meaning of Christmas to bother with you right now. But Happy Holidays!”
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Alab.