Every year it seems that the Christmas season grows. This year, “Black Friday” sales invaded Thanksgiving Day and began at 8 p.m. Thursday evening.
And we have all lamented Christmas trees being put up in stores as soon as August or July.
With that in mind, I find it fascinating when I hear the phrase “War of Christmas.” The phrase has recently been frequently used as pundits analyze the case in Santa Monica, Calif., in which a nativity scene was moved from a public park to a private space.
A group of citizens, known as The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, was enraged by this decision.
Their attorney compared the moving of the nativity scene to Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate.
Is Christmas really under such persecution?
For Christians, Christmas is the time of the year in which we celebrate the collision of the divine and the human condition in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
We believe that this event did not take place on a glorious mountaintop, at the culmination of an epic battle, or among the upper echelon of society.
Rather, we believe that in a small, humble stable a baby was born to an impoverished, unmarried couple.
However, at Christmas we do not simply dwell on the birth alone, but on the life the baby went on to live.
We believe this baby grew into a prophet who challenged the status quo of the day and put to test both the explicit and implicit social structure system.
We believe this baby allowed himself to be arrested, put on trial and executed as a common criminal.
Despite all of the meaning associated with Christmas, there are still Christians who feel it is their duty to stand up and defend Christmas, as if Christmas were in some sort of weakened state.
Christmas is not in a weakened state; in fact, one could argue that Christmas could use a bit of humbling.
Last year, on online sales alone, Americans spent $35.3 billion on Christmas gifts. How can we possibly claim that this consumerist holiday in any way honors the poor, homeless rabbi we claim it represents?
Furthermore, those who most perpetuate the phrase “War on Christmas” are often those who promote the use of actual war in addressing global conflicts.
If we truly believed that Christmas was about the birth and life of Jesus, war would be the furthest thing from our hearts and minds.
One of the tenets of Jesus’ public ministry was teaching people within his context about those outside of their limits of understanding.
He used a Samaritan as the example of a truly compassionate person (Luke 10), and he was even taught a lesson by a Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7).
Jesus was trying to get people to realize their connection to the “other” within their midst.
However, many Christians outright ignore this sentiment when it comes to the holidays. They believe in a war on Christmas.
I wonder if people of the Jewish, Muslim or Hindu faith feel there is a war on Christmas. I wonder if people of no faith at all believe there is a war on Christmas.
I wonder what these “others” feel every time they enter a grocery store or drive down a city street. To them, I very much doubt it appears there is any sort of assault on Christmas.
Perhaps one of the most loving things we can do this season is to not act as if our holiday owns the world, but rather take upon ourselves the humility and grace of Christ.
Perhaps we could spend time learning about the holiday customs of our sisters and brothers of other faiths even as we enjoy our own traditions.
The other day I went into a local coffee shop in downtown Kansas City. I was there to do some studying for a Sunday school lesson, so I had my Bible with me.
The woman in front of me also had a Bible with her, and I was just about to make a friendly comment to her when it was her turn to order at the counter.
As the barista was handing the woman her drink, the barista said, “Happy Holidays!”
The woman grabbed the drink and very loudly said, “Merry Christmas!” The woman made sure to dramatically enunciate the phrase and then quickly left the coffee shop.
The barista looked hurt. As I walked toward her, I noticed that she was wearing a necklace with a Star of David.
“Happy Holidays,” I said.
She looked up, smiled and said, “Happy Holidays.”
Tyler Tankersley is associate pastor of students and spiritual formation at Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo.