I just watched the preview for your new movie Saving Christmas, coming this weekend to select theaters nationwide. I’m not sure why I did that. Normally I try to avoid stuff like God’s Not Dead, and Noah, and Son of God. I am clearly not these movies’ target audience, yet I always want to see them because of the vague feeling I get that I’m being talked about behind my back. What can I say, this time I failed my Will save. I saw that Saving Christmas was listed in this coming weekend’s showtimes, and my morbid curiosity overwhelmed my common sense. I wanted to let you know that I came away from the experience… troubled.
First, fair disclosure on my personal outlook on this. I’m an atheist, so I obviously don’t believe that Jesus was the son of god. I don’t mind that you do, but I, personally, don’t. I’m also a liberal, so I’m okay with people practicing whatever religious holidays they’d like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or require me to participate (and yes, that includes Christianity). If you’re still willing to listen to me after those admissions, I’d love to mention a few things.
I know Christians have a real history of persecution, and that the idea for the “War on Christmas” probably grew out of this history. But like many of the most recent claims of Christian persecution, to an outsider, it feels like the War on Christmas has less to do with any Christians that are actually being persecuted and more to do with the religious right’s insistence that no one who disagrees with them should be allowed to have any fun.
Let me use your own words, from the first half of your preview, to show you what I mean. In a tone that I think is meant to be whimsical and mildly befuddled, you narrate, “Do you ever feel like Christmas has been hijacked?”
Let’s take a closer look at that sentence. Specifically, the word “hijacked.”
For something to be hijacked, it does of course have to belong to someone first. The clear implication here is that Christmas belongs to Christians. Therefore, if a non-Christian has any involvement in it, they’re “hijacking” it. In other words, from the first sentence of the preview, it’s clear that what’s important about Christmas is who it excludes. Non-Christians, please shut up and sit down. Christmas is only for Christians.
You then go on to explain who exactly is hijacking Christmas: “All the commercialism.” I could actually get behind this idea; there is a ton of commercialism associated with Christmas, and I do feel like it takes away from the more important message the season can offer. But given that you never mention this again, I’m left with the impression that this is a straw man. Thankfully, you quickly move on to the real threat: “Those who want to replace ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Season’s Greetings’… whatever that means.”
Ah. Well, Kirk, as one of those people who’s fine with both phrases, give me a chance to explain what that means to me. It’s actually not that complicated, and maybe if you listen to it with an open mind, you’ll even see where I’m coming from.
See, around December of each year, there are a lot of religions and belief systems that celebrate some sort of holiday. Christmas is one of them. Christians (as you probably know) celebrate this holiday to proclaim their joy over the birth of their God’s son, Jesus Christ, whom they believe was sent to earth to die for them and cleanse them of their sins. Another one is Yule, a pagan holiday that recognizes the winter solstice. Yule is a celebration of the fact that the shortest days of winter are gone, and from this point onward, the days only get longer until spring comes (personally, I can dig this; those short winter days are depressing). Hanukkah is another one you may have heard of. This is a Jewish holiday that celebrates and commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There’s also Kwanzaa. I know, I know, you probably don’t think Kwanzaa counts because it was only started in the ’60s and it was made specifically for black people, but did you know that actually a lot of holidays were modeled after other holidays, but re-made in such a way that they’d be more inclusive or relevant to a particular group? Even your Christmas originally was! And as a guy who feels a little homeless at the holiday season, since “Christmas” doesn’t really want me anymore, I can understand where they’re coming from on this. Yes, it’s a real holiday, and yes, real people—people my kids go to school with, people I work with—celebrate it. Bear with me. And I know you’re probably getting a little overwhelmed, but in fairness to myself, there’s also HumanLight, which is supposed to be a Humanist celebration, all about how incredible the human species is and how we should look out for each other and generally try to be good people. I’m a quasi-Humanist myself, but I grew up celebrating Christmas and so did my wife, plus “HumanLight” is kind of a dorky name for a holiday, so we generally celebrate on December 24th and 25th instead, like we’re used to.
But did you notice something cool about those different holidays? Every single one is about celebration. All these different holidays, from all these different walks of life, from all these different kinds of people—they’re all about celebration, and loving one’s family, and recognizing the things that make life good. That’s not a bad thing, man! That’s an awesome thing. It’s something we, as a species, can be proud of. And it’s something I personally would like as many people as possible to be a part of.
See, you probably think “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” are just generic terms, created for the sole purpose of excluding Christmas from ever being mentioned, but that’s not the intent at all. A lot of people would say maybe they are generic, but they’re intended to be inclusive—as in, if I don’t know for sure what holiday you celebrate, I’ll just say “Happy Holidays” to be on the safe side. And that might be true, too, but it’s not what the words mean to me. To me they mean a lot more.
To me they recognize this incredible history that we, as a human species, have. They recognize that for some weird, wonderful reason, a lot of human beings have something to celebrate in December. They recognize that for most people, something wonderful is happening around this time. People are thinking of their families. They’re giving gifts. They’re getting together and seeing each other. They’re listening to music. Like you said in your own preview, they’re dancing and celebrating and feasting. And even though they may all have their own unique reasons for doing so, isn’t it incredible that so many people from so many different traditions celebrate around this same time? Isn’t it humbling, and worth recognizing? These are happy holidays, and we, as a human race, can all recognize that. The phrase is about bringing us together and celebrating the most awesome things that all of us have in common: family, love, and of course, good food.
In my house, Christmas is a celebration of family and the time that we have on this earth together. I hug my wife and kids a little tighter, I get to see my mom and her partner and my in-laws and my grandfather, and we all give presents and eat lasagna. The kids love it, and so do I. I can maybe understand why it would miff you a little that we call it “Christmas” despite not actually believing in Christ, but really, we were raised with the holiday and this whole Humanism thing is fairly new, so I’d hope you can cut us a little slack while we try to figure out something else to call it. And like it or not, that whole Santa Claus thing is a part of Christmas too, and I do feel like our kids have a right to that. Really, since you have your own Christmas celebration to go to, is it that big a deal what we do in our own home?
I guess what I’m trying to say is, you can celebrate Christmas and still recognize how cool the Happy Holidays are as a united force. You can put up nativity scenes and celebrate however you’d like on your own property, where it doesn’t make my kids feel bad for being from an atheist house, and we’ll even still talk about it respectfully if we happen to drive by. You can hear someone say “Season’s Greetings” and recognize that they mean it respectfully and joyfully, and you can even wish people “Merry Christmas” without feeling like you’re on the front lines of the War on Christmas.
Because the worst part about this whole War on Christmas idea is that it loses sight of the things that you love about this time of year. Come on, man. We both know what this time of year is about, and it’s not war.
It’s peace on earth.