This post is not about Martha Stewart, who is fond of saying “It’s a good thing.”
It’s about the non-stop “Christmas” music on the radio right now (I will explain below why “Christmas” is in scare quotes). And the red “nonspecific winter holiday” cups at Starbucks that some people online seem to be losing their minds over. And everything in advertisements being “holiday” this and “holiday” that.
It’s a good thing, I think. All of it.
What? Have I abandoned Christianity? Have I decided to “take Christ out of Christmas”? Have I developed a liking for endless renditions of “Winter Wonderland”?
No, no, and definitely no. Nevertheless, I still think it’s a good thing.
This came to me as I was in the car this morning. I was driving to Hoover (about a 30 minute drive) and I had the radio on a station that is already playing nonstop “holiday favorites.” I had it on that station because they have been running a contest and I was hoping to catch the “secret word.” But apparently they don’t run the contest on Saturdays. Still, I did not change the station, mainly because I was on the freeway and it was raining and I did not want to have a wreck. So I listened to the “holiday favorites.” And I counted, to the best of my ability. These are the songs I heard (and I’m sure I’m leaving some out):
“Winter Wonderland” (3 different versions in one hour), “Sleigh Ride” (two versions in one hour), “White Christmas,” “All I Want for Christmas is You,” “Santa Baby,” “Happy Christmas (War is Over),” “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Let It Snow,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “Joy to the World.”
Way too much Johnny Mathis. Way too many sibilants (“Chrissssssssssss-misssssssssss”: this is partially because there was way too much Johnny Mathis, but others do it too). Way too much Yoko. OK, it was only the one song, but that is still way too much Yoko. How is “Baby It’s Cold Outside” still getting airplay? They may as well call it “The Date Rape Song.”
“Joy to the World” was the only religious Christmas song played in an hour. “Joy to the World” was also an instrumental. I guess “Feliz Navidad” could count as 1/4 of a religious song since it repeats the word “Navidad” many, many times, and “Navidad” is Spanish for “Nativity.” But that’s a bit of a stretch.
In between the songs, they played taped segments where the radio people had asked listeners to tell their favorite “Christmas” traditions. They included such things as shopping, baking cookies, wrapping presents, listening to “Christmas” music, and “doing absolutely nothing.” No mention of going to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, singing carols at nursing homes or the homes of the elderly, serving or delivering meals to the poor, or any of that. I think this is a good thing.
No, I don’t think that not helping the poor, or not visiting the elderly, or not worshiping God, or not mentioning Christ in connection with Christmas are good things. But I DO think the separation of what one friend of mine has called “retail Christmas” from religious Christmas is definitely a good thing. We just need a good name for “retail Christmas.” I have put “Christmas” in scare quotes many times already in this article to describe “retail Christmas” as contrasted with religious Christmas. I guess we could call it “Yule” (as I have done in the past), but the actual Yule is celebrated on December 21 or 22 (the Winter Solstice), so calling it “Yule” is as problematic as calling it “Christmas.”
There used to be a lot more overlap between retail Christmas and religious Christmas. There were a lot more Christmas songs about Jesus on the radio (granted, stations also were not playing non-stop Christmas music for weeks and weeks leading up to Christmas), more Christmas displays in stores had religious themes, etc. Today, public expressions of “Christmas” are pretty decisively displays of retail Christmas instead of religious Christmas. There is also no longer much overlap on the timing of the two holidays, either. Religious Christmas does not begin until sundown on Christmas Eve (and lasts through January 6), while retail Christmas is pretty much over by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, when the stores close. (A few stores may still stay open until midnight on Christmas Eve, but that is not nearly as common as it once was.)
All of that is a good thing, I think. It seems to me that this stronger distinction between retail Christmas and religious Christmas makes it actually easier for Christians to celebrate the religious season of Christmas without any interference from retail Christmas. They are still free, of course, to celebrate retail Christmas too if they choose, but they don’t have to. I think the mingling of retail Christmas with religious Christmas creates some real problems by injecting a lot of materialism into a religious observance which is supposed to be about the most selfless act in the universe: God’s humbling himself to become human, to live a life of poverty and suffering.
There are, of course, those who decry the separation of retail Christmas from religious Christmas. They claim there is a “war on Christmas,” when actually there is no war on religious Christmas: there is just a removal of religious symbols and expressions from retail Christmas. But how compatible are those two ideas from a Christian perspective anyway? Jesus said “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus does not fit very well into retail Christmas, and I’m not so sure we should try to make him fit into it.
It’s better, I think, instead of trying to “keep Christ in Christmas” by demanding that retailers, coffee shops, radio stations, and other businesses cater to our religious preferences and inject Jesus-y-ness into the “holiday shopping season,” to let retail Christmas be retail Christmas, with all its tinsel-y trappings, and let religious Christmas, centered around the Christ Mass, around charity and helping others, be religious Christmas. Sure, bake cookies, go to parties, go shopping (if you can afford to, but don’t feel you aren’t “keeping Christmas” if you can’t afford to), and enjoy the bright lights and the excitement of retail Christmas. Listen to as much (or as little) Johnny Mathis as you want to. It is a fun time, and that’s fine. But if we truly believe in the words and works of Jesus, we will go a lot farther in convincing others to listen to his words and learn of his works by showing his love rather than acting like spoiled brats who demand that the world celebrate “OUR” religious Christmas rather than “THEIR” retail Christmas. And once retail Christmas is over, go to the Christ Mass and celebrate religious Christmas for all of the Twelve Days of that holy season. And maybe along the way, by showing Christ’s love, you will have encouraged others who have never celebrated religious Christmas to come along with you and experience it for the first time.
It’s not a Christmas song, but the words are fitting: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
My question is, what should “retail Christmas” be called? We can’t call it “the winter holidays” because very, VERY little of it occurs in the winter: it’s mostly in the fall.