Christmas has become set in its ways. It is both a holy time (a time for prayer and worship and kindness and caring for others) and a time of commercialism (of buying and selling, credit and debit, profit and debt). These opposites co-exist for the same season every year. They even thrive. Love abounds in its own way in each side, allowing a kind of seasonal peace and joy where it might not otherwise live.
Christmas has gone through many transitions over many decades. The birthday of Jesus was originally celebrated exclusively by adults, but the celebrations took many different forms. Some were religious, but brief (only for the designated day) and only acknowledged by adults. Some were very much like our idea of Halloween with a “trick or treat” theme. In this form gangs would raid houses, expecting all of the food and drink available, and if the finest fare was not available, then the house and premises were trashed. “Now bring us some figgy pudding” is but a vague reminder of this practice in England and elsewhere. In Europe and Scandinavia the Christmas tree, yule log, boar’s head and homemade gifts gradually became customary, but usually encompassing only a day or two, if that. The original St. Nicholas and the twelve days of Christmas evolved with everything else.
A major change began in America in the 1800’s caused by inventions and improvements in technology. As families became more economically comfortable and able to purchase more, there was more to be purchased. Newspapers were ubiquitous and advertising began. The poem “Twas the Night before Christmas” by Clement Moore and the drawing of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast worked well to sell products, not only to adults, but now to children. Stores expanded into department stores with an even greater array of goods, and from an adult holiday Christmas gradually became child-centered with gifts tailored to the younger generation. With the now expanded celebrations, state after state declared Christmas a holiday, and then it became a national holiday.
With Christmas now firmly in place, all of the peripherals began to grow: toys, Santa Claus, paintings, elaborate ads, jingles and songs. All began to expand the holiday. And so a massive co-existence began: Jesus and Santa Claus, Silent Night and Jingle Bells, Coca Cola and Norman Rockwell, family feasts and the Holy Family. The sacred and the secular are now one in December. The dichotomy complete. The celebration has expanded and is still expanding. Unfortunately, now, because of the credit card, debt is also expanding – with interest. The only antidote to the seductive side of the season is common sense. It becomes hidden in gift wrap and ribbons, but with a little persistence it can still be found.
While you are decking your halls, eating roasted chestnuts and sugar plums and riding around (figuratively) in a one horse open sleigh, remember that we used to say “Merry Christmas: anywhere and everywhere. Nowadays we can sing “Merry Christmas” anywhere and everywhere, but as a greeting it has been replaced by have a “Happy Holiday.” In my opinion, common sense dictates that we need to retrieve the earlier greeting from those who have buried it, and who don’t believe in anything at all, let alone Christmas. Happy Holidays includes Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, etc. Merry Christmas is specific to Christmas itself. So with common sense and persistence, I propose that we take back the original greeting and begin again to wish each other a Merry Christmas at every opportunity. Starting now: I wish you, the reader, a very “Merry Christmas!”