Yes, it’s that time of year again.
Time to gear up for the War Against the War Against Christmas (WAWAC).
This is not a condemnation of the good work that many Christians are doing to remind the world at large what Christmas was supposed to be about. The world could clearly use a reminder.
Nor is it a call to evacuate the public square. By all means, resist the mindset that contemplates the birth of the Word Incarnate—come down out of sheer love to rescue us from misery—and says, “Let’s see, how can we guarantee maximum mammon for ourselves with minimum mention of Him?”
(After all, as I explain it to my five-year-old: What if somebody wanted to celebrate your birthday by making lots of money off of you while ignoring you as much as possible? He has no trouble locating the problem.)
So, unilateral disarmament? No. We need to keep on insisting that separation of Church and State doesn't mean a faith-free public square But maybe we can seek a way to offer less of an ideological sound byte and more of a witness. Drown evil in an abundance of good, St. Josemaria used to say.
That would be an improvement on trying to drown evil in a sea of counter-evil offensives. If we focus on spreading joy, we avoid letting the Christmas wars eat into the time we could use to celebrate Christmas.
Unless our defense of Christmas is approached with care, we risk two dangers.
- First, it can signal our audience to tune out. They may hear it as a slogan meant to identify the sloganeer as a good Christian and the slogan-ee as an evil pagan. It may draw more attention to the wrangling itself than to the birthday Boy,
- Second, it can poison our own Christmas season, or at least throw it off course. If you’re consumed by bitter thoughts every time the cashier pointedly replies “Happy Holidays” to your “Merry Christmas,” you may be missing the point as thoroughly as she is.
If you’re spending December plotting which retailers to boycott, calculating the ratio of mangers to menorahs, and lamenting consumerism run amok, that’s time you don't have to sing carols, make nativity scenes, maybe bake a birthday cake for Jesus with the children--all this within reason: you don't want to trade in Culture Warrior Season for Ever-Escalating Craft Frenzy Season.
The wars can also crowd out works of mercy (although defending Christmas could count as one of these: instructing the ignorant). You can use the "extra" time and energy to help people, directly or through some trustworthy charity (here’s a useful article by Simcha Fisher on discerning how to approach this).
It’s not that we should all retreat into our family circles. But after so many decades of being ordered, "Keep your religion to yourself," we're liable to hone in on defending its public expression to the point of neglecting to welcome the birthday Boy in private. We don’t want to fall into the same trap as the many who fought for the right to display the Ten Commandments but couldn’t recite more than a couple.
Try to discern what part you’re called to play in reclaiming the public square for a real celebration of the real Emmanuel. That will vary according to your talents and prior obligations.
But don't let the WAWAC eclipse the rejoicing..