Thursday, November 19, 2009

The December Dilemma -- A reposting

Several Years ago, while writing an op-ed column for the Lompoc Record, I wrote about the dilemma that faces so many in December, as Christmas dominated the horizon. It's a dilemma because many are not Christmas, and the month is experienced as one of exclusion. So, because the issues don't seem to go away, I re-share this piece for another season, so that our experience might be one of inclusion, rather than exclusion. I share this now, so we can have this in our minds as we enter this month.


Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
December 4, 2005

December poses a dilemma for some, though this may come as a surprise to many. I find December to be a joyous and blessed season. I may complain occasionally about the commercialization of Christmas, but I still enjoy the lights, the trees, and the music, especially the carols. I really have no complaints.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and it reminds me that God has drawn near to us in a baby born in a far off corner of the world. It is a festival that carries a message of peace and good will, of angel's songs and divine visits. Yes, for me, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

As joyous as December may be for me, I know that Jesus is not the reason for the season for all. There are those in our community whose history includes stories of persecution and even death at the hands of those who claim the name of Jesus. There are memories of exclusion and marginalization, especially among those who went through public schools in an earlier age. For Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha'is, and people of no religion, December isn't necessarily a moment of joy. Simply throwing a Hanukkah song into a mix of explicitly religious Christmas carols only seems to make the discomfort more obvious. Putting Rudolph in the crèche on the court house lawn does not make the crèche any less religious and therefore appropriate for a public square shared by all.

My Jewish friends have helped me understand how painful December can be. Yes, Jews celebrate Hanukkah during December, but this festival does not receive the same attention as Christmas, nor does it play the role in Judaism as Christmas does in Christianity. It is difficult to put on the shoes of the other person, but we who comprise the “majority” religious culture need to recognize the possibilities for exclusion. It is easy to say, well that's the way it is, so get over it. Such sentiment is neither compassionate nor in keeping with the message of peace and good will that Christmas is supposed to represent.

I have no intention of abandoning my celebration of Christmas - it is too important to my faith. I draw comfort from its promise that God came to dwell among us in the person of Jesus. I believe I am a better person because of the ways of God that are revealed in the person and teachings of Jesus. But then I am a Christian and that is how it should be.
Christianity remains the dominant religious movement in the United States and so it will be nigh impossible for Christmas, including its religious foundations, not to impact the month of December. That being said, it is possible for Christians to be sensitive to those who do not share this religion. We who are Christians can also take the opportunity to learn about the celebrations and festivals of our neighbors - from Yom Kippur to Ramadan, to Kwanzaa and beyond. By doing this we not only show sensitivity, we offer respect to those who are different.

If we who are Christian have allowed Jesus to be crowded out of Christmas, then we should make every effort to reclaim him as the reason for our celebration. We can make it a point to attend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. There we will sing the great carols of Christmas and we will celebrate the wondrous message of salvation and grace that is present in Christmas. At the same time, as a Christian, I hope that I will show my neighbor the respect I would want shown to me. If Christmas is about peace and good will (Luke 2:14), then it is incumbent on we who are Christians to live accordingly. If the greeting is happy holiday instead of merry Christmas, I know what is meant, and by showing respect and honor to those who do not share my religious faith I can offer a worthy gift to our community. The public square need not be naked, but it needs to be shared by all.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc.

December 4, 2005


Anonymous said...

I don't agree. I think we SHOULD change our celebrations. I wish Christmas could be more like Thanksgiving (except for worship services). David McScrooge

Anonymous said...

For the most part I agree, to Easter isn't Christmas one of the holiest days
in the Christian church? Hanukkah isn't one of the holiest days in the Jewish faith, so in some ways it seems that some people just complain to complain. I haven't heard of people complaining when the Media wishes the Jewish people good wishes on their holy days of Yom Kippur or see good wishes for a happy Kwanza too. I've even seen good wishes for Ramadan, granted these are basically on television and you don't see decorations up for a month ahead of time. ..but who is stopping them from coming up with decorations or songs? These are holy days, not commercialized holidays.
I agree the commercialism of Christmas has surpassed the religious aspect; Santa Claus, presents,
music and decorations seem to be the focus instead of the birth of Christ. The songs I hear played
on the radio to me are Christmas music…not carols. Okay, some may be, but the majority are just
songs…like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer , Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey, Jingle Bells,
etc …are songs, not carols. I don’t hear Silent Night, or O’Come All Ye Faithful played on the radio
much. I would love to see the focus of Christmas turned more towards the birth of Christ, but sadly
I don’t see that happening for the general public.
A friend of mine is Serbian Orthodox, I’ve always seen her as being really lucky in respect to Holy/Holidays. Their Christmas and Easter are typically on different days than ours, so she was
able to keep the commercial aspect of these holidays separate from the religious aspect with her children. They grew up celebrating the Santa Claus and presents Christmas, then a couple of weeks
Later they celebrated the Religious aspect, the birth of Christ. The same with Easter…there was the
day the Easter Bunny came, then there was the day that Jesus rose from the dead. It made it easier for her kids to understand the difference, and they have always happily celebrated both.
Mrs.DavidMc (and yes, he IS a scrooge!)

Anonymous said...

Evergreens were used by a variety of "pagan" religions during the celebration of the winter solstice and it was a concerted strategy on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to appropriate such symbols and rituals as a way of converting these groups to Christianity. They also took over Pagan houses of worship to help ease the transition to Christianity.

It's the same reason rabbits and eggs (more pagan symbols) have come to be associated with Easter. All of this is discussed in Pope Gregory's letter to the Abbott Mellitus (which dates to the year 601).

Biblical historians have also concluded based on the description in the Bible that Jesus most likely was not born in winter; rather in spring. The celebration of the birth was changed to coincide with the winter solstice and help convert people to Christianity.

David McGrinch

Anonymous said...

Christmas in the middle ages featured feasting, drinking, riotous behavior and caroling for money. Religious puritans disapproved of such excess in the name of Christ and considered the holiday blasphemous. Oliver Cromwell went so far as to cancel Christmas when he seized control of England in 1645. Decorations were forbidden and soldiers patrolled the street in search of celebrants cooking meat. Puritans in the American colonies took a similarly dour view of Christmas: Yuletide festivities were outlawed in Boston from 1659 though 1681.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Smart marketing! Take over your competitors celebrations and get more adherents. That's what conservative evangelicals have done in the modern age -- took the "Devil's music" (rock and roll) and made it church music by changing the words, and now you've got more adherents.

As for that dastardly Cromwell, well he was a spoilsport!

Anonymous said...

Everybody loves a party.