Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Christmas enterprise

There are people clamoring now for a boycott of Target since this company supposedly refuses to allow the words "Merry Christmas" in its advertising. In fact, a lot of companies have decided not to use the word "Christmas" in the annual winter money grab to the end of the year, the time when most retail businesses make the most money. That's something that a lot of Christians are upset about.

I can understand that. The Christmas shopping season, which, according to the Census Bureau, gives retail about 15 percent of its annual revenue in one month, came about because of, well, Christmas.

Yes, that Christmas -- the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the One whom we recognize as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who, in His great mercy and compassion, took up human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became, first a human embryo, then a human blastocyst, then a human zygote, then a human fetus (Latin for "little one"), and then was born. (The word "Christmas" comes from the compounding of "Christ" and "Mass," the Mass celebrated for Christ's birth, much like the "Michelmas," the Mass for St. Michael the Archangel, of Jane Austen's writing.)

This is not something that is secular in nature, not something we can pass a law on or do business with. It is religious pure and simple.

Christmas was not even celebrated in the northern part of the U.S. when the Pilgrims first came here. They were Puritans who wanted nothing whatsoever to do with what the Vatican liked and since the Vatican liked Christmas, they didn't celebrate it. It wasn't until the German Catholics came that such things as Christmas trees became popular. And when the Irish and others from Catholic countries like Poland, Belgium and France came over, they too brought their Christmas traditions with them and that's when the American penchant for making a buck came into play. (Of course, the southeastern part of the country probably had something going since it was settled first by the Spaniards, who were thoroughly Catholic.)

Christmas is a time for giving gifts and when crass American entrepeneurship grasped this, they ran with it. So for American businesses now to turn this into simply a "holiday" season, when its origins are strictly religious and specifically Christian, is to turn its back dishonestly on its roots.

However, let's look at this from a different perspective. For Christians to be upset about this betrays something in their attitudes -- it betrays that they think business has the upper hand on Christianity, that the Christian faith needs business to affirm its right to exist. But that is not the case. What does it matter if Target, whose only purpose in life is to make money for its shareholders, decides to start calling it 'holiday shopping? How does that effect the Christian celebration of Christmas? It really shouldn't.

This is not unlike the attitude betrayed when minorities complain that businesses don't advertise to them. What's the big deal? It appears they don't feel worthwhile because Sears, or whomever, is ignoring Hispanics. But since when has one's worth depended on whether or not Target, Wal-Mart, Gillette, or any other company advertises to you? That seems to me to show that their sense of value comes from material things -- hence materialism has made serious inroads into people's hearts.

Christians at this current point in time should still be celebrating Advent -- Christmas is still three weeks away and we're supposed to still be preparing for it via prayer, fasting and works of mercy (St. Francis of Assisi used to call it his "little Lent"). I find nothing in the tradition -- or in the Scriptures for that matter -- that says Christians have to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas buying gifts, going to parties, gorging ourselves on food and drink for a holiday that has not yet even come, and shopping in the local mall while men in overstuffed red suits and fake white beards parade around getting wish lists from little kids setting up their expectations and setting up their parents for serious credit card debt.

I remember some saying of Jesus, something about making His Father's house into a den of thieves. Not, of course, that Christmas is the Father's house, but I think the analogy works to a certain extent.

Why are we insistent that these cultural and corporate elites tell their employees that they can say Merry Christmas to their customers? Are we Christians abandoning our duty to evangelize and saying corporate America has to do it for us? If we've haven't been preaching the Gospel to the Macy's, Dayton's and Walton's, then embarrassing them into allowing the word "Christmas" into their advertising isn't going to help them a whole lot. Nor is it going to help the general cause of evangelization too much, either, since it only makes Christians look like demanding brats.

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