Iguana Wish You a Merry Christmas! Get it!?
Out of the ever growing pile of Christmas and holiday cards I've received and collected thus far in December, the one with that painfully "punny" punch line, adorned with a photo of an iguana, sporting a bright red Santa hat, is my favorite. It came from two good friends who recently returned from their honeymoon in the Galapagos Islands, hence the reptilian greeting.
As a Pastor, I get a lot of cards, have for many years, and its always my joy to sit down and see what seasonal salutations folks from my faith community and friends and family send. It's also fascinating to note the huge change in what those cards look like now, their messages and spirit, versus almost thirty years ago when I first began "doing" Christmas for a living. Culturally, a lot has changed since 1989, when it comes to how we celebrate holidays, or holy days, or both, or none, on the 25th day of the twelfth month of the year.
So 28 years ago when George H.W. Bush was the President, the top new Christmas song was "This One's for the Kids" by New Kids on the Block from their "Funky Holiday" album. (Admit it--you bought it!) The overwhelming number of Christmas cards I received were religious: with angels and baby Jesus, three kings and Bible quotes. An occasional mimeographed Christmas letter showed up in that past pile too.
Fast forward almost three decades and our current Commander in Chief actually boasted in a speech three weeks ago: "I told you we were going to start saying 'Merry Christmas!' again!", a reference to one of his more curious campaign promises. (More on that soon.) The #1 holiday song today is Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas", which I just heard for the 6,432nd time, and, well....Of the 40 cards I've received, just three are religious. Half say "Merry Christmas"; others "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings".
But there are very few stables or stars in the sky or silent nights filled with a mother and child. The practice of institutional religion has declined in just one generation for many reasons: church scandals, folks' lifestyles, and technology, to name but a few factors. And yet according to some, including our Santa In Chief or Grinch in Chief (depending upon one's viewpoint) this dearth of overtly religious greeting cards is a reflection of America's "WAR ON CHRISTMAS!" A certain cable news channel in particular (rhymes with "sox") promotes this story every year, decrying how terrible it is that no one can say "Merry Christmas" anymore or be overtly "Christmassy" because its not "politically correct", that in fact Christmas must be rescued from the clutches of our soulless secular world!!
I'm sorry, but as a person of faith, I find this annual cultural debate as appealing as a stocking full of coal, an argument that's as fake as a $49.95 aluminum hued Christmas Tree from Wal-Mart. More than most folks, I am fully invested in the holy and religious aspects of this season, the sacred story of Christmas. I want folks to have a Merry Christmas. I pray and hope that the pews in the church I serve will be packed come the 24th. I love my Christmas story. And yet, I also know this.
I live in a great nation where the practice or non-practice of religion is free and voluntary. No one is forcing anyone to say or not say "Merry Christmas"! There are no anti-Christmas police patrolling the streets, handing out citations for being of good cheer. Not now. Not ever. So I say go ahead if you want--have at it! Shout "Merry Christmas" from the rooftops. Send out a boatload of greeting cards too. String a thousand lights across your house and I will come by and enjoy the show!
But I'd say do so remembering this: that there is no WAR ON CHRISTMAS. There is instead, a sad and predictable need on the part of far too many leaders and journalists, to make everything, even the holidays, into an argument in 2017: a debate, a fight, a feud, a war. The irony is that this "war" is being fought in the name of the prince of peace, one whose birth we in my tradition believe, heralds a great day, some future day, of "peace on earth and goodwill to all people."
And if the ancient story that I so love is not your story, that's cool. Maybe you celebrate a different God story, like Hanukkah. Maybe for you Christmas is a great time to just reunite with family and friends, to rest and be rejuvenated after a long, long year, nothing more. Maybe the holidays are hard for you, because you are really missing a loved one, or you are sick or lonely, or worry that you won't be remembered in all the "Merry Christmases" being said. Maybe you are not so sure about this God stuff but as you look at the twinkling stars in a dark December night sky, you trust somehow that a power greater than yourself is holding it all together.
Holidays. Holy days. December days. But a war? Not on my behalf. My prayer this year is simple: for just one silent night. May you and your loved ones find such peace this season too.