FLORENCE GILKESON: Two Christmases: And the Commercial One Is Winning Out
A cartoon shows a couple laden with packages eying a glowing star in the skies. The man asks what it is. The woman hopes it's a light for another sale. I would identify the cartoonist, but I can't interpret the artist's scribbled signature.
It is a wry reminder that Americans celebrate two Christmases.
One is the Christian observance known as the Advent season, beginning with the first Sunday in December, continuing through the symbolic Dec. 25 birth date of Jesus Christ, then continuing into January for the Epiphany.
The other is the commercial Christmas, and that's the one we hear the most about -- if we're honest, that is.
For years, the Christian community has decried the absence of the Baby Jesus from Christmas parades and, in general, the absence of Christ in much of the Christmas observance. So it came as a source of amusement when the public raised an outcry about the decision by a major retailer last year to change the store greeting from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays.
Then came complaints about Christmas cards with Merry Christmas absent from the greeting, with the substitution of Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings.
What's funny is that there's nothing new about greeting cards mentioning these alternatives to Merry Christmas. I remember them from childhood. Originally, I think the concept of a non-Christmas greeting was based in the hope that the greeting would cover both Christmas and New Year's Day.
And it's true that some folks like to send greetings to non-Christians.
I agree that it's pretty foolish to drop the Merry Christmas greeting. It's also pretty stupid to refer to holiday trees and holiday parades instead of you-know-what. For one thing, this is traditional. Even many non-Christians recognize the season with Christmas decorations and visits from Santa Claus.
The Associated Press recently reported that officials at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport crept into the terminal in the wee small hours of the morning, when there was a lull in passenger traffic, and removed nine Christmas trees. It seems they had decided to remove the trees rather than agree to a Jewish rabbi's request to display a menorah during the holiday season. The rabbi had not asked that the trees be removed, just that the menorah be added.
Apparently the airport people thought it would start an unfortunate trend, with followers of other faiths demanding their rights as well. Muslims would be next, then Buddhists, Hindus, maybe even a Wiccan pentacle of witchcraft. Perhaps they have a point, but removal of the trees seems a trifle extreme. Truly we are a more diverse population than we were 50 years ago.
A follow-up news story says that Seattle-Tacoma has since restored the artificial trees, except this time the report gives the number as 14, not nine.
Here's a reminder to the folks all het up about what we call our decorated trees and fuss about greetings during this season: Many of these traditions are just that and no more.
In fact, several of our more popular Christmas traditions date back to pagan observances that early Christians adapted to their own uses. Now they have become as much a part of our celebration as a Nativity scene.
Bill Kirby Jr., in his column for The Fayetteville Observer, reported receiving a voice mail message from a critic suggesting that he become more sensitive about his non-Christian readers and use the word Christmas less frequently.
Kirby didn't like the suggestion very much.
In The News & Observer of Raleigh, columnist Dennis Rogers had this comment on the subject: "Keep your intolerant mittens off my Christmas, and I'll do the same."
Then, surprisingly, Rogers quotes a statement from the Muslim American Public Affairs Council of Raleigh, that actually supports a City Council decision to allow a private party to place a Christian display in Moore Square. The council said such religious displays should not be prohibited unless they carry language offensive to other beliefs.
Many years ago, a minister gathered the children around him for their mini-sermon the Sunday before Christmas.
He started off by asking whose arrival Christians were expecting. One youngster, much to the embarrassment of his mother, piped up with a resounding "Santa Claus."
Welcome to the merging of the Christian Christmas into the commercial happy holidays, cheerily shouted to the merry ring of the cash register.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story