Christ, Claus, and Confusion
“…Old Jesus probably would’ve puked if He could see it…” J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye.
The line comes from a scene in New York. Holden Caulfield finds himself at a Rockettes performance amid the glitter of Christmas. He is overcome by the glitz and consumerism. If you haven’t read the book since high school, or copied your friend’s answers to the quiz, do yourself a favor and revisit it.
Salinger wrote the line in 1951. An age before the Internet, Black Friday, Amazon, and shopping malls. The consumerism of 2016 makes 1951 look like the Dark Ages.
What does that say about this holiday we know as Christmas?
Christians argue that we’ve exorcised Christ from the holiday. We replaced him with Santa Claus, consumerism, and political correctness. The airways, social media, and public discourse churn with those bemoaning the use of “Happy Holidays,” instead of Merry Christmas.
It would seem it is more important to march with the Christian majority than recognize the many traditions blended into Christmas.
However, if one examines the history behind the holiday, you find Christians have done a fair job of borrowing traditions themselves.
There are few things Biblical scholars agree on. Yet there is almost universal agreement that the birth of Christ was not December 25th. Despite the lines from the Christmas Carol, Jesus was not “born on Christmas Day.”
Some say it was January, some say March. I’m not certain it happened at all. But, if it did happen on the 25th of any month, it was July. (No coincidence that it is my birthday and my father, Joseph, was once a carpenter. I’ll leave the other similarities there.)
The Christmas tree, a pagan tradition. December 25th, a pagan tradition around the winter solstice. I would submit that Christmas encompasses a plethora of traditions of which the Christian aspect is just one facet.
St. Nicholas, perhaps a pagan converted to Christianity, lends his compassion and generosity to a tradition of gift giving. Father Christmas is then morphed, by an artist creating an ad for Coca-Cola, into the familiar Jolly Old St. Nick.
Santa Claus is born.
The Santa Clause indeed.
Christmas is a blend of traditions. I was raised as a Catholic and served as an altar boy. I recall the services of the Midnight Mass. The pageantry of the Christmas Day Mass. Followed by the gift opening frenzy. That was the part I looked forward to, everything else was just going through the motions.
Even the differences in how one exchanges a greeting during the holiday. Merry Christmas is familiar to me. Yet, when I hear Happy Christmas, the greetings of Britain and A Christmas Carol, it sounds odd.
The same holiday wish from a different perspective.
I see no harm in that. What’s the big deal about Happy Holidays? Is that difference so important?
Suppose you were in an airport sitting near a Middle Eastern looking individual. You overhear him say, “Eli Eli lema sabachthani.” What would you do?
Most of us would move away. Some would run, screaming. TSA would faint in fear.
On hearing the language of the time of Jesus, Aramaic, most terror-sensitized Americans would be, well, terrified. The strangeness of the language would send most into spasms of fear.
Those words are a Jesus quote. I leave it to your ingenuity to figure it out. The language of the man whose name is part of the word Christmas would frighten you because it is unfamiliar. Doesn’t that underscore the need to embrace and understand our differences?
A Merry Christmas to you, if that is your tradition, and Happy Holidays to everyone else.