As A Charlie Brown Christmas reaches its peak, Charlie Brown cries out in frustration, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” To which the unflappable Linus strolls on stage in the middle of the Christmas play and says, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” and proceeds to recite the nativity from the King James version of Luke chapter two.
Linus’ recitation rectifies the over-commercialization of Christmas Charlie Brown had bemoaned throughout the movie. But Linus’ religious climax was not always in the plans. When Charles Schultz presented the original script to the CBS executives, many were concerned about reciting the Bible in a primetime special. Schultz replied, “Well if we don’t do it, who will?” Schultz prevailed, and the film aired becoming the most watched Christmas special of all time, winning an Emmy along the way.
Considering that the story decries the secularization of Christmas, CBS’ hesitation for including the true meaning of Christmas feels sadly fitting. Each year Christmas grows increasingly secular. Articles out just this month declare “No reason for the season,” “Christmas is a commercial holiday,” and “Nobody needs Christ at Christmas.” Are these dire prognoses accurate? Have Christians lost the fight for the heart of Christmas?
Book publishers think so. Or more accurately, book publishers think we like being told so. Bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas has become a favorite American Christmas tradition.
Writers love telling us that the Christ in Christmas is being replaced with greed and dollar signs, because, well, telling us that seems to make them lots of dollar signs. Every year a new doomsday prophecy of Christmas decline shoots up the New York Times Bestseller list.
And a new poll out this week suggests maybe they’ve got the story right. More people want stores to say “Happy Holidays” than “Merry Christmas,” more Americans than ever before are celebrating Christmas as a non-religious holiday, and more Americans watch Christmas movies than Christmas religious services.
But the story of religion and Christmas is a bit more complicated. Americans want to hear happy holidays not because they aren’t celebrating Christmas, but because they want to make sure those of minority faiths feel comfortable–a fairly Christian demonstration of loving your neighbor.
And all those people who aren’t attending church on Christmas, they’re not attending church any other time of the year either. In fact, the percent of people in the survey who call Christmas a religious holiday is not coincidentally almost identical to the percent of Americans who are Christian. Nearly ninety percent of Americans believe the story of Christmas reaffirms faith in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the war on Christmas isn’t something to be terribly worried about. In fact the secularization of Christmas is as old as Christmas itself. Christmas after all only began being celebrated as a means of preserving a pagan Roman holiday. And early church fathers bemoaned that the Romans kept celebrating Christmas in the same depraved manner they had celebrated the old holiday.
Harriet Beacher Stowe complained about the stress of getting a Christmas gift for everyone on her list–in 1834! Yet despite the length of this war, Christmas is still celebrated and is so popular that we refer to it not just as a holiday but the holiday.,
If Christmas is doing so well, why the annual complaints? Perhaps people are surprised at the way Christmas is celebrated in public. Since the 1950s, it seems that public displays of Christianity are increasingly less acceptable. Yet legally, Christian displays, including Christmas nativity scenes, are allowed anywhere any public displays are allowed.
If there are not as many displays of Christianity in public at Christmas, it is not a deplorable government conspiracy, it’s because we as Christians aren’t putting them there.
Charlie Brown and Lucy were putting on an entirely secular Christmas program. It included Jingle Bells and dancing instead of nativity scenes. The main concern was that the Christmas tree was too small. Linus, concerned about this, stepped up and on center stage he presented to their Christmas program, and by extension to the fifty percent of American televisions turned to the program, what Christmas was really about.
Linus stood up to Lucy, and Charles Shultz stood up to secular network executives. But you know what? No one stopped either of them, and they made Christmas religious. We need more people like Linus who simply shared his faith in Jesus Christ. What public actions are we taking to make Christmas religious this season?
We need less false outrage from people concerned that being wished Happy Holidays while purchasing their big screen TV does not satisfy their particular religious preference. If you don’t feel like Christmas is religious enough, then let’s open our mouths in our homes, in our chapels, and in the public square to proclaim the good news of the birth and divinity of Jesus Christ.
That’s the only way to combat any real or perceived war on Christmas.