I’m not in the United States to understand all that is happening there, but what I can follow is that huge supermarkets, such as Wal-Mart, forbid its employees to wish customers “Merry Christmas” and rather to wish them “Happy Holidays”. Yesterday, one of the blogs which I constantly follow, wrote about this topic, which you can read here.
On December 13, 1993, Christianity Today published an article in which they warned that Christmas was not being ruled from Jerusalem or Rome or Wheaton or any other religious center, but from Madison Avenue and Wall Street. It is time, the article argues, for Christians to recognise this.
The controversy in the United States about the law forbidding customers to be wished a merry Christmas obviously unchained a lot of emotions amongst certain Christians. But after reading about this the first time, I asked myself the question whether this was really bad. In another article in Christianity Today, the author writes that it is not only Christmas being celebrated during December. Those of the Jewish religion are also celebrating Hanukkah, the feast of lights. How can an employee be expected to wish someone a merry Christmas who does not believe that the Messiah’s birth is being commemorated? And what right do Christians have to claim the holiday season for themselves, thinking that commercial businesses, who by definition exist to make a profit, should neglect their non-Christian customers or offend them by wishing them a “merry Christmas”?
The article reports: One organization is selling bumper stickers that read, “This is America! And I’m going to say it: Merry Christmas!” and “Merry Christmas! An American Tradition” to which the author adds, tongue in the cheek: I don’t remember the American part of the Christmas story, but I haven’t re-read Luke 2 yet this year.
South Africa went through a similar phase when the Day of Ascension was no longer a religious holiday. Christians were up in arms about this and commented about the anti-Christian government in South Africa targeting Christian religious holidays. Most churches responded by arranging for special church services to be held on the evening of the Day of Ascension. Ironically, these services are usually poorly attended, which makes one think that the issue for most people calling themselves Christians may not be the Day of Ascension as such, but rather indignation that a holiday had been taken away from them.
Which brings me back to the Christmas issue. If we want to bring back the true Christian spirit of Christmas, then we will have to focus on Easter. The gospels of Mark and John do not even relate the birth of Jesus. But all four gospels focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. And when the first Christians started spreading the message, we find them mainly preaching about Jesus who had been crucified and who had arisen from the dead.
I’m not sure how Easter is celebrated in other countries, but in South Africa this is, next to Christmas, the biggest holiday season (and ironically, also the time when, except for Christmas, the most people are killed in vehicle accidents.)
Easter isn’t a time of shopping or decorations. People are not being wished a “happy Easter”. But for Christians this should be the biggest feast on their calendar. Only by celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus in a proper Christian way, can the true spirit of Christmas be reclaimed.