December 20, 2012
Edith Nesbit Bland might not be remembered today for the 60 popular children books she wrote in the 19
th century. But the nursery rhyme she set to music has not been forgotten. Every Christmas, young and old alike delight in singing “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man’s hat…” But do these lyrics need to be revised? After all, it is becoming incorrect in a growing number of circles even to whisper the word “Christmas.”
With a renewed effort to be all-inclusive, will the word “Christmas” be banished from our language and be replaced with “holiday,” just as bride and groom are now been banished in favor of spouse A and spouse B? It is okay to say “Hanukkah” or “Kwanzaa.” But “Christmas” is another story. Recently the governor of Rhode Island adopted the very bland use of “holiday tree” to speak of what everyone else knows to be a Christmas tree. One wonders if he would also avoid use the word “Menorah” when speaking of Hanukkah.
Each year the voices objecting to the recognition of Christmas in the public forum make themselves heard and their wishes heeded. Recently, the Santa Monica City Council banned the Christmas display in Palisades Park. It has been there every Christmas since 1953. A federal judge upheld the council’s decision. This was a victory for an avowed atheist who started the whole controversy. He had put up his own display in the park. It was a chain-link fence boasting the words “Religions are all alike — founded upon fables and mythologies.”
In the United States, it is constitutionally legal to display a publicly sponsored Nativity scene on public property. But there must be some form of secular display along with it. Jesus, Mary and Joseph can appear on public land as long as there is someone like Santa Clause or Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer nearby.
Even in public parks, there can be a privately-sponsored Nativity scene by itself. No need for Santa or his reindeer to be there, as long as the city or town places a disclaimer to the effect that it does not endorse or oppose the display. It would violate the Constitution to prohibit religious expression in a public park, while allowing other expressive activity. Nonetheless, atheists and radical secularists mount their campaign every year and, just as predictably, city officials and politicians cower into submission.
Thus, the Christmas celebration, meant to bring good cheer to all, becomes a moment to debate and divide. The ever-recurring war against Christmas displays in public places and even the use of the word “Christmas” in common speech stirs discussion and engenders lawsuits each year. Understanding the underlying issue really brings us face to face with the actual question that is being raised. What is the place of religious expression in a professedly tolerant society?
Is not the dismay over Christmas displays, on both sides, really about the demise of the Christian religion’s influence in our American culture? Can we fail to recognize that Christian values are no longer the foundation of our society? Honesty, and not greed. Chastity, and not the uninhibited expression of sexual desires. Marriage between a man and a woman. The sacredness of all life. The child in the womb, as well as the disabled and dying, cherished and protected. These are no longer the values of an increasingly secular society. And, worse yet, to promote such fundamental Christian values or simply to question the radical secularist agenda is increasingly considered bigotry and intolerance.
Sadly, many Christians themselves no longer espouse the moral values that Jesus places at the center of Christian discipleship. Christians do not always perfectly follow the Lord. But, in the past, when their actions and their life-styles violated his teaching, they recognized that they were sinners and in need of Jesus as Savior. Instead, today, all too many Christians prefer to jettison the Christian moral heritage and simply say that they are open-minded and tolerant.
The disappearance of Christmas in public places merely follows upon the disappearance of the Christian heritage in our common life. Before blaming atheists and secularists for robbing us of celebrating Christmas in the public forum, we Christians first need to ask ourselves whether or not Christmas is for us a celebration of our accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior with our lives or is it just another holiday?