The “War on Christmas” has taken a new, strange detour.
For those who prefer music and are out of the talk radio loop, there are many Americans who think that Christmas is under attack in this country. They believe that people offering a “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” is proof that Santa and the baby Jesus are in the crosshairs.
A whole cottage industry has sprang up around that notion, with talk show hosts haranguing over “holiday” trees and pageants, and one group even publishing a “naughty” list of retailers who don’t mention the holiday much in their December ads.
But according to a recent ABC News article, the true defenders of Christmas are speaking up in one southwestern Michigan town.
It seems some homeowners along one street received anonymous letters criticizing them for “pagan” light displays on their properties. The letter writer also claimed the use of mistletoe, wreaths and Yule logs wasn’t representative of Christmas either.
Yep, yep, yep and yep. Most of the symbols associated with modern Christmas traditions have their roots in pagan customs. The theory is the early church and Christian society absorbed the practices of new converts to the faith, even tying the celebration of Jesus’ birth to an old pagan holiday.
Here at the News-Gazette, we value our “pagan” traditions. The office tree is topped by a red Santa hat, there’s an evergreen wreath on one wall, and most days a giant inflatable polar bear greets visitors with a cheeky stare.
We’re not consistent with offering a “Merry Christmas” or even a “Season’s Greetings,” mainly because the phones tend to be ringing non-stop when customers are around. That doesn’t mean we’re anti-Christmas: we’re just busy, like I suspect a lot of businesses are.
I have some close friends who are devout Christians. For years they refused to celebrate Christmas in the modern “traditional” sense, because for them the commercialization was too offensive. No lights, no trees, no presents, no stockings or Santa – all were pagan trappings. Instead, they chose to reflect on what Jesus’ birth meant for all Christians. While theirs was perhaps the more meaningful observance, it wasn’t nearly as fun.
The article about the Michigan letter-writer left me wanting to revive an old family tradition: the tacky light tour.
When I was a young child, my family moved to a huge Victorian-era house in Cloverport. According to family lore my dad decorated the outside of the house that first Christmas, then decided it was too much hassle. Given the height of the roofline on the front porch alone, I kinda understand his reasoning.
There after, we only had an indoor tree and candles in a few windows. But we would drive around as a family to look at others’ decorations. Over the years, that evolved into a game of trying to find the most over-the-top light displays --- you know, the ones that almost lure airplanes in for landings, the ones that can be seen for miles and miles.
It wasn’t a religious observance, nor one steeped in tradition. But it did what the best observances of any holiday do – bring loved ones close together to share in something beyond their everyday lives.
So celebrate this Christmas – or Hanukkah, Kwanza or winter solstice -- with your loved ones as you see fit, whether your traditions lean more toward the spiritual or the secular. I and the rest of the News-Gazette staff wish you all the joys of the season.