Every time the holiday season rolls around, we hear about a school, organization or business shying away from overt Christmas holiday messages in favor of being more inclusive toward those who are not Christian (or who otherwise don’t celebrate the Christian holidays).
It’s often said, in fact, that there is an ongoing “war on Christmas” by some who feel threatened that their holiday, with its deep religious roots, is being shuffled aside. But is there really a war on Christmas? Is this political correctness gone wrong, or are people starting to realize that not everyone in the U.S. is Christian and that letting people celebrate (or not) in their own way is not a direct attack on the Christmas holiday?
While the majority of Americans do claim Christianity as their faith (71 percent), with a population of more than 322 million residents, this means that nearly 100 million people in our country do not practice Christianity. And even among those who do identify as Christians, the importance of faith in their lives varies, with 79 percent of evangelical Protestants saying faith is “very important,” but just 53 percent of mainline Protestants saying the same.
With more awareness of these factors, more Americans are recognizing that intense Christmas celebrations actually exclude many people. Instead of an outright “war” on Christmas, saying “happy holidays” and backing off from overt religious displays mean people are merely dialing it back to recognize our differences.
While those who have grown up practicing a different religion are often used to hearing and seeing “Merry Christmas!” in every store, every commercial and on every product that comes out this time of the year, others may be closer to realizing a new truth — that recognizing that not everyone sees life in the same way you do helps broaden your own horizons and also enables you to see that our differences are what makes us human.
The change isn’t happening without controversy.
Traditional mall displays may be going by the wayside — but not without a fight. While evergreen trees are firmly rooted in modern American Christmas displays, humans originally paired them with pre-Christian celebrations that focused on the winter solstice — and early American Christians admonished their use, saying that their frivolity had no place among the celebration of such a sacred holiday. However, their use in today’s celebrations is directly tied to Christmas, and the outrage that burst forth when a New York mall announced it would do without a traditional Christmas tree was so fierce, it decided to add one back in.
But that incident is only the tip of the iceberg. Changes are cascading through our lives, whether it’s small things that we’ve always taken for granted being sidelined, or larger, more broadly sweeping events that change the backdrop of the winter holidays.
The fact that Starbucks decided to go with plain red cups this holiday season (instead of cups that are decorated with decidedly non-Christian symbols such as reindeer and snowflakes) does not make the company a hater of Jesus, as one former pastor alleges.
Consider this: Religious people likely did not practice Christianity more fervently with a commercially decorated Starbucks cup in hand. Those who don’t “do” Christmas can decorate their cups however they like. Actually, people who do “do” Christmas can as well. It doesn’t change one’s faith.
And when secular schools drift away from religious songs in favor of more traditional American holiday jingles (or ax the Christmas program altogether), that doesn’t mean the school board is giving Christianity a kick in the pants. It does mean that kids who aren’t Christian don’t have to be left out.
People get invested in tradition, often not realizing that the tradition they enjoy actually excludes nearly 100 million people by its very nature.
This is not a war on Christmas. This is not a war on Christianity.
Minimizing the fact that sanctioned Christmas celebrations can and do offend and leave out some families is sad. Making changes to include everyone doesn’t mean you’re not able to celebrate the way you would prefer. And most of all, the world does not revolve around the majority, and celebrating our differences and being more inclusive is just a side effect of being a loving human being.