December 21, 2013

COMMENTARY: Inner, religious Christmas more powerful than exterior, secular one

M.D. Harmon

It’s that time of year again, when chestnuts roast on an open fire, happy couples sing “Let it snow!” while cuddling by the hearth, horses drawing sleighs down country lanes create sparkling music by the jingling of their harness bells — and Americans fight about Christmas.

Looked at one way, I suppose we brought the so-called “War on Christmas” on ourselves. “Diversity” trumps “unity” every time these days, and where once we were a nation, we are now a lumpy stew of classes, ethnicities, races, cultures and ideologies.

So Christmas, to some the second-holiest day and season of their faith, has become to others a time of secular celebration that exalts families, gift-giving, partying and time off from work.

There’s nothing wrong with all that, of course, but it’s not the same thing as a holy day.

And then there’s a third group, for whom Christmas, far more than Easter (probably because it has a much wider social impact — Good Friday isn‘t Black Friday, after all) is a symbol of deplorable cultural hegemony that must be expunged from the public square.

So, Christmas trees become mandatory “holiday trees,” while what were once Christmas concerts in schools now must be called “winter festivals.”

In them, Rudolph cavorts across the evening sky, red nose shining bravely to pierce the darkness, while Frosty the Immortal Snowman is constructed, melts and yet promises to return forever and ever, amen.

But of miraculous stars, babes in humble mangers and a troika of gift-bearing visitors from the East (not to mention adolescent percussionists of the male persuasion), nothing can be said or sung. At least, that’s what we’re told, even though courts have said mixing carols with secular songs invokes no particular constitutional quandaries.

How silly is it that we question the advisability of wishing each other a “Merry Christmas,” as if Dec. 25 were labeled “Generic Holiday” on the calendar?

But if you agree, take a bit of heart this season, for you are not alone.

According to a Rasmussen poll last week, “Sixty-seven percent of American adults still think Christmas should be more about Jesus Christ than about Santa Claus.”

Just 17 percent of the 1,000 respondents prefer to exalt Santa Claus, and the rest don’t have a preference, the poll reported.

Other recent surveys found that 81 percent of those who celebrate Christmas view it as a religious holiday, 70 percent prefer “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” on store signs, and 79 percent think religious holidays should be celebrated in schools.

But there’s a point to make about all this that goes beyond polls, political correctness and even what to call an evergreen bedecked with lights.

My authority for that assertion? No less an expert on the social expression of sophisticated theological concepts than the eminent scholar of all things holy, the late Dr. Theodor S. Geisel.

Of course, he wrote under his title and his middle name, so we know him better as Dr. Seuss.

And in his premier academic treatise on the ultimate meaning of Christmas, dealing with how the small-hearted (and tiny-minded) Grinch plotted to steal Christmas itself from the innocent and joyful Who community, he laid it all out in terms that (dare I say) even a child can understand.

So, let’s all learn from Cindy-Lou Who that there is an outer Christmas composed of gifts and parties and trees, and an inner Christmas that is far older, wiser and infinitely more powerful than the exterior one.

That interior Christmas is based on a Story, true enough, but we’ve had a couple of thousand years to ponder it, and it still moves even those whose hearts are “two sizes too small.”

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