Different Christian views spark Christmas war

The “war on Christmas” has become its own holiday tradition over the past 10 years or so. This conflict is played out in the media, mostly by Fox News and MSNBC.

On the web, countless diaries and commentaries rehash the same arguments about the traditional meaning of Christmas and the commercial circus it has become today.

Blogger Max Blumenthal wrote,“The story typically goes as follows: secular elements have intimidated stores into replacing the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Happy Holidays;’ nativity scenes have been removed from public spaces under threat of ACLU lawsuits; a decadent culture is moving ever closer to eradicating Christian morality; and America slouches towards Gomorrah.”

Despite the media drama, however, the real war over Christmas is between conservative Christians and their more progressive counterparts.

A recent survey of Christian beliefs about Christmas found that less than half of Americans believe the angelic messengers to the shepherds, the onward leading Star of Bethlehem, the three wise men from the East or even the virgin birth are actual events.

By contrast, 80 percent of white evangelicals believe these were historic events and the New Testament is an accurate record of real events.

For almost half (49 percent) of Americans, the war is between conservative Christians who celebrate Christmas as a religious observance, and the growing number of more liberal Christians who regard December 25 as primarily a commercial holiday.

According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, 71 percent of Americans will celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Of these, 42 percent will observe strong religious devotions, while 31 percent are ranked as observing a “somewhat religious” Christmas.

Twenty-six percent of Americans will celebrate Christmas this year as a secular cultural tradition rather than a religious holiday.

“The trend is in that direction for sure,” said Robert Jones, CEO of the institute. Belief in the historical accuracy of the biblical Christmas story has declined more than 17 percent since 2004.

On the premise that merchants should support the conservative Christian interpretation of Christmas, evangelical Protestants are demanding that stores acknowledge the Christ in Christmas by some prominent display of “Merry Christmas” or its equivalent in their advertising and on their premises.

The loudest complaint against Christmas shopping by evangelical Christians is that more and more American merchants are greeting their customers with some version of “Happy Holidays,” rather than the more obviously Christian, “Merry Christmas.”

Time was when such terms as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” “Season’s Greetings” and similar generic messages were pretty much interchangeable because they were so common. Certainly, most people didn’t see them as politically charged theological axioms.

In a PRRI press release, Jones said, “Americans seem to be turning a corner on the appropriateness of more inclusive holiday greetings during December. Today, more Americans than not say they prefer businesses to greet customers with ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas’ out of respect for the diversity of holidays being celebrated in December, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice and others.”

On the other side, a hefty 43 percent prefer the traditional “Merry Christmas,” with an implied accent on Christ. In December 2010, that figure was 44 percent.

Fortunately, evangelicals don’t seem to mind shopping in the stores that secularize Christmas greetings. Since, on average, they spend more on Christmas gifts than other Americans, they subsidize the commercialization of Christmas that they deplore as rampant materialism.

As a noncombatant in this war, I send a wish for “happy holidays” to my secular friends and a cheery “merry Christmas” to those who believe. And to all, a wish for “peace,” the true promise of Christmas.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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