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Every year around two minutes past midnight November 1, when Halloween ends and the malls begin spewing out “Xmas Muzak,” Christians trundle out their well-worn complaints about the tinselly squalor of today’s commercialized Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, bemoan the ever-expanding catalogue of banality known as “holiday carols” which are little more than neutered jumbles of Christmass-ish chords. On Dasher, on Frosty, on Rudolph, and Santa; on Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Dean Martin. What does any of the schmaltz have to do with the real reason for the season?
The correct answer is, of course: very little.
But as depressing as the tsunami of schmaltz may sound, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning. As America (and with her, the rest of the west) becomes less and less as a Christian nation, we do well to ponder the future of public recognition of Christmas and to be grateful for the commercialization thereof.
Hear me out. The data on the religious landscape are not exactly encouraging. For example, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 3.1% of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 1.6% in a similarly large survey in 2007. An additional 4.0% of Americans call themselves agnostics, up from 2.4% in 2007.
These still look like small percentages but they represent a doubling of the numbers in a very few years, and should sound some kind of alarm. It’s old news that the culture has made a slow and steady (?) shift away from the Christian faith since the late Sixties. Signs of this shift are ubiquitous and come in many vestments. Start the list by asking how many priests, nuns, and ministers are the good guys in today’s Hollywood?
Sunday shopping is another metric. Once a bastion of what Protestant America called the Sabbath Rest, since the 1970s, Sunday has been the target of governments around the world bent on eliminating the idea of one day of rest from commercial exchange and labor.
People who favor a Sunday shopping ban are looked upon as quaint, and not in the complimentary sense. Poland is filled with millions of “those people.” Catholic Poland is a rare exceptions to the European rule. Earlier this month, Poland’s Sejm (lower house of Poland’s parliament) voted to phase on Sunday shopping altogether by 2010. And praise the Lord.
But back in America, where the pursuit of mammon dominates all seven days of the week, the season of Christmas has become more and more dependent upon, and identified with, the commercialized angle than the What’s His Name From Bethlehem angle. And I say, deo gratias. Why? Well, what would become of Christmas if it weren’t for the wall-to-wall mall tinsel and the omnipresent musical offerings such as “Dean Martin’s Baby It’s Cold Outside, with its date rape subtext, Eartha Kitt’s creepy Santa Baby, along with the latest pablum churned out by pop stars? Their name is legion.
Still, without them, ask yourself how long Christmas Day will remain a federal holiday? In what sense are we a Christian country in the sense that India is Hindu, Saudi Arabia is Muslim, and Poland is Catholic?
American culture was once fully Christian, or at least robustly Deist, when presidents made regular mention of Almighty God, calling for prayer and fasting, and clergy were portrayed respectfully in movies and on television. If it fell to us practicing Christians alone to prop up Christmas as the remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ, it would take no time before Caesar knocked the thing down and sweep it away. The courts banned prayer in public schools in the early 1960s faster than you can say “disestablishment.”
Is it even remotely possible for a writer today to walk into the tony CBS offices in Los Angeles and pitch A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with the climax of Linus reciting Luke’s Gospel about the real meaning of Christmas? Producer Bill Melendez pulled it off in 1965. How many light years have we come since then?
How about celebrity covers of Christmas carols? This is another metric of the cultural shift away from on-the-nose references to Christianity. Back in the day, A-list singers like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Perry Como, Dion, the Carpenters, John Denver, Elvis Presley—so many of them recorded explicitly Christian or traditional carols. Apart from the country music realm (which remains the last bastion of faith-friendly artists and songs), the last thing today’s pop singers want is Baby Jesus subtracting from their “holiday album” bottom line.
They suppose, perhaps rightly, that the real money lies in songs not about angels, a Virgin, holy nights and shepherds, but about marshmallow worlds, winter wonderlands, Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, rockin’ around the Christmas tree, and mistletoe.
Christians have the mammon-hungry secularists to thank for keeping Christmas before us each year, even if they can’t help themselves from piping in the very merry Muzak two minutes after Halloween is over.