The Thanksgiving holiday is now over and we have entered the Christmas season or, perhaps, it’s just the holiday season that happens toward the end of the year.
Christmas season seems to be moving into earlier months each year. This year, some stores had Christmas ornaments on display in September–presumably so shoppers could beat the December rush and start spending money early.
The celebration of Christmas has changed. The vision of Christmas for some is rooted in Victorian England with scenes of a white landscape and shoppers bustling around in cold weather and wishing each other "Merry Christmas" while Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Christ. For decades, the reality and the popular vision may have had some connection. The majority of the population lived in the Northeastern United States where it does snow and it is cold in December. And, as I recall, most people did wish each other a "Merry Christmas" at work, in school or in general everyday conversation. The town squares around many towns often featured a scene with the Three Wise Men visiting in the manger and bringing gifts to the baby destined to have such a dramatic impact on the world.
We also had Christmas parties at school and with our friends and family. Even the federal government had informal Christmas parties. The punch could not be legally spiked with alcohol but, in the agencies in which I worked, someone always seemed to find a way to get around the regulations or just ignored them and brought alcoholic beverages into the workplace anyway.
The reality has changed. Many of us live in warmer climates and snow is a rare occasion. Shopping may be in shorts or light jackets.
But, perhaps more importantly, the celebration of Christmas has changed.
At work, at school and even among friends, the term "Merry Christmas" is no longer used. It is replaced with "Happy Holidays" or "Season’s Greetings." Fewer stores advertise with the term "Merry Christmas" along with the new low prices on toasters and computer games. Instead, there will be a cheery framing of "Season’s Greetings" with holly and red ornaments to introduce the new line of "must have" toys for the kids.
There are certainly some cities and local governments that celebrate Christmas with a display of religious symbols on their grounds but the number is dwindling rapidly. Those that do so are often faced wtih a lawsuit designed to take away the notion of religion and government having any relationship so the religious symbols disappear but the "holiday tree" will usually stay put.
And, in government and private offices around the country, "Christmas parties" have largely been replaced by "holiday parties." Fewer people greet others with a "Merry Christmas" but, instead, cite the more politically correct "Happy Holidays."
As the largest retailer, one might expect that Wal-Mart would find itself in the middle of the cultural war. According to news reports, it found itself on the front lines early this year when it changed its "Merry Christmas" signs to read "Happy Holildays." A customer complained about the change. She received an e-mail from the company that read: "Wal-Mart is a world wide organization and must remain conscious of this. . . . The majority of the world still has different practices other than ‘Christmas’ which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism" and added that "Santa is also borrowed from the Caucasus, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal."
The company reportedly issued an apology for "inappropriate and inflammatory comments made by the former employee" after the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights threatened a boycott.
Whether there is a cultural "War on Christmas" may be a matter of debate but there is little doubt that society has changed and the celebration of Christmas is becoming more secular and less religious. The schools, government at all levels and merchants have been dropping the religious symbols and striving to become more secular and, perhaps, less controversial.
Is there a backlash? Most Americans still refer to themselves as "Christians" but do most Americans support the changes for a more secular holiday season or do they resent them? Should federal employees be given a holiday on December 25th since it is a religious holiday?