By Robert Mann
I come from a long line of Christian evangelicals. I grew up among people devoted to saving souls, compelled by their faith to spread the “Good News.” My father was a preacher who believed in the power of Christ to redeem the world. Sometimes, members of his various churches would comb neighborhoods, knock on doors, ask complete strangers about their faith and invite them to church.
Yet, like the Puritans of old, we forsook the religious side of Christmas. Following the New Testament command of St. Paul, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon,” there were no Christmas hymns sung in the congregations of my youth. If you had attended my dad’s unadorned church the Sunday before Christmas, you would have seen no signs of the holiday season. There was no Christmas Eve service.
Perhaps that’s why I find the supposed “war on Christmas” so peculiar. I grew up in a hyper-religious world that, paradoxically, wasn’t concerned with celebrating the birth of Christ. Greet my dad with “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” I doubt he cared. To him, Christmas was secular. To my siblings and me, Christmas was about Santa Claus, not Christ.
Now, as a longtime Methodist, I’m at home in a church that celebrates the spiritual side of the holidays. I embrace the Christmas hymns and belt them out with gusto. Perhaps I’m making up for lost time. I always find myself very much moved by their words of hope and grace. The lyrics of “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem” – “The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in thee tonight” – sometimes brings me to tears.
Yet, it troubles me not that some people greet me with the more-secular “Happy Holidays.” Maybe they’re Christians who don’t celebrate Christ’s birthday. I was once among them. Maybe they care more about the Resurrection – Easter – the real pinnacle of the Christian year. Maybe they are Jewish, Muslim or atheist.
None of that concerns former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, feasting cynically on the fears and grievances of her evangelical followers. In a new book, she informs readers, “this ‘war on Christmas’ is the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture.”