by Kristin Fontaine
‘Tis the Season on Facebook™ for those “Keep CHRIST in Christmas” memes. These type of copy/paste postings annoy me for two reasons: the inevitable ‘repost if you are not ashamed’ or ‘96% of people won’t repost’ passive-aggressive guilt-tripping that is tagged onto the end of the message; and the lack of thought it takes to re-post them. If a person feels strongly about a topic, I would much rather hear about it in their own words with specific examples from their life than read a canned message that someone didn’t even bother to proofread.
In that spirit I was inspired to think about why the “Keep CHRIST in Christmas message” provoked such a strong reaction in me. It was so strong I started writing a fairly rant-laden response to the person who posted originally. I thought better of that and posted my rant to my own Facebook page. A few hours later I was surprised to find that a number of people had responded in the comments—apparently I wasn’t alone in my reaction to the “Keep CHRIST in Christmas” message.
Here is what I wrote (edited for clarity):
“Personally I think the best thing is to live Christmas while at the same time being respectful of other religions. Having a winter holiday celebration is not unique to Christianity and in many cases we (the Christian religion) poached a local religion’s holy day when Christianity moved into certain areas.
The Christmas season has become a cultural holiday and many family traditions remain associated with it. I’m not ashamed of being a Christian but the best way I can show that is not by trying to ‘defend’ Christmas but to live in the way that Christ taught, 365 days a year. I also respect the choices friends and family have made to be atheists, taoists, agnostic, christian, and pagan. Many of them live in ways that are closer to Christ than what I see of ‘Christians’ in the media. “Christmas” is a holiday (and holy day) that humans made up. We don’t know exactly when Christ was born, so now he is ‘born’ during the darkest time of the year (in the northern hemisphere) when the sun is just about to return.
Christmas is a creation of people and should not be the center of Christian worship. The season has been a secular tradition for a long time now. We co-opted other religions holy days and ‘saints,’ now it’s our turn to have our holy days co-opted by the secular majority. It is perhaps an good exercise in eating humble pie and being reminded of how the first Christians started out with just bread, wine, and the word.”
This still sums up my feels on the matter. Since the time I wrote this response there have been other, more pithy and more humorous takes on the situation. Jon Stewart riffed on it (and on what religious freedom really means) on the Dec 6th edition of the Daily Show and counter-memes have sprung up on Facebook.
I love Christmas. I set up my nativities starting the first Sunday of Advent (and move the holy family, shepherds, and wise men around as the events of Christmas play out in the readings). This year I’m breaking into my son’s legos to make a protestant nativity. This is my way of living into the story of Christ. My pagan housemate loves setting up our ‘Christmas’ tree every year. She picks the tree, lights it, and pick the color scheme for our holiday decorations (she is a designer and it comes through in everything she does). I would never tell her she couldn’t set up a tree and enjoy the holiday because she is not a Christian. Not only would it be the height of rudeness, but it does not do anything to share the message of Christ.
Back in 2005, I went to Norway to visit my relatives and practice my Norwegian (which I had spent the previous 3 years learning). I knew going in that they were religious and that the branch of the family I would be staying with were active missionaries. I was thrilled to have the chance to stay with them, but also nervous that they would not find me ‘Christian’ enough and would try to convert me to their specific dogma. Within the first 24 hours of my visit, I was relieved of that fear completely. They were religious, but they lived it rather than tried to tell me what to believe. We did have some discussions about religion but they were interesting and stimulating, not off-putting or conversion-oriented. I still remember a conversation about grace that their college-age daughter and I had, partly because it was in Norwegian and I was so pleased that I mostly understood a complex discussion that taxed the limits of my vocabulary. The visit was wonderful and they were lovely hosts and very supportive of me and my attempts to keep conversing in Norwegian even when I was struggling.
A year or so later, they were in Seattle for a day at the end of a visit to the US and I got to take them around and show off a bit of my home to them. I took them to the last day of Folklife (a huge, free, festival at Seattle Center). We toured around, listening to music and watching some dancing, before we stumbled across a Christian protest group. I don’t remember what they were on about, but they had signs and were of the ‘you’re all going to hell if you don’t convert’ variety. Intrigued, my relatives went over to talk to them. I hung back and watched. A fairly animated conversation ensued (my relatives are fluent English speakers). When we got back together, my relative shook his head and said that he had explained to the leader of the group that their methods would likely not be an effective way to spread the gospel.
I found it fascinating—particularly since I had originally thought that my relatives would be much more like the protestors than they turned out to be.
From this encounter I learned the difference between living the gospel, and shouting about it. My calm, quiet, faithful family caused me think about Christ much more than any protestor every has (or will). My little nativity scenes (or Christian action figures) allow me to show the story of the birth of Christ to anyone who is interested. My son and I have had more conversations about religion as a result of him asking about why I hide the baby Jesus until December 25th, than from any sermon he has heard at church.
Sharing the story of Christ is something that should happen every day in the way a Christian lives. Telling people they ‘should’ do something in order to be saved, in order to celebrate a season ‘correctly’, or in order not to go to hell is never going to be as effective as living a Christian life in the open and letting others see Christ in you 365 days a year.
Kristin Fontaine blogs at Ceramic Episcopalian.