The War Against the Light
We elderly and semi-elderly people can still remember a time when nothing was less controversial than the words “Merry Christmas.” If you said them in July, of course, you might be regarded as more than a little eccentric, perhaps in need of professional help of some kind, but even then people would have been puzzled, not offended.
In my childhood, in the 1940s and 1950s, I used to go about town, at Christmastime, and wish everyone I saw a Merry Christmas, without having an anxiety attack over the possibility that I might be offending a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an atheist. Everyone responded in kind. On one occasion, I ran into my Jewish uncle (by marriage) and, in all innocence, wished him a Merry Christmas. Amazingly, he did not report me to B’nai B’rith or to the ACLU for anti-Semitism or “hate speech,” but wished me a Merry Christmas back.
Well, the world has spent the last 40 years or so descending more and more deeply into insanity, one of the symptoms of which is the increasingly common phenomenon of people wanting to ban even the use of the word Christmas. Major department stores are telling their employees to wish everyone happy holidays or something of the sort and to absolutely eschew the word Christmas. It used to be that the big battles this time of year involved Christmas displays on government property.
Now the thing is extending more and more into the private sector. Companies are sending out Christmas catalogs that, oddly enough, studiously omit the word Christmas, as just one example.
What is this all about, anyway? St. John’s Gospel, with its constant emphasis on the struggle between light and darkness, may give us some clues. Christmas has always been about light. We light up Christmas trees. We put multicolored lights on our houses, millions of them if we are highly competitive types and heavily into conspicuous consumption.
We celebrate Christmas at the time of the winter solstice, the turning point of the year, when the light of day is at its lowest level and the night is longest. That is also the point where the light begins to return and the days grow longer, imperceptibly at first but then more noticeably. When we celebrate Christmas we celebrate the return of the light after the world’s long descent into darkness. Of course, the experience of the cosmic alternation of light and darkness is universal, and every religion in the world has some kind of celebration at the time of the winter solstice.
But for Christians, this means the coming of Christ, the Light of the World, to end the long reign of darkness that sin has brought into the world. Hence, in St. John’s Prologue, we are told that “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). But, in a perverse world, the renewal of the light does not take place without opposition. The light becomes the sign of contradiction. And so, St. John tells us that “He was the true light, that enlightens every man who comes into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (1:9-11).
Receiving the light, letting the light shine on us with all its intensity, would force us to see ourselves as we really are, to see the darkness and sin in ourselves as the horror that they really are, and to change, always a terrifying prospect. So many of us would rather stay in the darkness, we would rather go on sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, than let the light in. And so instead of welcoming the light with joy, we hate it and try to shut it out, and persecute those who stubbornly refuse to hide it under a bushel but insist on letting it shine everywhere.
St. John sums this up brilliantly in a passage a few chapters further along: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
The war on Christmas, as it is now called, is really the war against the light. Christmas, more than any other religious observance, reminds people of the light, and those who do not wish to be reminded of the light are willing to go to greater and greater lengths to stop people from reminding them. So the very words, “Merry Christmas,” become to them an occasion to become mightily offended.
Ebenezer Scrooge, before his re-education at the hands of some spirits, epitomized this attitude: “‘If I could work my will,’ said Scrooge indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!’”
Scrooge is determined to live in his dark little world of joyless greed and loneliness, and can’t just live and let live when his nephew uses an expression like “Merry Christmas,” because that means reminding him of the light which he chooses not to see, let alone live in. “Merry Christmas” is a real threat to him, and so it is too for all those today who keep on waging the war against Merry Christmas. The words, even coming from people of no particular faith who just say them out of force of habit, are still a threat to them.
Scrooge might have been able to tolerate “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings,” though perhaps even those phrases might have made him a bit irritable, but “Merry Christmas” definitely called for that stake of holly.
And how do we respond during the Christmas season? Putting aside whatever we are doing year round to wage the spiritual war, we ought at the very least to make sure, at Christmastime, that we, like Scrooge’s nephew, wish a hearty Merry Christmas to everyone, especially to those who are so obsessed with trying to ban the expression.
Members of the ACLU, People for the American Way, NOW, NARAL, and comparable groups need to receive our Christmas greetings with special vehemence, keeping in mind what St. Paul said: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
And, of course, we need to make sure that the wage-slaves at certain enterprises, who don’t dare wish us a Merry Christmas because they need their jobs, get a very warm Merry Christmas from us. It may seem like a small thing, but keeping this greeting alive is part of letting our light shine before men, and we need to do that even if it means defying the people who want us to hide it under a bushel.
And so, a Merry Christmas to all!
(© 2005 George A. Kendall)
This item 6745 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org