"Humbug!" cried Scrooge before he got a chance to spend the night practicing a little empathy, and that's the best word to sum up the current hue and cry about the demise of Christmas. While cars zoomed by with trees lashed to their roofs and worshipers crowded the pews to listen as John the Baptist prepared the way, a wave of organized outrage suggested that Christmas is being driven out of existence. Who killed it? Liberal orthodoxy, secular humanism. Whenever people start throwing around science-fair phrases it's a bet that they want their opinions to sound inviolate because they are not.
So the silly annual examples are trotted out, the schools that censor Christmas carols, the townships that insist that the evergreen decorated with lights is a holiday tree. No one searches his soul about how we came to this pass. It has little to do with separation of church and state or liberal politics and everything to do with the way the blunt cudgel of Christianity has been heedlessly used, the tyranny of the majority. After years of Jewish parents' sitting through school concerts listening to the words "It is the night of our dear savior's birth," maybe oversensitivity was inevitable, since any other kind of sensitivity had been in short supply.
From the trials of witches in Salem to the talking-head evangelists of the present day, we have a rich tradition of faith-based bullying in this country (my emphasis). "The fact is, 96 percent of us celebrate Christmas," said a representative of a swat team of lawyers organized "to serve the body of Christ" by orchestrating challenges to inadequate public celebration. Humbug. One study estimates roughly 75 percent of Americans are Christian; the rest are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostics. "We must never allow our children to forget that this is a Christian nation," Jerry Falwell recently said from the pulpit. Humbug. Two out of three Americans in one poll said they oppose any attempt to make it so by constitutional amendment.
Christmas is being observed exactly where it ought to be, at homes, in our hearts, among friends and families. The modern movement to exhibit it in town squares and mall food courts is precisely what has led to the secularization of one of our most solemn holy days. That's why some Jewish leaders have been uncomfortable with reducing the Chanukah menorah to a dueling religious symbol, paired with a Christmas tree for the sake of equal time. Faith is not a photo op.
So if people are really worried about keeping Christ in Christmas, they might personally exhibit tolerance and charity, kindness and generosity. It is the ultimate exercise of style over substance to whine about the absence of "O Holy Night" at public events. The real point is in taking the lyrics to heart: "Truly he taught us to love one another/His law is love and his gospel is peace." And if saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" offers someone who is not of your faith more comfort and joy—well, 'tis the season for both.
I like her sentiment, but I am finding it a real challenge to exhibit "tolerance and charity, kindness and generosity" to a certain 51% of the American people right now. Fuck 'em.