ImageIn the 1940s, ministers were preaching about "putting Christ back into Christmas". I heard this as a boy, but it started well before my time. Christmas was on a long, materialistic slide, and people were concerned about it. The film "Miracle on 34th Street" – released in 1947 – evoked some of that concern. I love Miracle’s characters, story-line, and fascinating glimpses of 1940s New York. (Also, the incomparable Maureen O’Hara – named one of the world’s most beautiful women around that time.) In the film, Kris Kringle (Welsh actor Edmund Gwenn) says he has been worried about Christmas for the last 50 years. He’s visiting the capital of Christmas commercialism to see if he can salvage Christmas. Some of the scenes are priceless, like his outrage at finding the Macy’s Santa (Percy Helton) intoxicated and tangled in his whip.

But if you watch the film closely, you’ll see that Kris Kringle isn’t worried about the same things Christians are worried about. The birth of Jesus Christ isn’t once mentioned. Kris Kringle’s Christmas is all about love, good will, giving gifts, "the imagination" (which is a place, like the French nation) and some kind of vague "belief" in…what? – well, in Santa Claus as a symbol of childlike trust, when logic tells you otherwise. "She hasn’t really believed in anything for years," says attorney Fred Gailey (actor John Payne) about the hard-headed realist, Doris Walker (Miss O’Hara). He and Kris Kringle set out to bring Doris and Susan, her cynical daughter (Natalie Wood), back to "faith" – or the Hollywood version thereof. It’s a great film for many reasons, but getting back to the true meaning of Christmas isn’t one of them. Instead, it shows how far gone Christmas already was, sixty years ago. Jesus was already the invisible Child.

Today, all that seems almost idyllic, in retrospect. We’re not worried about Christ being left out of Christmas now. We’re worried about Christmas being eliminated entirely. It is becoming politically incorrect even to mention the name of the day which has marked Christ’s birth for nearly two millennia. Not only may schools not mention Jesus, the Wise Men, et al, but Santa, the reindeer, elves and the whole "secular Christmas" gang are out too. Snowflakes, skates, sledding and winter scenes are the schoolhouse limit for the greatest holiday in Christendom. December vacation from school is called "winter holiday".

Of course, the ancient greeting, "Merry Christmas", is completely passe. In most workplaces it’s considered gauche, if not actionable, to wish colleagues and customers anything except "Happy Holidays". This keeps us culturally diverse enough to include Hanukah, Kwanza, Mohammed’s birthday, Muhammed Ali’s birthday, and at least some of the 180 Hindu holidays.

Actually, I don’t mean to diss anyone else’s religious holiday, but echoing Ben Stein’s recent comments, I’m getting a little tired of being pushed around for being a Christian. Said the Jewish Mr. Stein: "I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution, and I don't like it being shoved down my throat."

It’s popular for Christians to denounce the ACLU for attacking Christmas, but the ACLU isn’t as good at erasing Christmas as Christians are, themselves. I cite two personal examples.

We have attended churches which use a "blended" worship style – i.e., some traditional hymns mixed with contemporary-style "praise songs". During Advent the hymns are Christmas songs, but the "praise" segment includes no Christmas songs. That’s because very few Christmas praise songs exist. Churches which feature exclusively contemporary music sing no Christmas songs. Christians can’t sing about Christmas in church because someone decided that old music was too stuffy for modern tastes and had to go. (Who decided that, and where did they get the authority?)

My second example happened recently at the annual Christmas concert of a fine Northern Virginia singing group we patronize regularly. Their work is always inspiring and excellent. This year their program of Christmas songs was splendid, as usual, but their artistic director had let them down. At the start of the concert the conductor announced that to avoid becoming too predictable they had left their usual "lessons and carols" format – i.e., musical selections interleaved with Bible readings about Christ’s birth. Instead, they would present readings from Longfellow’s "I heard the bells on Christmas Day" and Maya Angelou’s "Amazing Peace".

The Longfellow poem was OK, being also a popular Christmas hymn. But Miss Angelou’s poem was far afield – a confused jumble of floods and avalanches and wondering if God is still keeping the "covenant". Her object of worship is not the child Jesus, but "Peace":

"We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.

We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.

We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.

Peace.

Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.

We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

Implore you, to stay a while with us.

At this holy instant we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ

Into the great religions of the world…"

My purpose is not to critique Miss Angelou’s work, but simply to say it is no more about Christmas than "Miracle on 34th Street" or "The Polar Express". Jesus brought peace, but surcease of war and bad weather, and reconciliation of the world’s "great religions" are not that peace. Jesus said, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." The "peace" of Christmas comes to the hearts of people who accept the Savior. If all men accepted Him, war might indeed end, but obviously even Jesus didn’t expect that.

I object to replacing Christmas songs with generic "praise" music, in slavish devotion to some bizarre vision of musical style. And I protest, in the strongest terms, "artistic" attempts to align Christmas with the confused musings of a poet whose own sexuality is her work’s dominant theme. Nothing personal against Miss Angelou, but at Christmas I’d like to stick to the Bible. It contains the true story and the true meaning of Christmas.

Erasing Christmas? Christians are doing it themselves. No more bellyaching about the ACLU until we clean up our own act.