What Is The Christmas Holiday?
Recently I was listening to Dr Dan Gottlieb on WHYY, a public radio station in Philadelphia. Gottlieb’s guests included three religious clerics, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian. The subject was broadly how each viewed Christmas. Hmmm.
Both the Muslim cleric and the Jewish Rabbi noted that they lived in a predominantly christian country and their opinions were based upon looking from the outside in. While each of their traditions had religious holidays of celebration, nothing was like the merriment of secular Christmas.
While Santa Claus and Christmas trees were not a part of their traditions, there was no doubt that children were drawn to it. How was it not possible living among so many others who visibly celebrated the secular aspects of Christmas not to wonder. They also allowed that it did feel good to be wished or to wish someone else “seasons greetings”.
The Christian cleric, on the other hand, began by stating that “Christmas was the beginning of a religious story which begins with Christ’s birth and ends with Christ’s death and resurrection” at Easter. (How up lifting). His words also seem to suggest there was no room for “seasons greetings”.
As the discussion continued, the Christian cleric allowed that many of the secular Christmas aspects were both popular and worthwhile. But, “Christmas’s” real meaning, he insisted, was religious and inseparable with christianity. He could not see why a Muslim or a Jew would want to partake in Christmas.
Dr Dan proposed that Christmas was a time when one can wish others (of any faith or no faith) health, happiness and respect. The secular christmas allowed such tidings to be exchanged. “What could be wrong with those wishes from a religious sense”, Dr Dan asked.
The Christian cleric tried weakly one more time to emphasize the religious Christmas’s significance, but gradually seemed to understand he was waging a losing argument.
Christmas, Weihnachten, Noel, and Navidad, however one says Christmas, traces its roots to early Christianity. Along the way, plenty of pagan rites have been incorporated. In the US today (as in most of the world), secular Christmas has a large commercial content. In Commercial Christmas motivation is applied via advertising to encourage the gifting of many presents (at much cost). Christmas decorations adorn most homes and public spaces. Success or failure of the Christmas Season is often implied by cumulative commercial sales numbers, now listed in billions.
So when someone suggests that the “spirit” of Christmas might lie upon wishing others good will and unconditional respect, it would seem to me that was an idea worth supporting. Within Christian places of worship, church leaders are entirely free to emphasize the nativity to crucifixion story and celebrate it however they wish.
From strictly a brand management perspective, Christian church spokespersons are missing a bet to remain relevant by discounting the power of less commercial secular Christmas and instead emphasizing the religious story as the only relevant meaning.