How can we recapture the spirit of something we won't even name aloud?
What have we lost in this country? What is it that has turned Christmas from being the "Dickens-ian" holiday we imagine it used to be into the give-Wal-Mart-all-your-money-for-next-years-Goodwill-donations-and-garage-sale-fodder insanity that it has become? In some places it's almost a crime to use the word "Christmas" because it contains the word "Christ". On December 13th the House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith. The vote was not unanimous, apparently some congress men and women were offended by keeping Christ in Christmas. (A similar resolution regarding Ramadan and the Islamic faith did pass unanimously - see article and related links therein for more information. Also, see this link for Rep. Jim McDermott's [D-WA] comments on the resolution.) In spite of the House's insistence that Christmas is important, some retailers (who make most of their money this time of year) are removing all mention of Christmas from their catalogs, web sites, and stores.
Check out this humorous video for some examples of what I'm talking about:
I'm all over the place so far, but I am getting to a point. Hear me out.
Two names of two different fictional characters have become synonymous with the type of behavior exhibited by the dissenting Representatives and anti-Christmas retailers: "The Grinch" and "Scrooge".
If you are not familiar with these holiday stories, I strongly encourage you to visit your library (there are TV and movie adaptations of these stories, some very good, but I am a strong supporter of the written word, go check out the books. The Classic Tales Podcast is running a three part unabridged audio presentation of "A Christmas Carol", if you like audio books.) Let me give you the "Cliff notes" versions of these classic Christmas stories:
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss (1957)
There's this happy little village of people who love Christmas, it's the greatest thing ever to them. Living in a mountain above the village is a creature known only as "The Grinch". He hated Christmas; he hated the noise, he hated the feasting, most of all he hated the singing. So he gets it into his head to stop Christmas. Dressed in a hastily assembled Santa costume, he takes his sleigh down the mountain, breaks into their houses and steals all their presents, trees, decorations, everything. He takes his fully loaded sleigh back up the mountain, intending to throw everything off the peak. Before he does so, he pauses to listen to what he is sure will be a great wail of sorrow from the village below.
But, instead of crying and "boo hoo-ing". He hears singing. VERY HAPPY singing. The people of the village were celebrating without all their "Christmassy" stuff. In the end, the Grinch learns that Christmas doesn't come from a store, it means a little bit more. He goes back down the mountain, returning all the goodies, and joins the celebration.
"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens (1843)
A miserly old money-lender (we might call him a "loan shark" today), Ebenezer Scrooge, treats his fellow man with contempt and uses and abuses people at every opportunity. We meet him on Christmas eve as he is hunched over his books. Over the course of the day he turns away people seeking help for the poor, his nephew's invitation to join him for Christmas, a caroler at his door, and grudgingly agrees to give his underpaid employee the holiday off.
Later, sitting alone in his cold dark room he is visited by the ghost of his deceased former partner - warning Scrooge that his life is on a dangerous course and that he will be visited by three other spirits who will show him the error of his ways. Over the course of what Scrooge believes is three nights the spirits show him "Christmas past", "Christmas present", and "Christmas yet to come".
When he awakes, he realizes he's been given a second chance and immediately sets to change his ways. Finding out that he hasn't missed Christmas he goes about helping his clerk, blessing everyone he meets, and spends a great day of celebration with his nephew. Ever after he "kept Christmas well."
So, the names synonymous with ruining Christmas actually, in the end, made up for their ways and found meaning in Christmas that they hadn't had before. The names we use to describe cheating, miserly, crooked people and companies are actually characters who, in the end redeemed the day and recaptured the spirit of Christmas.
Why can't we, as the American people, redeem the day? Why can't we just say "CHRISTMAS" and CELEBRATE it? It's OK, we're not really going to offend anyone. Recently in England, a multi-faith coalition joined England's Equality and Human Rights Commission (equivalent in purpose and function the the American Civil Liberties Union here in the states) released a statement saying "It's time to stop being daft about Christmas. It's fine to celebrate and it's fine for Christ to be star of the show," and "To suggest celebrating Christmas and having decorations offends Muslims [and other faith groups] is absurd." I think it's time we, as Americans quit trying to be nice and, as suggested by our British friends, just get real.
So, our first step, if we are to recapture the spirit of Christmas, is to say it. Talk about it. Tell your Jewish neighbors "Merry Christmas!" When the clerk at the hardware store says "Happy Holidays", reply "and may God bless you with a very Merry Christmas" (I made a lady cry - tears of heartfelt warmth - with that one.) Let's be Grinch and Scrooge at the end of their stories and "Keep Christmas well" and have it mean "a bit more".