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Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas

It appears that Christianity’s monopoly of the national holiday known as Christmas is being challenged, and many of us don’t like it.

In recent weeks, groups across <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America have been organized to “fight” what is considered a growing “anti-Christian” trend. In schools, shopping malls and neighborhoods, the term “Happy Holidays” is being seen more and more and “Merry Christmas” less and less. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Is the current trend really anti-Christian or an attempt to level the playing field for all faith groups during this season of the year?
 
Any meaning of the national holiday as Christian is difficult to discern. I found it amusing that a church choir shared the spotlight with Santa Claus and Miss Alabama at the “official” beginning of the shopping season the day after Thanksgiving at one of Alabama’s largest shopping malls.
 
For decades, and possibly even longer, men and women of good will have been contending to “keep Christ in Christmas,” or “put Christ back into Christmas.” At the same time, men and women of good will have bought into the commercial aspects of the season, replacing the Holy Child with Santa Claus.
 
“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town” is possibly more widely known than is “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Likewise, the classic poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is more widely read than is the account of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.
 
Receiving has overtaken giving as the primary motive of the season. What is Christian about the overwhelming majority of gifts that are shared? Computers, Spider-man, Humvees, guns, furs, diamonds, automobiles, cycles, skates, games–the list is endless, certainly do not fall into the sacred category.
 
Is not the message of Christmas one of sacrifice? Or have we totally forgotten, if ever we knew, the reason for the season?
 
Let’s face it, Christians have forfeited the true meaning of Christmas for the glitter and tinsel of a festive holiday season.
 
Yet, that is not all bad. Just last week, for example, in addition to the dozens of gifts already “charged” on my credit card and beautifully wrapped by my wife and placed under a stunningly beautiful “Christmas” tree for family, we purchased two gifts for children we do not even know.
 
One is living with a grandparent and the other’s father is in prison. Without the concern and generosity of volunteers, I would never have known of these children nor experienced the joy of giving to a stranger I will never see or know. After all, that is what was done for me almost two millennia ago.
 
That is the message of Christmas, not some plastic nativity creche on the lawn of a public building. Christmas is giving “to the least of these,” not the re-enactment of the birth of Jesus in a public school classroom.
 
For Christians, the birth of Jesus is an event we must relive annually in order to never forget.
 
At the same time, however, we must not let the event itself supersede or replace its purpose, which has very little to do with tangible gifts. Rather, it has to do with peace, loving your enemies, forgiveness, helping, caring for the hungry, naked, widows and orphans, prisoners and, yes, giving as well as receiving, but more in terms of the spiritual than the material.
 
After all, there are other cultural/religious events, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, taking place during the same season. These, too, embody similar spiritual messages. All of these faiths have employed the visual arts, such as the Christmas tree, menorah, star and crescent–often referred to as “secular” symbols, as representative of the season.
 
Thus far, only one day, Dec. 25, has been declared a legal holiday.
 
Whether one is Christian, Jewish, Islam, secularist or atheist, ‘Tis the season to be jolly.
 
Enjoy the gifts, time with family and friends, food, fellowship and all that contribute to the joy and happiness for the legal holiday and season. So to all of us, Happy Holidays!
 
Jack Brymer of Birmingham, Ala., recently retired from SamfordUniversity after a 30-year career as a Baptist journalist. This column appeared previously in the Anniston Star.