December 7, 2011

It's Not the Name That Matters

Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, "the holidays" referred to the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's. It was the stuff of which movies and songs were made. We looked forward to watching "Holiday Inn" on TV and we listened to Steve and Edie sing, "Happy Holidays". We openly wished our friends, "Happy Holidays!" as often as we said, "Merry Christmas!" and we didn't feel a need to apologize for either greeting.

We all understood that for many of us, the most important holiday in the aforementioned period was Christmas but we didn't feel a need to make it an issue because we also understood that everyone was not a Christian. Then something happened. Someone decided that the word "holiday" was an assault on Christianity and they found lots of people who agreed, that yes, that's what it assault on Christianity.

Last year the debate over the use of the H-word brought national attention to my hometown. It all started when one of our US Senators decided he would not ride his horse in what was formerly known as the Christmas Parade of Lights but had been renamed (a year earlier, a point he evidently failed to notice) the Holiday Parade of Lights.

The controversy that followed did not escape Jon Stewart's attention. As Stewart pointed out, Christianity survived the Roman Empire, and it will surely survive the renaming of Tulsa's parade. But goodness me. When Jon Stewart makes fun of the hullabaloo over your parade, you know things have gotten out of hand.

There was a mixed reaction to the parade controversy. There were Christians who sided with the senator, saying they were glad someone was "taking a stand". Other Christians felt that the fact there was a controversy at all over the H-word was an embarrassment.

I leaned towards the latter. I thought the Christian community looked like a petulant 2-year-old who has a toy they don't want to share. There are two problems with that. One is that Jesus does not "belong" to His followers. We belong to Him. The second problem is that we are called to tell others about Christ, and I believe that Christmas is a time when some are more open to the message of a light shining in the darkness of their lives. That message is often drowned out by Christians who are busy screaming, "Mine!" every December. There are Christians who bristle at the inclusiveness of the word "holiday" but if we're called to share Christ, doesn't He demand inclusiveness?

Source: Microsoft Clip Art
It's been 15 years or more since I've been to the parade, but I have no memory of baby Jesus being the star of the show. There were always a few church floats, business floats, school floats and bands, local TV anchors, and of course, the main attraction, Santa. But despite the parade's name and the presence of some churches, the parade was never about Jesus. The change from a daytime parade to a "Parade of Lights" came about not as a way to allow Christ's light to shine, but because the main sponsor was the local electric company. I have to think Jesus is totally cool with not being featured in a parade that's primary purpose is well, commercial.

Indeed, I think there are times when Christ would probably just as soon we left His name out of things that don't really honor Him, at all. As much as our economy is driven by consumerism, and knowing that businesses rely on Christmas shopping to make a profit, I don't think Christ feels particularly honored when we use the celebration of His birth as an excuse for extravagant giving in order to impress others. I don't think He feels glorified by Christmas parties that have nothing to do with God's love for us. I don't think He is impressed when we "stand up for Him" in a way that builds walls that prevent others from coming to Him. (While I hesitate to say how Jesus would respond to those of us who profess to follow Him but who build walls to keep others away, I suspect it would start with the phrase, "Woe to you...")

Which brings me back to the parade. This year, there will be competing parades, held on the same night and at the same time. The Holiday Parade of Lights will be held downtown, as it always has been.

There will also be a "Christmas parade", which will be held at a local shopping center. Supporters of the Christmas parade say they will attend because the parade has honored Christ in its name. However, according to the Tulsa Beacon, the location was selected "because there are almost no retail shops downtown." Really? I didn't realize retail shops were required in order to honor Christ. An organizer - who happens to be running for office - went on to say, "Our center is becoming the more frequent first choice for shoppers. We have chosen this location for our first (hopefully of many) annual Christmas parade." Is it me, or does this parade seem to be about retail businesses? There's nothing wrong with a parade being centered around shopping, that's how our downtown parade began back when most stores were located downtown. But don't pretend it's something spiritual when clearly, it's not.

As He prayed at Gethsemane in His final hours, Christ prayed for future believers who would  come to Him through the message of those who already believed. He prayed for us in those early morning hours as He waited for the soldiers who would lead him to the Cross. Christ prayed that we would hear His message and come to know the grace of God. Now it's our turn to spread the message, and that message is one of love and grace. Is that the message we're sending?

May you experience the love of Christ throughout this holiday season.

Until next time,

My prayers is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one -- I in them and you in me -- so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 
~ John 17:20-23


  1. Amen and Oh Me! I allowed "Happy Holidays" to slip from my lips the last time I was shopping and felt some chagrin over my "flub." Holidays are rather inclusive, of course, and do technically mean "holy days." I'm sure that the Lord would have a lot to say about a lot of things if we only asked Him. Your post has given me plenty to ponder as per usual, Margaret.

  2. Thanks for being the first to comment, Vee. I've been a little concerned about the response I might get to this one. ;-)

  3. I've heard about the Christmas H-word debate but i have never really thought about it till now. Thanks for giving me lots to think about.

  4. Thanks, Carol. I always ignored it until the parade business made it impossible.

    And by the way, Vee, I didn't mean to overlook the origin of holiday in "holy days." Thanks for pointing out that holiday was used in a religious context.

  5. Thank you for writing about this. Like you, I get really weary of it. I remember when holiday was not a dirty heathen word, and at the same time, we could call something a Christmas parade or a Christmas vacation without being Politically Incorrect. I long for those days. It doesn't bother me a bit for someone to use the phrase Happy Holidays." I'm afraid it does bother me to see the majority forced to rename what things have traditionally been called our whole lives to satisfy the minority.

  6. Paula, thanks for your comment. Tulsa has a long tradition of leaders of different faiths working together and while I don't think religious leaders were involved in the name change, I do think it was a reflection of that sense of community that a variety of them helped to develop over many decades. It's one of the things that makes me particularly proud of my hometown.

  7. I thought your post was excellent Margaret, and I wouldn't worry about the response.

    The debate may rage on for those who wish to debate. In the grand scheme of things this is the season of light and love for many religions and societies. It is a chance to recognize our differences, but it is also an opportunity to bind us together.

    Personally, I call out each of the upcoming holidays - Christmas, Chanukah, Kawanzaa and New Year's, but sometimes I'll say "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" in hopes that it is recognized as a time for true reflection, "Peace on Earth" and "goodwill toward all men." (Oops - and women too!) ;-D

  8. excellent post. i think "Christians" become upset,
    because so many of our terms are off limits now.

    having said that, however, doesn't "holidays" come
    from "holy" "days"?

    merry holy days,

  9. Paula - I attended to holiday parade this year to pass out hot chocolate with other church members. (The route goes right by our church.) It was so much fun to see different religions represented this year.

    Lea - I love that..."Merry Holy Days" to you, too!