'Tis the season for a timely show of hands among GetReligion readers. How many of you attend churches in which, on Dec. 6th or sometime soon after, there were events linked to the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra? Have many will eventually have a some kind of church event that includes Santa Claus?
How many of you have already installed real or fake evergreen trees in your homes (or your churches), but they are currently decorated in purple and white, as well as with ornaments featuring symbols from the Old Testament?
How many of you have Advent wreathes and candles in your churches or homes?
If you are Eastern Orthodox, how many of you attend parishes that are asking members to fast during Nativity Lent and to go to confession before receiving the Divine Mysteries during the midnight Divine Liturgy that opens the Christmas season?
How many of you attend congregations that have already had a Christmas party and/or concert?
How many of you will be attending a Christmas party and/or concert that will take place in the 12 days following Dec. 25th, which is the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? How many of you plan to go caroling during the Christmas season?
These are the kinds of questions that loom in the background during this week's Crossroads podcast, which you can download right here. For some reason, it is not on the iTunes site yet. Is anyone else having trouble subscribing at iTunes?
This podcast digs a bit deeper into the subject material behind my recent post, the one called, "When is 'Christmas,' anyway?" I wrote my Scripps Howard News Service column this week on a related topic, focusing on the quietly stunning pastoral letter by the Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City in which he asked his schools and parishes to -- gasp -- celebrate Christmas during Christmas. I hope you enjoy the paraphrased quote from Obi Wan Kenobi.
However, the key to this whole complex and emotional subject is rooted in this reality: America is not a Christian nation or culture. Sorry 'bout that.
Anyone who has studied the history of American religion (or church-state law) realizes that American is, essentially, a lowest-common-denominator Protestant nation or culture -- with no one group holding the reins, from the Unitarians to the Puritans to the Anglicans. Thus, this means that there never has been an "American" way to observe Christmas.
Throw in a few court battles, Seinfeld, shopping malls, rising numbers true secularists and lots of other factors and we now have at least three major forms of Christmas present in the marketplace of ideas.
* The Holidays or Xmas: Begins formally on Black Friday after Thanksgiving, but the advertisements and cable movies keep creeping earlier and earlier. Ends on Dec. 15, with remnants through Dec. 25. Basically, this is the secular season defined by the shopping mall.
* Christmas: Begins on Black Friday or roughly Dec. 1 in most churches. Continues through Dec. 25, with most parties and concerts occurring between Dec. 7 and about Dec. 15, so as not to veer too far away from office parties, school "Holiday" events and complex family travel plans.
* The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: Rarely celebrated. It begins on Dec. 25 and runs for 12 days, ending at Epiphany (there are a few variations on the ending). While traces of this season lingered in some parts of the culture until the early 20th Century, it is now all but extinct.
This is America, so people get to choose.
The key is that the small-t traditions of the one normative Protestant culture overlap with those of the mall. Thus, most of the people who are yearning to "put Christ back in Christmas" are actually following the ever-changing traditions of the shopping mall and whatever is happening in the nation's courts. That's an interesting story.
At the same time, some people are getting so fed up with Xmas that -- mostly in the context of liturgical churches -- they are attempting in a few symbolic, yet important, ways to celebrate the actual season of Christmas. That's an interesting story, too. Personally, one of the items on my "bucket list" is to be arrested while caroling in a public place during the 12 days of Christmas.
For me, all of this raises journalist issues, as well as liturgical issues. You see, there are all kinds of interesting stories linked to these realities, stories that have little or nothing to do with the waves of "Christmas wars" stories that have been so popular in recent years, especially You Know Where. Perhaps it's time for a look at some different seasonal stories? Can you say, "Twelfth Night"? I knew that you could.
Enjoy the podcast. And have a blessed Advent or Nativity Fast.
UPDATED: Perhaps I was vague about this "hand raising metaphor" at the top of the post. I simply meant for people to leave comments.