Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
Christmas is a magical time of year. For the secular it is a time of joy, giving, and family. For Christians everywhere, it is also the celebration of Christ’s birth and the joy of looking forward to the sacrifice of Good Friday and the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise on Easter morning. After all, the word “Christmas” itself is a reference to Christ’s body. Regardless what Christmas means to us, most look forward to the holiday celebrated by billions around the world in no small part because of our fond memories of Christmas Past.
We each have our own favorite Christmas memories. Perhaps as a child you were so excited on Christmas Eve that you couldn’t sleep. Waking up and sneaking out to see the gifts under the Christmas tree; singing in the children’s church service; Dad reading The Night Before Christmas; the magical melodies of Christmas carols by Andy Williams or Bing Crosby; cookies and milk left out for Santa; the once-a-year broadcast of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life; visits from family members who live far away. The Salvation Army bell ringing outside the local store or mall; having a week off of school to play with new toys and games; eating cookies, pies, and a feast you would only see once or twice a year. Perhaps it was the special connection created when wishing a stranger a very “Merry Christmas” without fear of offending him or her. Or maybe Christmas Past evokes the happy memory of loved ones no longer with us. Once a year the hustle and bustle of the world would come to a halt for the innocent celebration of Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men.
Lately, it seems things have changed somewhat. The celebration of Christmas Present has arguably been tarnished by an organized attack against what some perceive as a religious holiday validated and recognized by a government they believe should not have or take part in recognition of anything even remotely religious, despite the rich Christian heritage of our country and its founders. They have that right. Christmas Present is filled with sad stories lacking the good cheer of the season, like a Philadelphia school district banning all religious music or a New Jersey school district ban on Christmas carols including “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” resulting from the complaint of one parent which and is now the basis of a bitter lawsuit.
The First Amendment has now become tortured and twisted into a weapon used against Christmas itself. Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky recently angered many this year by dubbing the Capitol’s Christmas tree as merely a “holiday tree.” New York City's public schools bizarrely permit menorah displays, which supposedly have a secular element, but not nativity scenes. Last week, members of the House of Representatives were actually warned against wishing constituents a "Merry Christmas," if they want to do so in a mailing paid for with tax dollars.Members who submit official mailings for review by the congressional franking commission that reviews all congressional mail to determine if it can be "franked," or paid for with tax dollars, are being told that no holiday greetings, including "Merry Christmas," can be sent in official mail. I can imagine the reaction our forefathers would have if they knew what was happening to the country they founded.
Retailers such as Wal-Mart essentially ban Christmas references while promoting other seasonal holidays such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Many companies have gone so far as to substitute the term “dream trees” in place of “Christmas trees.” In some cities, there have been attempts to banish even recognized secular festive symbols such as the Christmas tree and Santa from public grounds. For many of us, Christmas Past evokes feelings and emotions of a better time and a better place.
For those who want to remember and celebrate the true Reason for the Season, it’s important not to let those who do not turn our words and actions into those of the Grinch himself. It is important to keep things in perspective. Even the most far-reaching efforts to stamp out religious expression in "the public square" affect only government property and government action. Nothing – not even a complete rewrite of the Constitution - will enable anybody to take from us the celebration of Christmas. Nobody is seeking to stop churches from displaying nativity scenes on their front lawns or homeowners from putting up religiously-themed decorations. We can all still go door to door singing religious Christmas carols and our children are free to recite in unison the Gospel story in our Christmas Eve services. If some private businesses decide to stick to secular holiday displays and salutations, that's their choice, just as it is your choice whether to frequent and patronize those establishments.
Those Americans of a different faith – or no faith at all - obviously have to be tolerant of the vast majority of Americans who celebrate Christmas and its traditional religious underpinnings. But they too have a right to a public square which does not loudly tell them they don't belong. At the same time, many Christians are genuinely concerned about the secularization and commercialization of Christmas. The most effective way to put Christ back into Christmas isn’t to insist others do so, but to be a shining example to the world and leave no doubt as to why you have such joy in your heart at Christmas. Being bitter and combative sends the opposite message. Focus on strengthening your own faith and your relationship with God on this special day instead of demanding more Christian symbolism at Wal-Mart.
"Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays" may come across as politically correct and an assault on Christmas, but it is not a new development. Christmas was literally banned in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681. The shift toward such nonsectarian greetings actually began in America in the 1950s, not as an attack on faith but in acknowledgment of an increasingly diverse society. During one of his press conferences, President Bush – reviled by some for wearing his faith on his sleeve - wished everyone "Happy holidays" twice and never even mentioned Christmas. Perhaps politicizing a religious holiday is as bad as commercializing it.
There is a war on Christmas. But that shouldn’t cause those who celebrate its true meaning to say and do things which do not reflect that meaning. Most Americans recognize Christmas for what it truly celebrates and all but a vocal handful are not offended by it. Don’t let those few steal the joy of Christmas Past, Present, or Future from you. Whether you spend Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus in church with family or seeing a double-header at the Ultra-Screen, the real joy of Christmas is celebrated and enjoyed in the heart. It could be that by observing you, somebody will learn what the Grinch eventually learned, “Maybe Christmas does not come from a store; Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”