WHEN DID CHRISTMAS STOP BEING A HOLY DAY AND BECOME A HOLIDAY?

by David Sisler

In the words of satirist Tom Lehrer, "Christmas time is here, by golly. Disapproval would be folly."

Mr. Lehrer also rewrites a few favorite Christmas carols.

"Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King" becomes, "Hark the Herald Tribune rings, advertising wondrous things."

"Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy," suggests Mr. Lehrer. Although the initial refrain of "sweetly sing through the night" may now be translated into 24 hour round-the-clock shopping.

And the ever popular: "God rest ye merry merchants. May you make the Yuletide pay."

Yuletide, Holiday Season, the Holidays, and "this special season" all are bandied about by advertisers as the reason to shop, spend, and run up enormous credit card debt, mortgaging the future for the greed of today. Quickly now, what was the last commercial you heard which actually used the word "Christ" in it? "Christ" as in "Christmas." I have yet to hear one. Those produced by churches do not count you expect the home team to have its own cheerleaders.

I have said frequently in this space, I am glad for the commercialization of Christmas. I would hate that something so wonderful as the birthday of the Savior would pass unnoticed and no one would try to make a buck out of it. But this year, I think, has gone over the top. Once there was no room for him in the Inn, now there is no room for him in Christmas advertising. Once Christians appropriated December 25th for their own holy day, now it seems to be reverting to its previous owners.

It was a holiday, when Jesus was born. A day for a census, a day to be enrolled for the purpose of taxation, but certainly not a day to be rejoicing the Roman tax system was inherently crooked, and once the officials had an accurate record, you could be sure they would miscalculate your taxes. It was a time of travel, a time of visitation, a time of merchandising. Bethlehem was crowded, the Inn was full, and the innkeeper was the first, but not the last, merchant to miss the meaning of the birth of the Son of God.

It is logical to suppose that Mary and Joseph were not the only family turned away that night. There were just too many people in town, and the Inn was never meant to hold more than a handful of guests. But Mary needed a place where she could bring forth her firstborn son, and a stable smelling of sheep dung became her delivery room, the nursery where God was cradled.

Max Lucado, in his book, God Came Near, writes, "Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable... Meanwhile, the city hums. The merchants are unaware that God has visited their planet. People would scoff at anyone who told them the Messiah lay in the arms of a teenager on the outskirts of their village. They were all too busy to consider the possibility.

"Those who missed His Majesty's arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren't looking. Little has changed in the last two thousand years, has it?"

My family called me "Scrooge" this year when I suggested we draw names, and for those Sislers and Sislers-in-law living outside of our several domiciles, we buy only one gift. "Which of us needs a single thing more?" I asked. I was overruled, so, "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to the stores we go."

Since I am already labeled in derogatory fashion, I will venture into Mr. Lehrer's territory and try some song writing of my own. Let's see if mine work as well as those from the former professor at MIT, Harvard, and Wellesley.

"December 24 will find me, where the love-light gleams. I'll be home for the Special Season, if only in my dreams."

"It's beginning to look a lot like the Holidays, every where you go."

"On the first day of Yuletide, my true love sent to me. A partridge in a pear tree."

Well, with all the votes counted, we are in universal agreement, it is not the same. Christmas without Christ. It may sell Playstations, DVDs, sweaters, perfume, and diamonds, but when the wrappings are all shredded, the presents are scattered or returned, and the bills are due, if you do not have Jesus, all you have is one more empty day. And 364 of those are quite enough for one year.

-30-

Published in The Augusta Chronicle 12/2/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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