A War Worth Winning
As someone who has written on the War Against Christmas for both Chronicles and VDARE.COM since 2001, it should come as no surprise that my perspective is different from Thomas Fleming's. I welcome anyone, Christian or non-Christian, who is willing to defend this matchless holiday, and look with suspicion on all those who are hostile to Christmas, whether they are multiculturalists, secularists, or Christian purists whose arguments resemble those of the Puritans who did succeed in suppressing Christmas for a time in both England and parts of America.
Growing up, I loved the whole thing: going to the wonderfully decorated Higbee's and May's department stores in downtown Cleveland (anyone who has ever seen A Christmas Story has seen the main floor of Higbee's decorated for Christmas); 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, which my Dad read to my sister and me on Christmas Eve and which my sister now reads to her children on Christmas Eve; driving down neighborhood streets to view the decorated houses; welcoming carolers to our door, and singing Christmas carols in my public school and at Mass; listening to Christmas records—including some by Andy Williams—while we decorated the house; and having our traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner, which helped mark Christmas Eve as the most special night of the year for me. The view I formed of Christmas, as I wrote in The American Conservative at Christmas 2003, was that it "was a special and wonderful time of year, marked by kindness and good cheer, with its myriad celebrations all . . . ultimately stemming from the birth of the One who, in Dickens' words, 'made lame beggars walk and blind men see.'"
Despite my objections to the War Against Christmas, I have seen no reason to change this basic view. The American Christmas I grew up with was fundamentally good, and it deserves a defense against those who seek its demise. It is true, as Dr. Fleming writes, that Christianity would survive even if "We could eliminate all Christmas music ever written, outlaw Christmas trees and figgie pudding [and] carry out Scrooge's wish: 'If I could work my will any idiot who goes around with a Merry Christmas on his lips would be cooked with his own turkey and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.'" Christianity also survived the catacombs and the Gulag, but I have no desire to live in either. And our world would be much poorer if Christmas trees and Christmas music were to disappear.
Worrying about the theological shortcomings of Charles Dickens comes close to the Puritan logic that began by objecting to revelry and merrymaking at Christmas and ended up objecting to the whole thing. Indeed, the profusion of great art and music surrounding Christmas has long appeared Providential to me. A few years ago, the director at a Cleveland Orchestra Christmas concert remarked that more music had been written for Christmas than any other occasion. The reason for this, I believe, is that Christmas celebrates something (really Someone) real, and that reality is attractive even to many who do not believe in Christ. At the very least, the fact that non-Christians enjoy parts of Christmas and indeed have contributed to its celebration is a reflection of the richness of Western civilization, and also represents an opportunity to help restore our culture to sanity.
Whenever I think of the beauty of Christmas, I think of my father's late brother, who was among those who helped instill in me a love for Christmas. A fan of Dickens, he used to quote from memory long portions of A Christmas Carol, and helped me to come to love Dickens' masterpiece. He also used to play his cello for us on Christmas Eve, introduced me to the great English choirs and their performances of Christmas carols, and made wonderful Christmas decorations for my grandparents' house, including large golden angels and elaborate paper ornaments for the tree. My uncle did not go to church for most of his adult life, but he never lost his love for Christmas, and that love helped preserve a tie to the Church that helped my uncle return to Her before the end. Christmas has been an occasion of grace for many, and mostly scandalizes those looking for a reason to be scandalized.
Yes, there are tacky Christmas songs and tacky Christmas decorations, but even many of these are an attempt to convey something positive, if only jollity. Yes, people spend too much money at the stores at Christmas, but many Christmas purchases represent generosity, not "consumerism," and Christmas also marks the time when people give the most to charities and think most of helping others. Yes, the American Christmas does not coincide with the liturgical calendar, but neither does any other aspect of American life, and I do not regret the Christmas concerts and parties I have attended before December 24, much less think that I should be indifferent to their suppression because they come while my Church is observing Advent. As long as we insist that what we celebrate is Christmas, the nice aspects of the holiday will predominate. When everyone celebrated Christmas, not "holiday," even retailers felt the need to try and create something special, as those of us with warm memories of visiting downtown department stores in their heyday can attest. We have a long way to go in restoring Christmas to what it once was in this country, but we have made great progress since people came to realize that there is indeed a War Against Christmas and began resisting. This is a fight worth fighting and a fight worth winning.