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So Long, Santa Print E-mail
By James Schall   
Monday, 15 December 2008

Costco no longer puts “Christmas” on its holiday merchandising. Sellers want us to buy to help the financial slump but the reason for buying is not allowed to appear.

A student wished me a “Merry Winter Break.”

A mother of four tells me that even things like Santa have disappeared, just lights and wintery scenes. I did see a Santa on Wisconsin Avenue, and you could still sit on his lap for a photo. In retrospect, the Bing Crosby singing of “Happy Holidays” and even “White Christmas” was the beginning of the evaporation of Christmas. “Don’t impose Christmas on us” means “Keep it to yourself.”

Nativity scenes are rare. Christmas cards bear everything but Christmas, unless they are classic Christmas paintings from the National Gallery...

None of this is entirely new, though the exclusion seems more adamant. The founding Puritans forbade Christmas. We imitate them with a new scrupulosity. “Freedom from religion” becomes a more basic “right” than “freedom of religion.”

“‘Tis the season to be jolly,” but without evident cause. Peace on Earth to all Genders and Legal Arrangements of Good or Bad Will.

A Christian cannot but be amused by the earnestness with which signs of his religion are zealously hounded from the public square. In the park at the end of Key Bridge over the Potomac, the huge city Christmas tree has lights, but no crèche. The Tannenbaum was a pagan thing, though as Chesterton said, the only place the great pagan things are preserved is in the Church. “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches.”

“Putting Christ back into Christmas” is an old, worn theme. The celebration of Christmas as we know it is relatively recent. Every immigrant country has sent its own contribution. This country is a hodge-podge of many different Christmas traditions. When something is great and holy, it is not wrong to add to its greatness and holiness, to its delight.

But what about this “putting Christ back into Christmas?” When I first entered the Society of Jesus, the custom of most Jesuit houses was to treat Advent as a period of expectation, of penance. My own family had always put the tree up in mid-December, if not earlier. Anticipation was the mood. As novices, our first Christmas did not begin till Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The celebration was after the event, not before. The twelve days of Christmas were in fact counted. We did not take down Christmas decorations till the Octave of the Epiphany.

But I have a theory about the contemporary opposition to Christmas. It is often presented as a “don’t-impose-your-ideas-on-me” thing. Be careful about wishing someone “Merry Christmas.” His “rights” come before either your good will or your theology.

But my theory about the elimination of Christmas is more subtle than just prejudice or bigotry, which also exists. “Tis the season to be jolly.” You cannot celebrate something for no reason. All holidays were originally holy days. Celebrations could not be something simply “man-made.” They have to arise out of what is unexpected, startling, transcendent, too good to be true. We do not have holidays just to have holidays, though this moving everything to the weekend pretends you can. But this practice of “officially” moving feasts to Friday or Monday usually has the effect of downplaying their significance. They become merely another “weekend.”

Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation of the Son of God amongst us. The Word was indeed made flesh and did dwell amongst us. “Rejoice and be glad.” Much of the opposition to Christmas, I think, is rooted in a spiritual resentment or invidia that something did in fact happen during the time of Caesar Augustus. This event cannot be politically eradicated. Christmas joy and celebration bring its truth back to haunt the minds of men, whether they like it or not.

Since Herod, something sinister is connected with opposition to the Christ Child. The core opposition to Christianity today and throughout the ages is the refusal to accept that God could and did come among us as a man, as a Child, as flesh of our flesh. The existence of God is not really the problem; it is the existence of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, made man to dwell amongst us. If this event did happen once, as it did, its effects are still among us, still presenting us with a “yes” or a “no” about the truth of the event.

Our political and religious rhetoric does not want this whole truth, even in vague images, to be presented as the truth it is. Christ did dwell amongst us, as Word, Logos. The world is necessarily different because of what this presence means. This presence in this world points to our salvation, to eternal life, as it is intended, beginning with Mary’s fiat.

James Schall, S.J., is a professor at Georgetown University, and one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America.

(c) 2008 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (12)Add Comment
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written by James the Least, December 16, 2008
Fr. Schall, you are exactly right. The world doesn't hate God, where God is taken to mean some impersonal First Mover. That kind of God--the God of Buddhism, for example--is perfectly acceptable company at the table of sinners. What the world hates is Christ; the incarnate Christ, Who bears vocal, material witness to its abject sinfulness and love of evil; the Christ Who points a fleshy, judgmental finger unerringly in its direction. That's the voice the world seeks to silence.
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Beautiful
written by Santiago, December 16, 2008
Beautiful article, Fr. Schall.
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Whence Anit-Christmas
written by Thomas C.Coleman, Jr., December 16, 2008
The hatred of Christmas ard the demand to de-Christinianize the West are parts of the program to aboish faith in God, which is the only thing standing between mankind and an all-powerful state. Yes, Virginia & the rest of the USA, there really is a Communism. Perhpas the typcial "happy holidays" barking village atheist who thinks hs is strking a blow for liberation from Christian tyrrany has not even read Marx, but it is nonetheless Communism's bidding he is doing. Remeber Bella Dodd!
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written by Raymond Barry, December 16, 2008
Christmas is also a celebration of the birth of all children, of the mystery of birth. We are in an age when children are routinely slain to appease the feminist cult. Even feminists know it's wrong, and Christmas is a rebuke they cannot face.
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a teacher
written by Acroamatic, December 16, 2008
Thank you, Fr. Schall. Today we want many things, but we don't want even to think there is something or someone "beyond" and "within" whose Presence sees us as we are. So, we seek to silence that Presence and distract ourselves from what's real and genuinely powerful.
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written by Debby, December 16, 2008
Fr. Schall, you keep preaching like this & more of your students will come to know deeply & belive fully that The Word became Flesh & dwelt in time among us...and dwells within the Holy Eucharist now to enter into our dwellings here and now. He will be believed, adored, loved and trusted & no amount of "Bah-humbug" will crush His True Presence. But keep teaching, preaching, writing, talking- until your voice is gone & the words are only left on the page. We need you. We need your priesthood.
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written by Jim Stagg, December 17, 2008
Thanks, Father Schall!
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written by Ray the frog, December 17, 2008
If Sundays were focused on the worship of God as was the case a few generations ago, then there would be no problem of Christmas being observed as a religious holy day. No Sunday--no Christmas!
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written by Bender, December 17, 2008
"Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation of the Son of God amongst us"

An excellent column Father, but is it not confusing and misleading to say that Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation? True, Christmas is the Nativity of Jesus, when He first appeared to "the world," but His actual Incarnation, His actual physically becoming man, happened nine months earlier, at the Annunciation. Especially in these pro-abortion times, should we not be clear about that?

Otherwise, excellent words
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written by Annie, December 17, 2008
Thank you. Yes, I believe you are correct. This downplaying of Christmas is indeed spiritual, and there is something sinister here. I read your article with increasing interest. I can only say thank you for publishing it.
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mr.
written by andre, December 23, 2008
This could not have been better put. The whole of creation could not ,would not and does not accept God among us in human form."flesh of our flesh" for the flesh is so corrupt. We need to devise some other construct. Yet there would stil be those who would doubt ,disbelieve, deride and destrroy such an idea. But God knew this from the beginning. ref. the fall of Lucifer and Adam. The power to make right that which has gone wrong with man rests first and foremost with his maker who sent his only
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Mr
written by TJ, December 23, 2008
Fr. Schall I think you did everything right except one thing. You didn't hit the nail on the head on why this has occured. In my opinion the ACLU (American Civil Libeties Union) has created this fear of expressing ourselves. They protest governments from putting up Christmas Trees, and manger scenes. I think the purpose of the ACLU has come and is gone. They assisted with a lot of needed changes, however they threw the baby out with the bath water. We need to place blame where it's due.

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