What Happened to Christmas?

By Matthew Arnold Stern (Originally posted in 2003.)

When did we stop celebrating Christmas as a country? I’m not talking about Christmas as a marketing tool, where you wake up at four in the morning after Thanksgiving to line up at department stores for the best deals (well, like I did). I’m talking about Mary, Joseph, and the baby; the three wise men, the shepherds, and the star. You know, Christmas.

I’m Jewish, and as a kid, we celebrated Christmas. Although we lit a menorah instead of putting up a tree, we still celebrated Christmas. We went to Christmas parties. We had Christmas vacation. We gave Christmas gifts. In the chorus at my public school, I sang Christmas carols. I sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” in both Latin and English. I sang about “Born is the King of Israel,” and “He shall reign forever and ever,” and “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” I even sang at a service at my music teacher’s Mormon temple (where I took the communion by mistake. I thought it was a snack!) Did I complain? No! It’s Christmas!

Not any more. My kids don’t sing Christmas songs at school. Maybe something about Santa Claus giving them toys without an explanation of why. I don’t have Christmas parties at work. We have holiday parties and perhaps a few days off as a holiday break. We send holiday cards and exchange holiday presents that we bought at holiday sales where clerks wish us “Happy holidays.”

Not only has Christmas been removed from the language, we’re even told it is something to be ashamed of. When I was shopping at a discount store, the clerk at the register told a customer, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but Merry Christmas.”

All of this political correctness is supposed to keep non-Christians like me from being offended. Well, I am offended! If anything, the de-Christianizing of Christmas in this country has actually led to more embarrassing and uncomfortable situations for our family.

My son once made a picture frame as a holiday craft at school. The kids could make a green and red one (for Christmas, but don’t tell them that) or a blue and silver one (for Hanukkah, but don’t them that either). My son wanted to make a green and red one like everyone else. But the teacher insisted, “Oh, no, no. You must make a blue and silver one! You’re not supposed to make a green and red one. It must be a blue and silver one because, well, it’s the one kids like you are supposed to make.”

Later, at a holiday boutique where kids can buy small trinkets for their family and friends, he was again led away from the Christmas-themed gifts (how those slipped in, I’ll never know) to the Hanukkah-themed gifts. Again, he was given the “Oh, no, no. You must buy Hanukkah gifts. You’re not supposed to buy Christmas gifts. I don’t care if you have Christian friends. We don’t want to offend you by letting you buy Christmas gifts.”

When I was a kid, I never felt uncomfortable or awkward when I sang Christmas carols or made pictures of Santa Claus. I understood that this was just a part of being an American in December, just as much as watching fireworks was a part of being an American in July. Celebrating Christmas for me has nothing to do with theology or religious identity. It has to do with having a good time and celebrating with my neighbors, coworkers, and friends. I can still be a Jew and celebrate Hanukkah, and at the same time, I’m not being singled out because I am not a Christian.

Enough with this political correctness that only causes offense and discomfort instead of alleviating it. Bring back Christmas! Bring back Christmas carols and nativity scenes! I want sales clerks to wish me a Merry Christmas without them trying to guess what faith I belong to. I want the joy brought back to this time of year, a joy that only comes when we can be ourselves without worrying about offending others. How can I be offended if Christians welcome me to celebrate their happiest holiday with them?

So, have a Merry Christmas.

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