Saturday, April 19, 2014

Christmas controversy and cheer

From shopping habits to greetings, writers discuss the very best and the very worst of the holiday season

One of the most popular and beloved holiday competitions in the past few years surrounds an old tradition — Christmas.

Photo credit: Briann Black

Photo credit: Breann Black

Gone are the days when Christmas was a fun time to spend with family. Rather, Christmas season has become a stressful season for millions across the world.

Christmas now consists of activities such as racing the lovely old lady, who you have been camping next to in a parking lot for the past two days, through the narrow aisles of Wal-Mart to buy the brand new Xbox One at a slightly discounted price.

This race usually occurs on the unofficial start of the Christmas season —Black Friday.

While Black Friday is a nice concept, it has also turned into one of the most violent days of the year.

Nearly every year, stories and videos emerge of people being seriously injured or dying as they attempt to navigate their path through K-Marts, Wal-Marts and a variety of additional stores.

Grandma may never be run over by a reindeer, but she may be run over by a rabid Black Friday shopper in search of the ultimate gift.

That search for the ultimate gift is a disturbing trend across America. Millions of people have become so obsessed with finding the perfect gift for their spouse, child or loved one that they would do nearly anything to secure it.

Giving is a wonderful concept, but the giving that occurs during the Christmas season has become a forced necessity. Rather than giving out of kindness, people feel an obligation to buy the biggest and best gift they can find merely as a form to impress, not as a way to say thank you.

The obligation to buy the best gifts at the lowest prices creates stress as millions of people search for gifts for not only immediate family members, but also distant relatives.

During this frantic search, the true meaning of Christmas is often lost.

Although everyone enjoys receiving and giving gifts, that should only be a small part of the Christmas season, not the whole part.

While playing bumper carts through Wal-Mart may sound like a fun idea, this should not be anyone’s concept of an ideal Christmas season.

Instead of dedicating your Christmas season to searching for the perfect gifts, think about if you are buying those gifts for the right reasons.

Are you buying a gift to show your appreciation for others, or are you buying that gift to satisfy your own personal ego in an attempt to impress that person?

Christmas does not have to be a competition to see who buys the cheapest or best gift. Christmas should be much more than that.

In today’s culture, forgetting the true reasons for Christmas can be quite easy. While giving gifts may be done with good intention, gift giving and receiving is not the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas season is supposed to be about spending time with friends and family and, most importantly, remembering the origin of the holiday — the birth of Jesus Christ.

So, this Christmas season, instead of waiting outside of Wal-Mart in freezing temperatures, ready to clash carts with thousands of angry shoppers, spend time with family and friends and show your appreciation for them, not the gift you buy them. – Tom Foote

Photo credit; Breann Black

Photo credit: Breann Black

Zachary Pinkston – Though generally considered to be a time of peace and good tidings, the rhetoric wars surrounding the holiday season have made Christmas controversy all too customary.

Now that Christmas is fast approaching, the conflict arises yet again. Should we settle for using the generic “Happy Holidays” or is there an obligation to use the Christmas-specific greeting “Merry Christmas?”

Many Christians would say that “Merry Christmas” is the appropriate greeting, but there are some who would disagree. Should we as Christians be offended when someone wishes us “Season’s Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas?”

According to a 2010 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, Americans are split between whether retailers ought to use generic holiday greetings. The findings revealed that 44 percent of those polled were in favor of nonspecific greetings while 49 percent were opposed.

The research reveals that Christmas has become less of a Christian-centric holiday and more of a generic cultural holiday. Yet just because religious connotations are lost on some does not mean that Christians cannot still celebrate what they believe.

I, as a Christmas-celebrating Christian, say that no, we should not be upset that most people are now using the phrase “Happy Holidays.”

While Christmas is the traditional celebration for this time of year, and while it is ultimately the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the United States is a melting pot of cultures, and Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated this time of year.

There is Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah and Diwali, among others. These are all celebrated around the month of December. A generic greeting, then, means treating everyone equally amidst a more religiously and culturally diverse America.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors, and living in the United States, our neighbors could be from any culture or background. The probability that they celebrate something other than Christmas is high.

Christmas is a time of giving. God gave Jesus Christ so we may have redemption. Christmas is not the time for us to start feuds or arguments about the titles or greetings we hear.

For that matter, why does anyone care? If she says “Happy Holidays,” and he says “Merry Christmas,” so what?

If we put aside our differences, and the greetings, we may even get a chance to tell our neighbors why we truly celebrate Christmas. As the holiday season becomes more secularized and interreligious, we have a growing opportunity to spread truth and light.

If we as Christians get offended when someone says “Happy Holidays,” we are essentially shutting ourselves down from ever being able to witness to them about the gospel. Saying that we are against “Happy Holidays” tells others that we do not respect their culture.

Telling someone “Happy Holidays” shows that person, whether they are Christian or Islamic, we respect their background. Once they realize that you respect their culture, you can develop a sense of mutual respect and, in turn, tell them about Jesus. But no one wants to listen to the opinion of someone who has declared a “war on Christmas.”

This year, do not get frustrated or aggravated when someone says “Happy Holidays.” Realize there are many different cultures in the United States, and by only saying “Merry Christmas,” we are essentially saying their religion or culture is not recognized.

Instead, take the occasion that has been presented to you and use it to begin a conversation. Show interest in the person’s differences, and let the Holy Spirit guide you in presenting the truth of Jesus’ birth and work in your life. The best way to get someone to listen to your opinion is to first respect his or her culture and opinion.

Photo credit: Breann Black

Photo credit: Breann Black

Gabriella Fuller – Seven hundred years before Jesus would enter a manger, a prophet was declaring the mysterious truth of salvation through the birth of a child. So immersed in the presence of God was the prophet that, though centuries before fulfillment, he spoke the future as if he had already seen it — as if he had already stood in adoration before the manger of Jesus.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Though we now recognize the passage of Isaiah 9:6-7 as a staple of the holiday season, Isaiah first wrote these words while living in the midst of a distressed Israelite people.

Filled with anguish and cast into exile by the Babylonians, Isaiah desperately pleaded with the Lord for salvation from the punishment of Israel’s oppressors.

Little did Isaiah know that God’s plan was not only for the salvation of Isaiah’s generation, but also for the salvation of all generations on earth.

We are quick to forget just how meaningful and monumental Christmas truly is. Christmas is a day incapable of human explanation. Only God, who encompasses the beginning and end of the world, could reveal to a chosen person the mystery of the future and deliver salvation to his creation through the mystery of the manger.

Author and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of the mystery of Christmas in his work “God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas.” In this passage, he describes how truly compelling the image of the manger should be for all Christians.

“For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away,” Bonhoeffer wrote. “These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught.”

There were no priests or theologians who stood at the manger in Bethlehem, yet this single event in history now defines the whole of Christian theology and faith. Who we are as sons and daughters of Christ has its defining point in this wonder of all wonders: God became human.

Bonhoeffer states it best when he writes “we ought to remember the holiday season with knees bent before the mystery of the divine child in the stable.”

I challenge you to become captured and compelled by the wonder of the manger this Christmas. Take time to reverently reflect on the mysteries of God and allow his presence to reignite a passion and desire for him this season. Let us never forget the power of the message “to us a son is given.”

1 Comment

  1. Well written Zach!!!
    Although I think I would respect another persons choice of religion enough not to try and convert them to yours.
    As your intentions are admirable and well thought to be part of Christian teaching, I think you could very easily turn a pleasant conversation with a stranger into an unpleasant one. After all, this country was founded on the freedom to practice any religion one sees fit, including none. People can be just as adamant about their own beliefs as you are of yours and could perceive yours as an intrusion of their core beliefs.

    Comment by Lester — January 3, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

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