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Christmas Revisited

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Where there is a crucifix, there is a coupon for a Macy’s Holiday Doorbuster Deal. Where there are modest plastic light-up nativity scenes, there are enormous inflatable Santas and Grinches. Industry isn’t trumping religion; they share the spotlight this Christmas.

In “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” made back in 1965 before the term “politically correct” was thrown around casually, Linus preaches the true meaning of Christmas to his peers. An estimated nine-year-old animated character, he quotes scripture with a focus on the famous nativity scene in the Gospel of Luke. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” he says to his friend, who later considers the birth of Christ while picking out his Christmas tree. “Linus is right. I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.”

43 years later, this holiday special is still a treasured classic, watched by many families while decorating their trees or sitting down to a festive meal. ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” countdown December programming schedule features Charlie Brown in multiple primetime slots, alongside “Holiday in Handcuffs” and “Santapprentice.”

This Santa character is commercialism’s response to Jesus. He’s friendly (letting out a “Ho, ho, ho!” wherever he goes), selfless (standing guard at Salvation Army and Toys for Tots displays) and has dedicated his life to the good of man (making gifts for people all year long and then delivering them all over the world in a single night). He even has a loyal following of disciples: children who sacrifice cookies and milk in his honor.

In all seriousness, though, Santa evolved from Bishop Nicholas of Myra, whose kindness toward children and generosity only became associated with Christmas during the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, when some Christians adjusted the new abolition of saints rule to mean that Jesus delivered presents on the eve of his birth, making even the history of the beloved bearded gift-giver a story based on faith. All roads lead to religion; Jesus and Santa were born on the same day. This guy is foolproof: you can’t write off Santa Claus.

And few people try, actually. In fact, the majority of children who wait up for Santa on Christmas Eve come from Christian families (though the character and his good cheer have people of various religions taking a time-out to celebrate the holiday). Many were never even told about the man in red by parents. He’s everywhere. They’ve seen him sitting in the middle of the mall, advertising expensive new products and appearing at the ends of movies as a finite and miraculous sign for hope, love, faith or whatever virtue the story worked to advocate.

Christmas music also has a hand in controversy between those who spend their December 24 at midnight mass and those who dash to the mall. There are the first few celebratory songs young children may learn: “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Santa even makes his way into more adult-oriented music like, “Santa Baby.” The Mater Dei chorus annually sings to music with sleigh bells at the end, but balances it out with moral-focused titles like, “The Christmas Shoes” and “Mary, Did You Know?” And rarely does a person choose their favorite holiday music based on a religious or mythical theme. It’s about a spirit!

If you were to go door-to-door asking people what the true meaning of Christmas is, you would undoubtedly be able to fill a notebook of different responses. Praise for Jesus, hope for the world, peace, love, joy, togetherness, family, capitalism, salvation, charity, media, friendship, presents, tradition.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s about whatever fits best into your life. It serves many different purposes. Yes, without Jesus there would be no Christmas. But there is and it’s up to those who continue the tradition to mold it.




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