By Janine Warrington
‘Tis the season for that old war of words: “Holiday” versus“Christmas.” While I can understand the fear of societal secularization and the desire to defend sacred language, I would like to challenge my fellow Christians. Friends, by forcing the word “Christmas” into every open space in the season spanning from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we have robbed it of its significance. The problem isn’t that the world doesn’t say “Christmas” enough; it’s that we say it too much.
It is easy to become so preoccupied with garnering public recognition of our Christian terminology that we forget what these terms actually mean. “Christmas,” from the Old English Cristes mǣsse, means literally “Mass of Christ.”“Mass” as a common noun refers to a gathering, and as a proper noun refers specifically to a gathering around the Communion table. So, this word, in its origin, refers to a gathering around Christ; a time to remember God’s incarnation as a community. Christmas should be a time to remember Christ’s coming, praise God for their sacrifice, mourn the innocent infants killed at the hands of Herod, and embody God’s generosity toward us.
A “holiday” is literally a “holy” day. “Holy” in Hebrew means, “set apart.” A holiday is simply a day that is distinct from other days, a day that is set apart for a special purpose.
Unfortunately, when we insist that the word “Christmas” be used to describe this entire season, we deny its very identity as a holy day. No longer is Christmas set apart as a sacred gathering meant to commemorate God with us. Rather, it becomes a largely secular descriptor for a commercial season of Black Friday sales, ugly sweaters, pine trees, Jingle Bells, gingerbread, skiing, and Starbucks Peppermint Mochas. These things aren’t necessarily bad –I greatly enjoy buying gifts for others, baking cookies, and sporting atrociously festive sweaters! But none of these things are truly “Christmas.”
When somebody wishes us a “happy holiday,” and we respond with and emphatic, “merry CHRISTMAS,” we completely miss the point. Christ’s coming was not a means for God to force God’s self on us. Jesus didn’t arrive saying, “Everybody kneel before me! You must worship me! You must recognize me as your God!” He arrived as a helpless infant in an unprecedented move motivated by love and sacrifice. Rather than put our energy toward convincing the wider culture to subscribe to Christian language, we ought to focus on imbuing that sacred word with the love, peace, grace, and sacrifice that it is truly about.
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