When the Obamas first moved into the White House, their former social secretary, Desiree Rogers, announced that in the spirit of inclusiveness, the Obamas were planning a “non-religious Christmas,” one that (ironically) excluded references to Christianity. They even considered not displaying the 18th century White House nativity scene. In the end, tradition trumped and the First Family found room for the Holy Family in the East Room after all. That’s good, because having seen the antique crèche up close, I can say it is a treasure for citizens of any faith to behold.
While the politically correct work overtime to sanitize Christ from Christmas, Christians are waging a very public counter war to “save” it. Sarah Palin has a book out on the topic. FOX News is covering every Grinchy town that bans carols, parades and nativities. And the American Family Association (AFA) has a “Naughty and Nice” list of Christmas-friendly retailers. Hobby Lobby made the nice list — no surprise there — while Radio Shack was so naughty that the AFA is calling for an outright boycott.
Both approaches miss the point of this beautiful and sacred holiday.
The notion of a non-religious Christmas is ridiculous. But so is the insistence on the part of Christians that politicians and retailers carry out their pro-Christmas crusade. Consumerism is the reason Christmas has morphed into a hollow shopping ritual that leaves too many families with debt hangovers and an empty feeling inside. Demanding that store clerks cheerily proclaim "Merry Christmas" as they ring up your power tools and iPad tablets does precious little to put the Christ-child back in Christmas.
Instead, let it begin, as charity should, at home.
Families can start by reintroducing the season of Advent and the spirit of reflection and spiritual preparation that once occupied the four weeks leading up to Christmas.
Instead of getting swept up in a whirlwind of banal "holiday" parties, useless gift exchanges and harried shopping, my family tries hard to use the weeks of Advent to prepare our hearts and home in meaningful ways for the Prince of Peace. At night we have a ritual of turning off the lights as we light the Advent wreath. We explain to our children that the world was in darkness until Jesus was born. We pray and we sing together. By the fireplace, we have a basket with a baby Jesus doll next to a jar of straw. Every time one of my kids does a “good deed” they add a piece of straw to the baby basket with the goal of making a soft bed for the baby before Christmas. Admittedly, this sometimes leads to arguments about who gave Jesus more straws and debates about whether another child’s action really constitutes a good deed, but they get the point: our acts of kindness make Jesus happy.
During the weeks before Christmas, though it's not always possible, we make an effort to keep the kids away from shopping malls and stores. We also deliberately choose cards and decorations that have religious significance. How many homes prominently display a nativity scene at Christmas time? My guess is not too many. Setting up the nativity scene reminds me every year of how much we as parents underestimate the religious and spiritual potential of our children. Sure, they love Rudolph, but they are infinitely more curious about the drama and beauty that surrounds the story of the first Christmas.
Does your playlist include more "Frosty the Snowman" and "Santa Baby" than "Silent Night" and Handel's "Messiah"? How about keeping those lights on and keeping the tree lit in the house for the twelve days of Christmas — you know, the twelve days after Christmas? Consider having your annual Christmas party after December 25th. We have only ourselves to blame when we lose these beautiful Christian traditions.
Should Christians be concerned about the secularization of Christmas? Sure they should. Culture matters. I detest school "winter" concerts, government interference in our constitutional rights to proclaim and practice our faith, and the ridiculous fear that prevents people from wishing each other "Merry Christmas!" with total abandon.
But Christmas starts with us. With families. In our homes and in our hearts. And in a very simple decision to reclaim the silence, joy, and quiet simplicity of that first Christmas in Bethlehem, when God chose to speak to mankind in the small cry of a newborn baby.
Rachel Campos-Duffy is an author, pundit, and mother of six. She is a spokesperson for the LIBRE Initiative, an organization that promotes economic liberty, empowerment and opportunity for Hispanics.