Municipalities claim that they strive to treat every person, every group, as equal and the same. Last year in Santa Monica, a creche was displayed in town. Thus, an atheist group was allowed to put up an anti-God display nearby. There was vandalism. There was controversy. So this year, the city decided to not allow any displays at all, and avoid all of the conflict. Nobody gets to display anything this year. All is “equal” now. Christians are outraged, atheists are smirking.
Similar stories are told all over the U.S. with arguments of separation of church and state. People rationalize the situation. I was talking with a coworker, an ex-Catholic atheist, who said she had, in her former hometown, testified in the courts that a nativity scene had no place on city property. She said that this was because it was sandwiched between a display of elves&reindeer, and one of Santa. She said her thinking was that it demeaned Jesus to be there, as just another commercial value, part of the seasonal marketing.
As a retail cashier, I see that people are nervous about the very word “Christmas”, some of them responding to my Merry Christmas with a horrified stare at this offensive display of intolerance, others looking nervously about before confiding in a whisper that “it is nice to hear that again”. What? Christians of all stripes making excuses, mumbling about tolerance (what tolerance?) and accepting the silencing so as not to make waves.
Now I know there is good reason for outcry against restriction of public displays, for folks to fight for our right not to have our voices suppressed, for our expressions of faith not to be restricted to private conversations only. I agree that it is important to make ourselves heard. But why only emphasize putting religious Christmas displays on public property– that’s letting somebody else do it. I do not see too much evidence of outward faith on private property.
Perhaps your neck of the woods is different, but where I live in the Pacific Northwest, Christmas decorations of a house are passe, the expressions of the season innocuous or even furtive. Stores feature only perfectly conical glittery trees with mock presents below, and cute references to Santa Claus. Neighborhood streets are dark and undecorated. There are 36 houses on our street, only ours and 2 others have Christmas lights and decoration. I do indeed hope that your neighborhoods are different.
I would urge every person to put up a string of lights, a wreath, a candle in the window, a nativity scene, etc, in their front yards, on their roofs. Not just Santa and Frosty, but Jesus Emmanuel, God-With-Us. If what author Matthew Kelly says is true, there are 67 million of us Catholics in this country. And probably just as many Protestant Christians. Let Christmas be a tremendous visible expression of praise and joy for the coming of our Savior. Let it be proof something other than a time of successful merchandising.
There must be a million Christian churches at least. In a further show of faith (and solidarity as we all celebrate the Birth of Jesus–the Incarnation of God), couldn’t each parish, each congregation decorate the exterior of their church buildings as well as the inside, for Christmas? Festoon the buildings with warmth and joy, celebration and welcome. Create a place of light that invites others in.
Wish people a Merry Christmas. Bake and share cookies. Begin Christmas Vigil masses with the choir and congregation singing carols together outside on the front steps, before processing in together. Church by church, home by home, one by one, we can challenge the attacks on faith in our country simply by making our belief in Jesus known in simple wordless ways. Decor, light, food, music. Don’t worry about whether or not city hall is approving–do it yourself in your own space. Put on a blatantly faith-and-hope-filled, brilliantly beautiful, inviting, loving, distinctly Christian face for a holy-day that is being trampled over in our society with commercialism and greed.