Frankly, I agree with Mike Huckabee about Christmas. From the
pulpit of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio Huckabee recalled that he had
"got in a little trouble this last week because I actually had the
audacity to say 'Merry Christmas.' Isn't that an odd thing to say
this time of year?" Now, the essential history of our country
is rooted not in one Christian faith but in the multiple Christianities
that shared only in a journey to "the new American Zion."
They differed much, these Christians. Still, they each observed the
day of Jesus' birth. Some in mortification, others in joy, still
others in prayer. Today, the spirit of Christmas begins largely at
the mall--a fact that repels many for whom the arrival of His son cannot
really be marked by ribbons and reindeer. But that's quite enough
for other Christians and for many Americans who are Christians only in
name, if that.
But Christianity is our destiny, too. Not only because of the evangelicals and the fundamentalists but because of the continuous stream pious Catholics arriving from south of the border, way south.
I do not find it difficult greeting my Christian friends of whatever depth their piety with a "Merry Christmas," although "merry" strikes me more as a prelude to a beer than a religious invocation. "Happy holidays" seems to me to concede that the commercial nature of the season has triumphed, and that triumph does not need my verbal certification.
Kwanza has collapsed, as I knew it would as soon as Ron Karenga proclaimed it in Los Angeles nearly four decades ago. (I once brought "walking around" money from the Eugene McCarthy campaign to his lair in L.A. But that's another story.) It has collapsed with all the other self-assuring slogans that many black people thought would short-circuit the normal social processes which nullify the consequences of bigotry and discrimination.
While I'm doing the round-up, let me deal with Chanukah. OK, Chanukah is not an important holiday. And, if it has some importance today, it is certainly not theologically significant. Chanukah gained currency as a sociological answer to the commercial hulabaloo over Christmas. A big tree, a small and now a big public candelabra. Many presents on one morning, eight presents over eight nights. Mostly this was consolation for the kids. "They" have Christmas. "We" have Chanukah. Even Steven. Of course, the elaboration of Chanukah was also a consequence of the rise and triumph of Zionism. The holiday narrative is a national narrative, the Jewish revolt against Greco-Syrian oppressors. The revolt ended with a victory led by the Maccabees, now the name of sports teams in Israel and of the international Jewish Olympics, the Maccabiah Games. With a little help from God (the miracle of a small amount of oil to light the menorah in the Temple for fully eight days), this marked an unlikely military victory over our enemies. Zionism, if you will. You want to wish me "Happy Chanukah," thank you.
Maybe Barack Obama will curb the liberal embarrassment with Christmas. And with God.
The God who once lived and prospered in America was an angry, even vengeful God, and his instrument was terror. Some of this God still lingers at the edges. But He or She or It, if you insist, has changed. The God of our imagination is still great, and we have come to see him as benevolent. The ferocious God is now in the tabernacle of the Muslims. Such a God is hard to appease.
May Christmas bring some joy to the world.