I live in an area of our country that has a lot of “Keep Christ in Christmas,” signs. I think people post these signs for all sorts of reasons: for fear that Christmas has become too secular and lost its focus on the birth of the Christ Child; out of resistance to Christmas becoming a consumerist holiday; as a defensive response to what feels like a mandate to be “politically correct,” (i.e. saying “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!”). Many of these arguments make sense to me. I myself have a hard time explaining to my five-year old why Christmas is both the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the day Santa Claus comes. I too feel lured in by the advertisements that want me to spend more money than I have in order to show my love and affection. I too want to be fully Christian, not wanting to minimize my faith in order to honor others’ faith. In fact, it was not until I moved to a community with a large Jewish population that I really had to think about whether my “Merry Christmas!” greeting was even appropriate.
But here is my issue: when I see those (sometimes very large) signs posted all around town, they do not sound like a gentle reminder or encouragement to return to our Lord. When I see them, I feel like someone is shouting at me, “Keep Christ in Christmas!!” Those signs do not feel well-intended, encouraging, or uplifting. They seem angry, defensive, and off-putting. They make me feel like I am guilty and should be ashamed of something. And if I, as a priest in the Church, feel criticized, judged, and reprimanded by the signs, imagine how someone feels who knows very little about the Church.
A meme has recently been floating around that helped me identify what it is that is so off-putting about the normal “Keep Christ in Christmas” sign. The sign says, “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies.” The quote comes from Steve Maraboli, and I think his words get at my struggle. What I like about this quote is that it does not just describe how to reclaim a holiday. This quote describes how to live as an authentic Christian, to live like Christ, in the midst of this holiday. That is a much more powerful witness to me than simply insisting people keep Christ in Christmas. Perhaps instead of saying “Keep Christ in Christmas,” our message could be, “Be Christ this Christmas.” When we busy ourselves with being Christ to others it is a lot easier to remember the reason for the season – no fussing and finger-wagging necessary.