Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas

The other night my kids watched one of the latest holiday children's specials that are on network tv this time of year.  They were watching Kung Fu Panda.  As they watched one things that stood out to me was the fact that the special never mentioned what holiday it was that they were celebrating.  They were celebrating "the holiday" and getting ready for "the winter feast".  There was never a word about what holiday or what feast they were going to celebrate.

It seems to be a pattern that the more recent the holiday special are the less there is any specific mention of Christmas.  Compare the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  There are no bones about what holiday is celebrated, they are celebrating Christmas.  They are looking for a Christmas tree.  They children perform in a Christmas program.  The Peanuts Gang even reads the Christmas narrative from Luke 2.  They are celebrating Christmas.  More than that they are celebrating a Christian Christmas.  The Peanuts Special still airs on TV, most likely for the sake of nostalgia. Today the specials seem to follow the trend illustrated by Po the Panda.

My Christians sensibilities are tempted to be offended by this, to see it as an affront to the Chritsian faith.  But as I reflected further it occurred to me that this is not entirely a bad thing.  

For the Christian this time of year is about Christ.  It is a celebration of God coming to his creation to redeem us and save us from sin and death and Satan.  This has everything to do with the Gospel of Jesus.  We celebrate because this is God taking action to accomplish our salvation.  To mark this celebration we decorate with evergreen trees that remind us of the ever lasting life that is ours because of Jesus.  We use lights and candles because they remind us of the Light of the World who has come to enlighten our hearts in faith.  We give gifts to remind us of the greatest Gift that God has given to us in the person of his Son.

It just so happens that there is another holiday that occurs this time of year.  It happens to coincide with the Christian celebration of Christmas and there are many similar customs and traditions. There is gift giving, tree decorating, lights, and color schemes, but in spite of their similarities they are not the same holiday.  They are different.  One is a celebration of God's salvation come in human flesh to save the world from sin.  One is a celebration of God's greatest gift to us, the other is a celebration of our gifts to each other.  Some of these gifts we give are in the abstract; things like Christmas spirit, or peace or joy or good will.  Some of these gifts are material; gifts like a diamond engagement ring, a new BMW, a Lego set, or a Kohl's gift card.  

Television is all about selling those gifts.  It is primarily a medium where product manufacturers sell their products.  NBC, CBS, ABC don't produce programming out of the goodness of their heart or because they really want to tell a story or because they have a message to proclaim.  For the broadcasting companies television isn't about the programming at all.  It is about the commercials.  The programming is only the incentive to get us to watch the commercials.  NBC and all the rest want want to be able to charge as much as possible for that air time so they need to make their programming as broadly appealing as possible.  There are lots of people who celebrate a holiday in December and who will be potential customers for the advertisers.  Some will celebrate Christmas, some will celebrate Hanukkah, some will celebrate Kwanza, some will just celebrate Santa Claus.  So Kung Fu Panda doesn't decorate for Christmas, he decorates for "the Holiday".  He doesn't have "Christmas Dinner, he has a "winter feast".  And I am okay with that.  Because at least he is being honest.  

 Even if he called his "winter feast" Christmas he wouldn't really be celebrating Christmas.  He wouldn't be celebrating God's gift of salvation through the birth of the Christ Child for the salvation of the world from sin, he would be celebrating a generic holiday that recognized our gifts of peace, good will and gift cards to each other.  Kung Fu Panda, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Shrek Donkey and Fiona, and the Madagascar Penguins only want to sell those things.  To leave it at that and call it a holiday keeps things honest and leave the Christmas feast to the Christians.  When it gets down to it, I am okay with that.  Po can wish you a "Happy Holiday".  I will wish you a Merry Christmas!

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