COMMENTARY: Whose Responsibility Is It to Keep Christ in Christmas?

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c. 2004 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) When did corporate America become responsible for my Christmas cheer?

In my 47 years on this Earth, it has never occurred to me that I should look to advertising or store clerks for affirmation of my faith. That’s what church is for. Family and friends are handy for that, too, not to mention the little miracles of daily living.

Newspapers around the country, though, are full of stories about disgruntled Christians insisting that their Christmas is spoiled because cashiers don’t say “Merry Christmas” anymore. They’re also grumbling that store ads have dropped “Merry Christmas,” trumpeting “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” instead.

A California group is boycotting Macy’s and its corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, accusing them of banning “Merry Christmas” signs, even though the companies insist they have no such ban.

In Raleigh, N.C., a church pledging to keep “Christ in Christmas” paid $7,000 that could have clothed the poor and fed the homeless to place a full-page ad in the Nov. 24 issue of the News & Observer newspaper.

“Attention Christians!” began the ad, which then urged “all Christians to spend their hard-earned dollars with merchants who include the greeting `Merry Christmas’ in their holiday advertising promotions this Christmas.”

A lot of readers objected to the ad, in part because it also pointed out that only 5 percent of Americans celebrate Hanukkah and 2 percent celebrate Kwanzaa. In other words, we’re bigger than they are _ they being Jews and African-Americans _ so let’s start acting like it and throw our weight around.

I’m confused.

If we really want to go after what corporate America has done to Christmas, shouldn’t we stop buying all these _ dare I say it? _ things?

If what we long for is the Christmas of yore, shouldn’t we return to the days of baked goods tied up with bows and presents no larger than stockings hung by the chimney with care? Threatening to withhold our Visa or MasterCard only until they say what we want them to say doesn’t strike me as getting us any closer to the manger.

I’m also trying to figure out why store clerks should have to make me feel good about Christmas.

When I shop, I have to wait at their counter for 10, maybe 15 minutes, tops. They have to stand there all day.

I make a generous living and have health care. They rarely make a living wage and most have no benefits.

I’ll get the whole week off. At best, they get only Christmas Day, and then they’re back for the mobs on Dec. 26.

Seems to me I can afford to take the lead on Christmas cheer.

I want to live my faith, not enforce it, and I can start by remembering there’s a beating heart beneath every store smock and name tag. We get plenty of reminders on that one, especially during this season of giving.

Last week, for example, I stood in line and watched a middle-aged woman with a Christmas angel pinned to her lapel berate two young clerks because the store didn’t have her favorite brand of gum.

“I’ve been in here three times in the last week, and three times you haven’t had it,” she hissed, pointing to the rack that held dozens of other brands of gum. “This is outrageous.”

The clerks apologized several times. Her only response was to threaten never to return to that store if they didn’t stock her gum. I was willing to lead a round of applause on that one, but they just continued to apologize and assured her they would order it that very day.

Those two clerks taught me a lot about the spirit of Christmas. They reminded me that we keep the Christ in Christmas every time we’re kind when we want to be angry, generous when we want to be selfish, patient when we want to scream.

We don’t find joy by demanding it, and I for one have no interest in joining the faith police. Insisting on carols while we shop and clerks chirping “Merry Christmas” at the checkout counter suggests a fragile faith, one that could fall prey to corporate control.

Surely the spirit of Christmas is stronger than that.

MO/JL/PH RNS END

(Connie Schultz is a reporter for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.)

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