When I was younger and single, I had been known to don a Santa hat and to spend Christmas parties asking the ladies if they had been naughty or nice. “Nice!”, most would say. “Too bad!”, was my response. “I’m not that kind of Santa.”
Sometimes naughty can be nice.
Yesterday I read that Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas has launched a website in which he is calling for what Cathy Lyn Grossman of USA Today labels, “essentially, a public shaming of anyone who doesn’t toe the Christmas line he requires”. In short, he wants to create his own Naughty and Nice lists. Those on the naughty list might also be announced publicly on the church’s radio station. Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News reports that Jeffress thought this would be fun.
The website, called GrinchAlert.com, invites visitors to “add a Business or Organization to the Naughty & Nice List.” Groups that “shut-out expressions of Christmas in their interactions with the public via marketing, advertising and public relations” go on the Naughty list.
Currently there are only eight entities on the Naughty list. They are Sears/K-Mart, the Tulsa City Council, Target, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Barnes and Noble, the Crowley City Hall in Crowly, Texas, and Mi Cocina Restaurant, a local Dallas Mexican food chain. For the most part they all made the Naughty list by promoting the phrase, “Happy Holidays” in lieu of “Merry Christmas”.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that First Dallas Baptist is some small extremist church like Westboro Baptist that pickets the funerals of American soldiers in protest of homosexuality, and that today picketed the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards. First Dallas Baptist is a Dallas institution located in the heart of the city’s downtown and is just a few blocks away from my condo there. The Mayor of Dallas attends First Baptist Dallas, and recently the church raised $115 million to reshape their downtown campus. Rev. Jeffress is an outspoken Christian conservative who calls Islam a religion which promotes pedophilia, and he also preaches that the United States of America is a Christian nation.
It’s fair to say that I don’t agree with my neighbor, but what really miffs me is that he has brought the Grinch into this. That’s sacrilege!
I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss and specifically of his story, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. The animated version, released in 1966 with Boris Karloff narrating and providing the Grinch’s voice, is among my favorite childhood memories. Remember the Grinch’s revelation at the end of the story? “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
Christmas has always been more than just Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus. Christmas has been a melting pot celebration since before the third century.
The date of Christmas isn’t based on Jesus’ actual birthday, but rather was selected because of its connection to the ancient Pagan celebration of the winter solstice. In 325 CE, it was the Emperor Constantine, who considered himself the spiritual leader of both the Pagans and the new Christian cults, who fixed the date on December 25th, during the same year that he held the Council of Nicea which established the Holy Trinity, the date of Easter, and the statement of Christian belief called the “Nicene Creed”. It is said that there were 300 Christian bishops in attendance at the Council of Nicea, and one of them was the Bishop of Myra, also known as Bishop Nicholas.
Nicholas of Myra had a reputation for secret gift-giving and was revered by the early Christians. After his death in 343 CE, tales of his kindness became a thing of legend and, while he was never formally canonized, he became known as Saint Nicholas. The Feast of St. Nicholas, or Saint Nicholas Day, still is celebrated in countries around the world in December.
Christmas in the United States continues to be, as it always has been, an evolving fusion of celebrations related to the Feast of St. Nicholas, the Pagan winter festivals, and the Christian celebration of Christ’s birth. The American Christmas of today, however, is very different from what it was when our country began.
American Puritans in the 1600s did not consider Christmas a holiday and it actually was outlawed in Boston between 1659 and 1681. In the 1700s the topic of Christmas was subject to debate among Christians and non-Christians. Ironically, Baptists, Quakers and Congregationalists tended to oppose the celebration of Christmas. The Christian celebrations that did occur were quiet family gatherings. Christmas was considered an English holiday and so fell out of favor with many of our revolutionary Founding Fathers. It remained a playful day for the working class with more of a Mardi Gras feeling than that of a religious holiday.
Surprisingly, the image of the “traditional” Christmas celebration was the invention of the writer, Washington Irving, in 1819. In his collection of essays, called “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.”, Irving paints a picture of Christmas as a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday during which people might connect across social boundaries. The book also includes Irving’s stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”. It wasn’t until after the American Civil War that the celebration of Christmas really took hold, and it became a federal holiday in 1870.
The story of the evolution of Christmas from its Pagan beginnings to the massive cross-cultural American celebration it is today is fascinating. Some of what Christmas has become is delightful to me, but other parts of it I could do without. Regardless of all that it is now, Christmas still invites us to focus on peace on earth and goodwill to all people, and on our connection to each other.
When I offer a “Happy Holidays” to someone, I’m really saying, “I don’t know your spiritual or philosophical perspective, but whatever it is I want you to know that I recognize you as a human being and that I wish you well in this season and in every season.” “Happy Holidays” is just easier to say.
If I know a person is Jewish or Christian, I will wish them a Happy Hanukah or a Merry Christmas respectively. Christmastime greetings are verbal presents, and should be chosen for how they might best be received, and should be wrapped with the energy of compassion.
Rev. Jeffress is welcome to his opinion, but I believe Christmas has never been solely a Christian holiday, nor will it ever be. If that perspective puts me or SBNR.org on his Naughty list, I’m OK with that. As a matter of fact, I may just add myself and SBNR.org to that list. If being on the Naughty list means being kind to all people regardless of race, religion, and sexual orientation, then you can consider me a very naughty boy indeed.
Sometimes naughty is nice.
Executive Director, SBNR.org