“Dude, plain red cups? Might as well be a Soviet Christmas. We should totally boycott them,” whined the bespectacled man exiting Starbucks, eliciting a groan from his companion (who, nonetheless, began to drain his gourmet coffee). It wasn’t a new take on the subject—I had heard about the controversy with Starbucks’ new plain red holiday cups dozens of times through social media and overheard conversations. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that everyone looking for Christmas on the side of a coffee cup is searching in exactly the wrong place.
The “War on Christmas” crowd can be split into two groups based on their concerns: those who believe Christianity is being targeted, and those who mourn the decline of Christmas as a centrally commercial juggernaut. In truth, however, neither crowd has much to fear: those who fear the removal of Christ from Christmas need to recognize the commercialization of the holiday.
Christmas has steadily morphed into a different celebration over the years, long after absorbing various aspects of pagan rituals. Most Christians are blind to this transformation, and might even be coaxed into forgiving Starbucks if the company just slapped some Christmas trees on its cups—you know, the supposedly Christian symbol that actually dates back to Middle Eastern tribes before Christ’s birth, Roman pagans after that, and pagan Germans who eventually passed it on to German Christians. The same symbol that was vehemently rejected by the Church until the 19th century. Or maybe Santa Claus, who perhaps has more in common with Odin and the pagan holiday of Yule than the Greek bishop St. Nicholas.
There needs to be a distinction between Christmas as a commercial holiday and Christmas as a religious holiday. The argument gets downright ridiculous when allegedly anti-religious motives are to blame for the absence of symbols long-held as anathema to that very religion. Though it may sound ridiculous, it’s certainly time to recognize the split between Christian Christmas and commercial Christmas. The holiday has divided itself like a cell, and now we are left with two halves. The religious holiday should be celebrated by Christians at Mass and in their homes, but by no means on the side of a Starbucks cup.
The very fact that this split needs to take place, however, speaks to the success of the commercial Christmas, its draw and universality. The integration of various pagan elements in Christmas has operated on a bell curve. We are simply trending downward as the celebratory practices like decorated trees and gift-giving once more become disassociated from the Christian holiday. In addition to their own seasonal religious devotions, people of many faiths in America have come to celebrate Christmas commercially. But rather than uniting us in celebrating a common holiday, the uproar on all sides never seems to cease. We fail to see that this Christmas division is beneficial for everyone. It allows the religious holiday to shed the skin of its pagan trappings and return to its true root and focus, the birth of Christ, and allows everyone to embrace the positive and joyful aspects of the commercial holiday.
The reason we can’t adopt the commercial Christmas as a secular national holiday is owed to the dogged resistance of religious rebels who erroneously believe a talking red-nosed reindeer has anything more to do with the birth of their Savior than the Festival of Lights. And at a time when America has real and divisive ever-present issues like terrorism and climate change, the fact that we can’t come together on what is supposed to be a festival of joy might be the scariest thing of all. The same people bemoaning the Starbucks holiday cups (despite clearly being Christmas-based and red, as opposed to, say, the traditional blue or white of Hanukkah) are the same people who refuse to say “Happy Holidays.”
Despite the fact that this greeting makes more sense with its potential inclusion of New Year’s as well, people still cling to the same misguided sense of pompous self-importance. In any other setting, it would be considered ridiculous—I certainly don’t go around shouting “Go Sox” to people unless I know they’re from New England and root for the Red Sox. And I certainly won’t actively disdain whatever team they root for, unless maybe it’s the Yankees. It’s the same corrupt, ingrained sense of partisanship that has come to dominate the entirety of American society. Rather than adopting the common-sense solution of simply wishing someone ”Happy Holidays” if you don’t know what they celebrate, we have been driven into this dogmatic determination to place ourselves first.
Tragically, this selfishness is only a symptom of the decay occurring in the holiday season overall. The season of generosity, goodwill, and gift-giving has turned into greed, animosity, and gift-getting. The very fact that Christmas, despite an ever-increasing commercialization and paganization, has been so deeply and staunchly made into a religious war has prevented its very adoption as a universal secular holiday and has led to the mess of “Happy Holidays” and half-measures. Rather than looking to a unifying solution, we’ll all just keep on keeping on, complaining about the absence of Christmas spirit on the sides of our gourmet coffee cups while we stroll past the cold, homeless, and hungry.
Featured Image by Abigail Paulson