Patrick Coffin is the creator and host of The Patrick Coffin Show at patrickcoffin.media. The former host of Catholic Answers Live is also the author of Sex Au Naturel, Stay Cool When the Argument Heats Up, and Once Saved Not Always Saved.
Every year around one minute past midnight Nov. 1, when Halloween ends and the malls begin spewing out “Xmas Muzak,” Christians trundle out their well-worn complaints about the tinselly squalor of today’s commercialized Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, bemoan the ever-expanding catalogue of banality known as “holiday carols” which are little more than neutered jumbles of Christmas-ish chords. On Dasher, on Frosty, on Rudolph and Santa; on Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Dean Martin. What does any of the schmaltz have to do with the real reason for the season?
The correct answer is, of course: very little.
But as depressing as the tsunami of schmaltz may sound, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning. As America (and with her, the rest of the west) becomes less and less as a Christian nation, we do well to ponder the future of public recognition of Christmas and to be grateful for the commercialization thereof.
Hear me out. The data on the religious landscape are not exactly encouraging. For example, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 3.1 percent of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 1.6 percent in a similarly large survey in 2007. An additional 4.0 percent of Americans call themselves agnostics, up from 2.4 percent in 2007.
These still look like small percentages but they represent a doubling of the numbers in a very few years, and should sound some kind of alarm. It’s old news that the culture has made a slow and steady (?) shift away from the Christian faith since the late Sixties. Signs of this shift are ubiquitous and come in many vestments. Start the list by asking: how many priests, nuns, and ministers are the good guys in today’s Hollywood?
Sunday shopping is another metric. Once a bastion of what Protestant America called the Sabbath Rest, since the 1970s, Sunday has been the target of governments around the world bent on eliminating the idea of one day of rest from commercial exchange and labor.
People who favor a Sunday shopping ban are looked upon as quaint, and not in the complimentary sense. Poland is filled with millions of “those people.” Catholic Poland is a rare exception to the European rule. Earlier this month, Poland’s Sejm (lower house of Poland’s parliament) voted to phase on Sunday shopping altogether by 2010. And praise the Lord.
But back in America, where the pursuit of mammon dominates all seven days of the week, the season of Christmas has become more and more dependent upon, and identified with, the commercialized angle than the What’s His Name From Bethlehem angle.
The central point is, what would become of Christmas if it weren’t for the wall-to-wall tinsel, the cringe-inducing “holiday carols” like Dean Martin’s date-rape-subtexted Baby It’s Cold Outside, Eartha Kitt’s creepy Santa Baby, or the vacuous pablum churned out by Michael Buble, Mariah Carey and Bruce Springsteen? Their name is legion.
Still, without them, does anyone think that Christmas Day will remain a Federal Holiday for too many years longer?
American culture was once fully Christian, with presidents making regular mention of Almighty God, calling for prayer, and clergy being portrayed with respect in films and on TV. If it were up to practicing Christians alone to prop up Christmas as the remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ, how long would it take before Caesar knocks the thing down and sweep it away, along with, say, prayer in public schools?
Can anyone imagine anyone today successfully pitching A Charlie Brown Christmas to CBS, complete with Linus reciting Luke’s infancy narrative to reveal the real meaning of Christmas? We’ve come a long way since 1965.
How about celebrity covers of Christmas carols? Pre-1975 or so, A-list singers like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Perry Como, Dion, the Carpenters, John Denver, Elvis Presley—so many of them recorded explicitly Christian or traditional carols. Apart from the country music realm (which remains the last bastion of faith-friendly artists and songs), the last thing today’s pop singers want is baby Jesus cluttering up their “holiday albums.”
The real money, so they think, lies crooning about with Frosty and Friends. We Christians have the mammon-hungry secularists to thank for keeping Christmas before us each year. Too bad they can’t help themselves from piping the very merry Muzak two minutes after Halloween is over.