Yesterday on an NPR top-of-the-hour news report, I heard a piece about orthodox Christians celebrating Christmas in former communist, Soviet Bloc nations. The reporter said that Christmas is these countries is purely a religious celebration, not a retail bonanza. Gift-giving and commercialism are centered around the celebration of the New Year rather than Christmas, a legacy of the communist era when the governments encouraged the celebration of secular holidays and stiffled the celebration of religious holidays.
I’m no fan of state-sponsored oppression of religion, but by greatly restricting the celebration of Christmas the state effectively ended the commercialisation of this religious holiday (they shifted the commercialism to New Year’s, instead). And, after years of repression, the holiday is now resurrected in a more pure form, a simply religious affair, not tainted by marketing and business interests. What a gift.
"God-less communism" created a post-Christian era of sorts in those Soviet-bloc nations. I am not afraid of the post-Christian era, of Christianity becoming a minority religion in America. In fact, I would welcome it. Christianity has its origins as a minority, oppressed religion – it was shaped and formed in that context – and when it becomes the religion of the status quo, we lose touch with its essential character. Our society and government have co-opted Christianity and Christmas by diluting it into some safe, secular celebration of niceties and gift-giving.
And rather than the Evangelical agenda, which seems to be one of transforming our society into a more pious, religious society, I would rather call our government and society to butt out of religion rather than bastardize it. Give us room to celebrate our faith, but otherwise leave our tradition and religion alone. Get the Christmas tree out of the town square, the Ten Commandments off the couthouse building, and "In God We Trust" off our money. It is not helpful when government embraces the name and symbols and rituals of religion for its purposes. These things belong to the religious sphere, not the public sphere, and we’d like them back.