Let me begin this post by offering a couple of disclaimers:
First, I am not one of those folks who believe in a government or other such conspiracy to remove the Christian element of Christmas from the public sector. I know well and full that we live in a country of religious freedom, and I am aware of our Constitution's explicit statement forbidding the government to establish or prohibit the expression of religious freedom.
Second, I know we are a country of many faith traditions. Each person celebrates religious holidays differently, and I respect each person for doing so. I respect the fact that I have friends who do not celebrate Christmas, and I wish them well as they celebrate whatever traditions they have religious and otherwise.
Thirdly, I believe we have the freedom to choose how we wish to celebrate things and how we do not wish to celebrate things. If I thought my kids were being led to do something that was against my religious principles, I would withdraw them from that experience.
Putting all that out there, I now must share my first experience with a public school Christmas (if you can call it that) program.
Last night, I had that wonderful experience as my oldest daughter participated in the first grade, kindergarten, and pre-school holiday program (I can't bear to call it a Christmas program). O.K. I'll admit that the program was cute. Santa fell off his sleigh at the South Pole, got knocked on the noggin, and got a severe case of amnesia. The penguins, Christmas trees, and elves all tried to help him remember what he was supposed to be doing on Christmas--giving out presents so that all the children wouldn't be disappointed. The emperor penguin eventually shows up, hypnotizes Santa, and restores his memory. Christmas is saved! Yay!!!
Oh there were some really cute songs that the kids sang. They were very enjoyable. But as I sat there, I thought about what was being conveyed in this program. Christmas was reduced to a fat man in a red suit bringing presents to good children. There were a few comments thrown in there about peace and goodwill toward all folks, but those seemed pretty out of place. I mean, why worry about peace and goodwill when the tragedy was that Santa couldn't deliver his gifts to the kids?
There were comments about the "magical" nature of Christmas. Really? What's so magic about it when everything is reduced to getting gifts? Those gifts better be awfully nice in order for things to become truly magical. For me, Christmas isn't going to be too magical unless I walk outside and see a Ford Mustang GT convertible. That will make it truly magical and wonderful.
You could start calling me a "Bah Humbug" about right now, but I don't think that's the case. I'm just too infused with the real meaning and purpose of Christmas, I think. I'm much like Charlie Brown walking around and seeing all the stuff that has built up around Christmas and saying, "Christmas is too commercial. Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?!!"
It certainly isn't about Santa Claus.
It certainly isn't about penguins helping him gain his memory back.
It certainly isn't about getting presents.
And yet, this is what it's been reduced too in many circles.
My heart has been captured by the viral Youtube video of the group singing Handel's "Alleluia Chorus" in that Canadian Mall. I've watched it every day for the past couple of weeks. There is something about that video that captures my heart when I think about Christmas. Perhaps its the willingness of these folks to sing a religious carol in the middle of a public square. Perhaps it's the expressions on the faces of the people around. Perhaps it's the joy on the expressions of many of the singers.
In my view of things (and it is a huge assumption on my part) I think that joy is because of their relationship with that baby born on Christmas morning. In my mind, I see them singing and proclaiming their faith in the middle of a culture which seeks to minimize it. I see them standing proud, showing that their lives are changed in some small way by their faith.
Ah, but how to convey this at a school program? How do we take the message of Christmas into an arena where the courts have prohibited Christians from singing Christmas Carols?
I understand why. I know why. If I were Jewish, I wouldn't want my kids singing hymns about the arrival of the Messiah when I believed he hadn't come yet. If I were atheist, I wouldn't want my kids learning about something that I believed was a total myth. Yet, would I deprive those who believe such things deeply from bringing that forth even at a public event? Hmmm.
There was a moment last night when I was awfully tempted to stand up immediately following the program and begin singing "O Come All Ye Faithful". I wondered how it might be received. I wondered if folks would understand why I was singing. I confess it would have been much easier had I known others would have been there to join in, but for me, I guess, it was my own silent desire to bring my faith out into the public arena. It was my own desire to proclaim the real reason for Christmas. Forget the penguins. Forget the fat man in the red suit. Forget the reindeer. Forget the Christmas trees.
Let's take a moment to remember why we wish to promote peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. –Isaiah 6:9