December 29, 2008

December 29, 2008 | Commentary on Family and Marriage

Holiday naysayers

Christians in the United States have finally started fighting back against the "Happy Holidays" movement. And about time it is; any public displays of the religious significance of the holiday are now so rare that when my 2-year-old daughter was asked who was born at Christmas, the inevitable answer was "Santa!" Sadly her logic was impeccable. There must be dozens of Santas for every Christmas creche on display. Encouragingly, Christians are fighting back to reclaim Christmas for Jesus - or as one sign on rural Virginia Route 609 in Madison County aptly puts it, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season."

It is equally heartwarming to contemplate the fact that around the world, the celebration of Christmas is making strides. As Christianity has declined in Europe and remains under attack by liberals and atheists in the United States as well, in other parts of the world the message of Christmas is being heard and Christianity is spreading. Today, 2 billion people around the world identify themselves as Christians, a full one-third of humanity. (This compares to 19 percent who are Muslim.) Among Americans, 75 percent identify themselves as Christians.

But Christmas was not always observed in this country. Some of the first colonists, the Puritans of Massachusetts, roundly condemned the practice, considering it heathen and sacrilegious. For 22 years in the early days of the colony, Christmas was officially banned, - a step taken by William Bradford to contain the rioting, drunkenness and rowdiness that accompanied the celebrations as inherited from the Puritans' English background.

"For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county," so reads the records of the General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony, May 11, 1659.

The celebration of Christmas, however, prevailed and around the world tonight, tomorrow and in some religious communities on Jan. 6, the birth of Jesus is a cause for religious observance, family celebrations and goodwill among strangers. Peace on Earth, unfortunately, has been harder to come by.

In China, home to the world's fastest-growing Christian communities, Christmas is celebrated in homes with stockings, a tree of light decorated with lanterns and exchanges of gifts between family members. Though the official persecution of Christians by the Communist regime continues, there are now an estimated 54 million Christians in China, of which 39 million are Protestants and 14 million are Roman Catholics. In a few centuries, Christianity could be predominantly a Chinese religion.

In Cuba, Christmas can again be celebrated, but has been allowed only for a decade since the Cuban Revolution, dating precisely back to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1997. While the number of Christians in the 11 million Cuban population is limited, the joy and fellowship of Christmas has been warmly embraced by Cubans whose other causes for celebrations are generally few and far between.

And in democratic Iraq, which is a rare example of religious tolerance in the Arab world, the celebration of Christmas and the observance of Christian worship are now possible. The country held its first ever official Christmas celebration this year. At the celebration, an Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, remarked, "All Iraqis are Christian today!" The festivities were announced by a giant billboard featuring Jesus.

Unfortunately, the persecution of Christians and the attack on Christmas itself is still a reality. In most Arab countries, celebration of Christmas, except of the most private nature, is out of the question. In Croatia, Christmas was outlawed this year by a cash-strapped government that in one fell swoop outlawed all holidays and celebrations in a budget-saving measure.

And here in the United States, it takes a concerted effort by Christians to reclaim the holiday from those who perversely consider its "tidings of comfort and joy" to be exclusionary and who have just about chased its observance from the public square.

The strength of Christianity, however, is its persistence through opposition and persecution. In that spirit, allow me to wish my readers a "Merry Christmas!"

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in the Washington Times