With FOX News seeking to expose those who refuse to say “Merry Christmas” as secular collaborators to the War on Christmas, I confess that I am confused. FOX holds itself up as the network that stands by traditional values defending America and faith from heresies and infidelities of all sorts.
Did FOX get the wrong memo? According to ancient Christian tradition, “Christmas” is not the December shopping season in advance of Christmas Day; rather, it is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Twelve Days following that run until early January. During most of December, Christians observe Advent, a four-week season of reflection, preparation and waiting that precedes the yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth.
Diana Butler Bass commits the logical fallacy of a sweeping generalisation when she says that “(all) Christians observe Advent”. They don’t, for reasons that long antedate Fox News, the Huffington Post or even a venerable liberal organ like the Nation.
To properly celebrate Advent, you have to be in a church that follows the liturgical year. Now like Linux, the liturgical year has a single kernel but many distros, so you have the Roman Catholic distro, the traditional Anglican distro, the Episcopalian distro, the Orthodox distros, etc. (I think the Episcopalians have become their own OS, but I digress…) Advent–the penitential and anticipatory time before Christmas–is in the kernel.
Starting with the Reformation (unless, of course, you’re a Baptist succession adherent) some churches began to reject the liturgical year along with the liturgy. They did so because they felt that both were man-made. Generally they would pare down what was celebrated to Christmas and Easter. Some over the edge (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses) don’t even celebrate those. There was a time not too long ago when these churches wouldn’t countenance anything like Advent, its wreath or a reasonable facsimile. A few still take that position.
That rejection–along with the secularisation of the holiday that started in the nineteenth century–made it easy for the culture to forget about Advent and its sombre ways. But it’s one thing to start the Christmas celebration the day after Thanksgiving (or earlier for shopping malls). It’s quite another to pitch any reference to our Saviour in favour of the Solstice or Winter Holiday, and that’s what the current culture war has been all about.
In recent years there has been a softening of attitude towards Advent by churches which have up to now refused to acknowledge its existence. Some of this can be attributed to die-hard Episcopalians like Lisa Robertson going on her Baptist father-in-law’s show and doing presentations like this. But old habits die hard. FoxNews’ non-emphasis on Advent isn’t a war, but represents the understanding of Christmas in our culture.
Personally I’m glad to see a broadening of Advent’s understanding among Christians of all types. Bass’ attempt to create a “War on Advent” is absurd. But it’s worthy of note that many of the churches which resisted Advent also resisted state sanctioned and enforced religion, and in a country where the government expands while trying to become everyone’s god, that’s a war that’s worth fighting.