The year is nearing its end, which means people across America are counting down the days of shopping left till Christmas to buy presents for their friends and loved ones. But the majority of the country’s population has probably been well aware of the holiday’s fast approach by the decorations that have been flocking store fronts for well over a month now. If you don’t happen to be a part of the whopping 2% of the American population that call themselves Jews, you may not be aware that the annual gift-giving Jewish holiday Hanukkah (or Chanukah) has already come and past.
Yes, the eight crazy nights came early this year (or came at their normal time if you go by the Hebrew calendar) and began Dec. 1. Commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE, as well as the miracle of one day’s worth of oil burning for eight straight days, Hanukkah is actually a relatively minor Jewish holiday in terms of its religious significance. Its significance has mainly grown instead because of Jewish families wanting to prevent their children from feeling left out of Christmas gift giving.
And so as not to further exclude Jews and other non-Christians in this nation from the joyous December celebrations, we began saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” as we do like to be so politically correct. Though everywhere you look you can still see visions of fat, bearded men and candies colored red and green, and even a National White House Christmas Tree that has graced the home for generations. At this point I should add that Christmas is actually recognized as an official federal holiday despite the First Amendment’s prohibition of the making of any law “respecting an establishment of religion?” So despite the fact that the majority of Americans define themselves as Christian, as a nation founded on the concept of freedom of religion, mustn’t we evaluate the significant role Christmas has played and continues to play in our government, media, advertising and other so-called “secular” environments?
The subject of Christmas and its celebration has actually sparked controversy since the Puritan era, but the main argument in the past came from those concerned with preserving the essence of Christmas. In other words, they were upset that the focus had turned to Pagan elements of candles, holly and mistletoe rather than the special boy that was born on that day. Today, the argument has evolved to concern itself more with the fact that public recognition of such a sectarian holiday may be non-inclusive or further, offensive, to those who do not include themselves in the celebration of the holiday. Thus came the insertion of the more generic “holiday” terms and the increased censorship, aversion, and overall “war” on Christmas in the early 2000s, as it has been deemed by the media.
More recently, however, there has been a backlash on public efforts to secularize the holiday season. Corporations including Wal-Mart, Target, the Gap and Home Depot have all been criticized within the past decade for their choice to avoid use of the word “Christmas” in holiday advertising initiatives, and in almost all cases, changes were subsequently made to include prominent references to Christmas. Just this year, Wachovia Bank instituted a policy to ban Christmas trees from its local branches, which was quickly revoked after angry reactions from customers and employees who took offense. And suddenly, we’re offending the offenders.
So there we have the past and the present not-so-secular situation in terms of the Christmas controversy, but what about the future and what kind of impact will Gen Y have on it? Pew published another study this year titled, “Religion Among the Millennials,” in which it found that young Americans are “considerably less religious than older Americans,” and that 1 in 4 Americans ages 18 to 29 are unaffiliated with any particular faith. The statistics are not just relevant to this youthful, and oh-so-generalized anti-institution period of life either, as according to Pew, “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle … and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults.” Will this autonomous mentality finally lead to a truly secular American society?