There has been a steady flow of point, counterpoint, juke, Jesus-juke, back and forth over Starbucks’ alleged campaign to end all things sacred and, along with the Grinch, steal every morsel of Christmas loving cheer from every little boy and girl down in Whooville. Did Starbucks remove “Christmas” from its festive red cup? Was there a second shooter on the grassy knoll? Can God create a stone that is too heavy for him to lift? These seem like fair and important questions.
For starters, even if they did drop Christmas from their holiday paper cup they do still have a featured “Christmas Blend” which retains the title. But isn’t the very same slimy thing happening when some secular mealy-mouthed marketeer prints “Merry X-mas” on advertisements? Is this not blatant blasphemy of the highest degree? Shan’t we summon a tribunal? But as anyone proficient in New Testament Greek, as most people naturally are these days, can tell you the first Greek letter in spelling Christ is Chi, which actually looks like “X.”
So, there you have it, no harm, no foul. Bada bing, bada boom.
But doesn’t some of this restless culture-war paranoia reveal a deeper issue? We’re so engulfed in commercialism and materialism that we actually think the meaning of Christmas hangs in the balance of a coffee cup and in the nomenclature of shopping ads. Should we really expect a pluralistic society to salute our deepest convictions about the nature of reality? Just how orthodox can we expect Macy’s to become every winter? Can’t they put aside all their sales quotas and marketing incentives and target demographics and simply acquiesce to Evangelicals?
C.S. Lewis pokes at this nerve in his satirical essay Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Heroditus, which is a fictional account of people fighting over similar issues. Lewis speaks directly to the heart of our holiday hustle in his essay What Christmas Means to Me:
Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians, but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business. . . . I mean of course the commercial racket.
Lewis outlines four issues with the modern celebration of Christmas in the expectation of everyone exchanging cards or gifts with everyone else from close friends to mere acquaintances. Lewis says this practice (1) gives on the whole more pain than pleasure, that (2) most of it is involuntary sort of like holiday blackmail where you are obliged to return a card or gift to anyone who gives one to you, (3) it creates a demand for poor craftsmanship as we give cheap and gaudy gifts no one in their right mind would normally buy for themselves, and (4) it is a nuisance and a waste of time that could be better spent in more nobel endeavors.
I think if Lewis were alive today he might add a fifth point, that in our holiday shopping spree we expect every merchant and every cashier to salute our whirlwind of winter activities and christen it as an act of true devotion with two magical words: Merry Christmas. When they fail to recognize the validity of our nonsense we are outraged. Maybe we can chill just a little and instead of taking to social media to decry every slight and offense, we can seek a little serenity where we might reflect on the history-altering cataclysmic event of the Incarnation: the Word become flesh.