December 24, 2009

The Evolution of Christmas

331986022_8bc197af5c_m.jpgMusician Michael Feinstein wrote an interesting op-ed in the New York Times last week titled "Whose Christmas Is It?" He described an experience some years ago in which he was performing Christmas concerts and was told by a member of the orchestra with which he was playing that his music program was "too Jewish." Feinstein noted that one can find evidence for the evolution of Christmas in how holiday music has changed over the years, becoming increasingly secular.

This notion of Christmas evolving and becoming increasing secular over time was interesting; however, the part of Feinstein's article that really caught my attention was this:
Many Christians feel that the true essence of Christmas has been lost, and I respect that opinion. It must be difficult to see religious tradition eroded in the name of commerce and further dissipated by others’ embrace of a holiday without a sense of what it truly means to the faithful.
This may come as a surprise, but I can respect this particular Christian opinion too. Even though I personally welcome the continued erosion of religious tradition, I recognize that this must be both disappointing and frustrating for those who see Christmas primarily as a religious holiday.

Of course, I also recognize that many Christians - probably the overwhelming majority in the U.S. - are complicit in the commercialization of Christmas. Contrary to the whining that one often hears this time of year, Christmas is the way it is largely become Christians have wholeheartedly embraced the materialism which pervades our culture of consumerism.

I disagree with Feinstein's suggestion that there is anything "universal" about "the spirit of the holiday," but he is certainly right that traditions are going to be diluted as a result of our increasingly multicultural society. That is inevitable. Even more dilution will occur so long as the majority of Christians focus more on the materialistic aspects of their holiday than the religious.

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