Today’s is a more serious post. It’s the end of the second week of Advent. For some, this second week focuses on peace. Thinking about that, I wrote these thoughts earlier in the week.
The Mormons have an annual Light the World campaign this time of year with ways of adding goodness to your life and those in it leading up the Christmas. The guiding phrase for Dec. 8 [when I wrote this] is from the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”
I’ve been thinking about this today. Just as we should love our enemies, we should be wise about knowing who they are. Some people deliberately hurt, snub, criticize, or take advantage of us. A few actually pursue evil and fully intend to harm others. I think these people are the vast minority.
I have friends and family on both sides of the political spectrum, even extreme sides. In the past week alone, I have seen friends and family both lament and celebrate various political positions. I have my own opinion about each of these issues, but I respect and admire every single person I’m thinking of who has posted these things on both sides. In my estimation, they’re really good people–and I think I’m a decent judge of character.
A favorite mentor often says, “We all live complicated lives.” It’s true. Everyone I know is navigating all kinds of nuance, complexities, challenges, and unique situations. Us vs. them rhetoric flattens these complications and makes it easier to see people as enemies. Take, for example the so-called War on Christmas. Some would have us think that this is an actual war. I can’t speak for others’ experience, but I have been wished “Merry Christmas” by more people in the sometimes-perceived Babylon that is New York City than anywhere else in my life. On top of that, I’ve been wished “Merry Christmas” here by so many who aren’t Christian. New York City decks OUT. I mean, it really celebrates, and not only in commercialism. I confess that I was surprised to find, in my first Christmas season in the city, that the famous Rockettes show at Radio City Music Hall culminated with a live nativity scene (including real camels–which was probably my favorite part of the whole thing). In NYC, the most liberal place I have lived, I simply haven’t found this alleged War on Christmas (nor have I found it in Chicago, London, LA, etc.).
I have, however, come across a War on Christmas in my studies. In the middle of the 17th-century, the Puritans were gathering power in England’s Parliament and fighting against the king, Charles I, wanting, among other things, a purer form of religion. These are the Puritans from the same era and related movements that brought the Mayflower to the Americas. In 1643, in response to what they saw as the excesses of religious observance, these Puritans *canceled Christmas.*
Seriously. They straight up canceled Christmas. They recognized the birth of Jesus, but they argued that it should be a very solemn, non-festive event. For all the Whos down in Whoville, er, London, etc., feasting was banned. Christmas carols were prohibited. Shops weren’t allowed to sell Christmas stuff, not even traditional foods, like turkeys. Businesses were to remain open unless Christmas fell on a Sunday. Watchers were employed to look for excess smoke from chimneys as evidence of a yule log, and they were to report those households to the authorities. In one account even snowballs were outlawed. And the poor, who were traditionally treated to food by wealthy landowners (such as figgy pudding, as the song goes), were not to receive their Christmas treats. During some Christmases in the 1640s, they even ordered everyone to fast on Christmas day, just to try to ensure there wasn’t the traditional feasting. No holly and ivy garlands. No traditional Christmas plays and performances. No singing. No Christmas festivities.
I probably don’t need to tell you that it wasn’t a popular decree, but it was part of an actual war where they beheaded the king and took over the government. Fights and riots broke out over Christmas. People snuck holiday commemorations into their lives, and for a number of years being “merry” became a defiant political act. As Christians tried to police how each other should commemorate the holiday, Christmas got weaponized, and became a major influence in the English revolution.
Love your enemies, but be wise about who they really are.