Updated: January 2, 2013 6:08AM
As surely as December follows November, right-thinking critics among us have ramped up their annual lament over the secularization of Christmas. A slick publication that arrived this week decried Black Friday’s encroachment on Thanksgiving, the triumph of “Jingle Bells” over Advent’s penitent tones, and the near-total eclipse of anything genuinely sacred or theological about Christmas.
The culprits in this scenario? Socialist revolutionaries, said this writer, a movement bent on running God out of America and capturing the minds of its youth.
I have my own objections to rampant secularization, but can we really blame “socialist revolutionaries”? Most advertising for Black Friday came from Wal-Mart and its competitors. Amazom.com lured us to buy, buy, buy on-line on Cyber Monday. Weeks before, at a Walgreens store on All Saints Day (the day after Halloween as most would know it), I heard the first clear call to start the spending binge. For the rest of the day, chestnuts on a roasting fire plagued my brain and interrupted whatever thanks I might have raised for history’s sainted martyrs.
Last time I checked, Wal-Mart and Amazon had little cred in socialist revolutionary circles. So far as I know, neither has the NFL nor the sponsors of the endless college bowl games that have thoroughly co-opted Thanksgiving and converted the Twelve Days of Christmas into a marathon television soap we might call The BCS and Its Thirty-Odd Cousins.
Relentless capitalism has effectively rendered extinct the kind of holy time that went by the name “Sabbath,” the ancient day of rest when humankind and beast alike lifted neither finger nor paw to change the world. Today, any business that doesn’t operate 24/7 commits the unforgivable sin — forfeiting market share.
We never stop, except, perhaps, for funerals. Then, looking our finitude square in the eye, we experience holy time, if only for a moment.
Or maybe we don’t. Increasingly fewer families have funerals for loved ones, partly because they don’t have time for ceremonies. This week in Chicago, a gang-banger shot up a church where 500 people attended a rival gang member’s funeral, thus turning both sacred time and a holy place into a profane scene of vengeance and bloodshed.
Is nothing sacred? Almost, we may as well acknowledge, but not because of socialist revolutionaries. Instead, I would argue that we have collectively forgotten what makes something holy. It takes sacrifice, the action of giving something up or away for love.
Matrimony stays holy when we give up all other options we might savor for ourselves so as to keep faith with a partner who has entrusted the only life he or she will get on this earth into our frail hands. Holy time is kept when we give up all else we might be doing with this hour or this day that we shall never have back for a do-over and set it aside solely for being with someone, if only just to listen and give thanks.
Bloodshed and horror may profane a holy place, but when, caught up in a love we might scarcely understand, we can give away the anger that demands vengeance for vengeance, holiness returns, lives there, and breathes life and peace.
I don’t know how to run God off, although I’ve tried a few times and failed. I’m as guilty as anyone, however, of neglecting the practice of sacrifice, and in that negligence failing repeatedly to model for my children the means of receiving and knowing sacred times and holy things.
In any case, neither Wal-Mart nor a pack of socialist revolutionaries can wreck your holy season unless you let them.