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HomePersonalDon't Be Hatin' on Santa! How Secular Symbols Help Us Celebrate Christmas

Don’t Be Hatin’ on Santa! How Secular Symbols Help Us Celebrate Christmas

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“I prefer a Christ-centered Christmas,” wrote a friend of mine today on social media, “than a Santa-based Christmas.”

I too prefer a Christ-centered Christmas. (In fact, I prefer a Christ-centered life!)

But at the same time, people should be grateful for — and not judgy of — the contributions that the secondary symbols of Christmas (such as Santa) contribute to the world during the Christmas holidays.

The U.S. Supreme Court v. Christmas

There are two main cases where SCOTUS ruled on the legality of nativity scenes on government-owned property.

In Allegheny v. ACLU, two holiday displays on public land were challenged: one inside the Allegheny County Courthouse, Pennsylvania, and the other outside the building.

SCOTUS ruled that the indoor display violated the Establishment Clause (often referred to as “separation of church and state”), but the outdoor display did not. Huh?!

  • The indoor display was themed “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and every symbol in the display (which again, was on government property) was not just overtly religious, but was biased toward one faith: Christianity.
  • The outdoor display, however, included secondary symbols of Christmas (like a Christmas tree), and symbols of other faiths (like a menorah). In other words, the outdoor display could not be construed as a government endorsement of just one religion.

In Lynch v. Donnelly, SCOTUS ruled that a Rhode Island Nativity scene did not violate the Establishment Clause because the Christmas display included Santa, reindeer, and other secular symbols of Christmas.

Imagine that!

Were it not for Santa, there would be no acknowledgment in public of Christmas at all. Just think about how that would diminish the spirit of the holidays!

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””] “I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”
— Charlie Brown (from the 1965 tv movie “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) [/box]

Every year without fail, even secular Christmas symbols remind the world that this is the time of year when Christians celebrate that Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Secondary symbols of Christmas are not a bad thing, so stop thinking they are!

Of all Christians, Latter-day Saints should be the most grateful for the secondary symbols of Christmas, and for how they help turn the world’s attention to the birth of the Savior. Why? Because Latter-day scripture teaches us:

“… all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual…. all things bear record of me”
— Moses 6:63.

Think of it this way: if you acknowledge Christmas in ANY way — be it with Santa, Rudolf, Frosty, Grinch, Scrooge, Charlie Brown, Jimmy Stewart, Macaulay Culkin, etc., you are still acknowledging Christmas. Right?

Of course, these secondary symbols of Christmas are not exactly “herald angels,” but they are still so much better than the alternative: letting the world forget He lived.

What Would Jesus Do?

Before His martyrdom, Jesus celebrated 33 birthdays. Ask yourself: how did Jesus probably celebrate those “Christmases”?

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””] “There’s room for everyone on the Nice List!”
— Buddy (from the 2003 movie “Elf”) [/box]

Given that Jesus went to synagogue, and observed Jewish holidays, customs, and traditions in other things (despite their shortcomings), it seems likely that Jesus would have celebrated His birth according to the traditions and norms of His world.

So I have to wonder:

  • Does Jesus think that us watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “The Grinch” or “Elf” means we are not as devout Christians as we should be?
  • Do we disappoint Jesus when we get Christmas trees, decorate our houses, etc. instead of decorating exclusively with the art of the Redeemer?
  • Or does Jesus see traditions that bring families together to create memories as worthy enough — even if we aren’t reading Luke 2 the whole time?

Don’t misunderstand: I am NOT advocating that families cut Christ out of holiday observances, nor am I saying that the secondary symbols of Christmas be elevated above the Lord.

But for over three hundred years, it never even occurred to the early Christians to celebrate Christ’s birth every year, so can’t we just be grateful that so many people are doing it now?

Of course, I cannot speak for Jesus, but it would not matter to me whether you celebrate my birthday with cake and ice cream, or by sending me a message. Just knowing that you are thinking about me, and acknowledging my existence, would make me grateful.

For people with the right perspective, the secondary symbols of Christmas can very much be a significant part of a Christ-centered Christmas — if we choose to make it so.

Thanks for listening.

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””] Klara Novak: All my knowledge came from books, and I’d just finished a novel about a glamorous French actress from the Comedie Francaise. That’s the theater in France. When she wanted to arouse a man’s interest, she treated him like a dog.
Alfred Kralik: Yes, well, you treated me like a dog.
Klara Novak: Yes, but instead of licking my hand, you barked.
— (From the 1940 movie “Shop Around the Corner”) [/box]


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Tom Pittman
Tom Pittman
Tom is a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a Native American (a member of the Tlingit tribe of southeast Alaska). Most of Tom's career has been as a technology executive for private and public sector organizations in Alaska and Utah.

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