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My Take: The case against starting Christmas in November
November 19th, 2010
11:56 AM ET

My Take: The case against starting Christmas in November

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I am fine with Jesus being the reason for the season, but does it have to last for two months?

A week or two ago, one of the radio stations where I live on Cape Cod, Coast 93.3, switched its format over to Christmas songs. As I am writing this, Wham! has just finished “Last Christmas” and Hall & Oates’ “Jingle Bell Rock” is still ringing in my ears.

This confuses me. Is there really demand out there in radioland for non-stop Christmas carols for four weeks in November and another four in December? The Christmas season used to kick in right after Thanksgiving. Now it can barely wait for Halloween.

Don’t get me wrong. Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” turns me on as much as the next guy. But for nearly two months? Isn’t that a bit too much of a good thing?

In the Christian liturgical calendar, there is of course a month of preparation for the incarnation of Jesus. I remember lighting the four purple candles on the Advent Wreath in preparation for the coming of Jesus in the Episcopal church where I grew up. And I remember it as magic.

Advent is not Christmas, however, and you don’t sing Christmas carols during the four Sunday services before Christmas. “O Holy Night” (which, by the way, was just sung on 93.3 by Josh Groban) refers not to November 24 but to Christmas Eve. And when Bing Crosby croons (as he did for me a few minutes ago), “It’s Christmas once more,” he isn’t right until the 25th of December.

A few years ago Bill O’Reilly invited me on “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss the religious ignorance of American citizens. He was decrying the “war on Christmas” at the time, so he asked me about that, too. I told him I was pretty sure Christmas would survive whatever attack it was enduring. If local radio is any indication, I was right. Christmas, I am unhappy to report, seems hell-bent on colonizing November.

I am no anti-Christmas culture warrior. I love the Christmas Eve service, the faces of expectant kids on Christmas morning, and the story of a God who is one of us (sort of). But it’s not ritual or theology that are stretching Christmas to the breaking point—it’s Macy’s and Madison Avenue and Silly Bandz and Stinky the Garbage Truck and Coast 93.3.

Whatever war on Christmas we are enduring is being waged by retailers and advertisers, not secular humanists. According to Percy Faith & His Orchestra, “We Need a Little Christmas.” I think we need a little less.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Christmas • Culture wars • Episcopal • Opinion • United States

soundoff (145 Responses)
  1. Bernie

    Beats the hell out of kids blasting hip hop or rap all the time.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • mohammy

      hahahha bernie you old fart knocker

      November 21, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I'm a "kid" (I'm very mature for my age), and I listen to classical, classic rock, the blues, jazz, world, and Renaissance music, you name it except I hate rap and hip-hop. And it does beat that garbage excuse for music. Go Renaissance!

      November 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • mohammy

      oh chase you're so cute! so mature for your age!

      November 22, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I'm going to take that as a compliment (even though I know that it really wasn't) and not say anything else in this reply. Thank you, Mohammy.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  2. too much, though

    No one here seems to get out much. You think November 1 is soon? I had been doing errands just a FEW DAYS AFTER LABOR DAY WEEKEND, and Macy's and Kohl's already had their full-fledged Christmas displays out with decorated trees and everything!!!

    At this rate, "Christmas in July" won't just be a quaint idea, it'll be the norm for starting Christmas preparations.

    Sad, really. When you think about it, except for those few who really do enjoy celebrating Christmas all year long, the ONLY ones who WANT to celebrate Christmas so early before the actual date, are the retail companies. Takes some of the fun out of it.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  3. C.B.

    As soon as Halloween hit in Oregon, all the stores started displaying Halloween AND Christmas decorations side by side. I understand most people want to get a jump-start on saving and buying this holiday season, but I want to enjoy one holiday at a time. This rush of "buy me! buy this! buy that! ooh i have to have that!" is just a slaughter on my expectations of how we as a society can take time to appreciate everything once in a while. I don't mind people getting excited, but pushing the holiday upon me and others way before we've even celebrated our last major autumn holiday is like skipping from the appetizer and drinks over the main course and straight to dessert.
    I was raised Catholic and despite upholding my traditions in putting up a tree and for a brief amount of time wishing people the best of times to come, I'd rather know that the consumerism that is rampant out there can be toned down just a touch. I"m not a fan of singing Santas and the radio stations blaring the same ol' Christmas songs every year while I am at work.

    People, let's tone it down and take it slow. Have a happy holiday.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  4. ayk

    I like Christmas songs, but not on November. I believe in the preparation of Jesus'birth which is the Advent. .Do you sing Happy Birthday 2 months before the actual birthday ?

    November 19, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  5. doug Markham

    Pay attention when you feel like. This early stuff is like AARP telling you're old at 50. If you feel old, join AARP. If you want to start Christmas in the summer, go for it.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • too much, though

      I agree. Except for the fact that ever since I turned 40 several months ago, I keep getting AARP mailings and unsolicited AARP emails! I'm not even 50, I'm 40! Yeesh.

      November 19, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
  6. Nerd4Life

    As I drove with my Husband through several states for our annual road trip we had to constantly switch radio channels due change in frequencies and to both our horrors the only music that was available to hear as we went through a part of Pennsylvania was Christmas music i screeched from mortification and my husband slammed the radio off. I'm in my mid twenties and do not remember Christmas showing up before Halloween when i was younger and it has to stop. The media has totally hijacked Christmas and I want it put right back to were it should go.I feel that we need to keep Christmas AFTER Thanksgiving so that we focus on the meaning of those Holidays and not use them as days to plan our shopping.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Nerd4Life: Were you in Bethlehem, PA? They are big on Christmas. But I have to say, they do it really well. I went shopping there last year. It was like a postcard.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  7. John Q. Public

    These people turn their bogus religious holiday in to a monster..... One that needs to be taken down.....

    November 19, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I am not agreeing or disagreeing with you, for starters. I am a Christian, so I celebrate Christ's birth. So I don't call it a "bogus holiday". I think that it has become a monster through retailers, and other such people. And, like I stated in another reply, if we take it down, or move it, it would screw up our whole calendar system. Hanukkah and Christmas are the whole reason I get two weeks off (and a huge test before) during winter.

      November 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  8. john

    Here in l.a. they stores had xmas stuff out BEFORE Halloween stuff hit the shelves! Often the two were side by side. Then NOV 1 the malls had xmas trees and decor out already, the music is everywhere. I know Thanksgiving is not a big money maker for them but I prefer my xmas to NOT begin before the day after Thanksgiving. Even in the Macy's parade santa comes in at the close as they used to say to "Usher in the xmas season" yeah right. And if this year is anything like last year all the xmas stuff in stores will be gone weeks before dec 25th!

    November 19, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  9. trixen

    I agree... it's the advertisers and retailers who want us to start Christmas early. This year, I went into a Walgreens on November 1 and they already had Christmas ornaments up. I was like, "HUH?! Did we skip Thanksgiving or something?" Then I realized something... Walgreens doesn't sell turkeys...DUH!! The Christmas ornaments are up to remind you to do some Christmas shopping–hopefully there. By Christmas, we'll all be tired of it.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  10. An Optimist

    Well, I'm not even Christian for one, but I do wholly enjoy the holiday season. I understand the message of giving, good will and good cheer, and in this day and age why is it such a bad thing to have so much of a good thing? It might be overkill in some peoples eyes, but honestly, this whole time is about being happy. Enjoy it. I'd rather have too much of a good thing than none of a good thing at all. If you get what I'm saying.

    November 19, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  11. Reality

    Anytime is a good time to get into the Xmas spirit. My parish for example has a "Christmas in July" donation tree.

    "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (of course excluding Stepen P)!!!

    And I just watched Oprah give away over $5000 in gifts to every one of her guests, all done in a Xmas motif.

    So what if it is all based on the embellished and "mythicized" life of a long-dead, simple, preacher, Jewish man!!!

    November 19, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  12. Tim N

    I am a "born again" follower of Christ and agree with this article. Actually, I would take it even further. As Christians, why do we spend a month (now about 2 months) celebrating Christmas and only a day (possibly 2-3 days) celebrating Easter and the Resurrection of Christ. There are 2 books in the New Testament that mention Christ's birth (Matthew and Luke). Yet all 4 Gospels and most of Paul (and other's) letters talk about "Easter". This means the early church put far more emphasis on Easter than it did Christmas. I think we should do the same and reverse the amount of time we celebrate each holiday (i.e. 1-2 days for Christmas and 2 months for Easter).

    November 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving Christians From the Big Resurrection Con:

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology grad school notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      The single Step continued:

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
      http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      So where are the bones? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus very possibly would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      o

      November 19, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • fuyuko

      Personally, never much cared for easter, and would much rather celebrate Jesus' birth than his death.

      November 20, 2010 at 12:22 am |
    • Debbie

      This is actually for the person who left an 'o' as his/her signature: There are too many people and books out there that are fooling a lot of people. The words are spoken so eloquently and people are lapping it up like hungry dogs. It all comes down to the truth. And the only place you can find that truth is in God's Word..............no where else. Don't be afraid to search the scriptures in whole, not just picking a choosing out of context...........or are you afraid of what you might find?

      November 20, 2010 at 12:31 am |
    • George Thore

      Why, Easter, too???? He did NOT resurrect on a SUNday, as X-tians say. He, plainly, said He would be in the tomb for 3 days & 3 nights–72hrs. Before sunset on Friday 'til before sunrise on SUNday is only 36hrs–you do the math, on your own time. No matter how you figure, there's a BIG problem with 'easter' weekend, as the X-tians teach. That was addopted from Pagans, also.

      December 10, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  13. Iqbal khan

    "What Jesus Really Say"..... Read and download for free! on Amazon.com this book is about 35 dollars

    http://www.islamhouse.com/p/193556

    November 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • mohammy

      "what jesus really say."

      is it narrarated by cavemen? the ones from the geico commercials?

      November 22, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  14. Cyrus

    Why aren't there any fun songs for Chanukah. Us Jews have no fun! 🙁

    November 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • Scott

      I know a song in Ladino called "Ocho Kandelikas" (eight little candles) for Hanukkah. We sang it in high school choir, it's actually a pretty fun song, you should look it up on Youtube.

      November 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
    • Kana

      What about Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights and the driedel song?

      November 19, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
    • vonspoo

      Hanukkah rocks! jelly donuts! fried food! kugel! chocolate gelt! mmmm gelt... bare naked ladies has 2 hanukkah songs even. i make a fresh challah ever day for the holiday. and nope, i'm not a jew... or a christian even. we just celebrate both holidays in our house tho.

      November 20, 2010 at 12:25 am |
    • Frogist

      @Cyrus: South Park has that "Lonely Jew at Christmas" song... Don't know if that counts!

      November 22, 2010 at 9:10 am |
    • chronoslinger

      ever heard of "The Leevees"? They made a Hanukah cd, with such songs as "How do you spell Hanukah", "Applesauce vs. Sourcream", "Latke Clan" and "Goyim Friends", it is a gret CD and give Hanukah more songs than just "Dreidel". Look it up!

      November 24, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • chronoslinger

      Oh yeah the cd is called "Hanukah Rocks"

      November 24, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • George Thore

      Maybe, it's because it's supposed to be as a remembrance–not joy!!

      December 10, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  15. David Johnson

    I like it that the shops say: "Happy Holidays".

    Holidays are fun. I like extending the holiday season for as long as possible.

    We need more reasons to drink!

    Booze is the reason for the season. Booze is real!

    November 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Frogist

      LOL!@David Johnson: Do you like eggnog? Last year we got a bottle of Punch a Creme from a cousin. That stuff will knock you flat on your a$$! Good stuff.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  16. Cathy Clark

    I agree whole-heartedly as well. Two days before Halloween, our grocery store was stocking the Christmas candy – "just to be ready." For what? Apparently the corporation decreed they should put it out extra-early this year. When I was a kid, there was a definite progression of holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, then Christmas. Now we have santa in the aisle next to skulls and witches hats, and Thanksgiving is just about a giant turkey and a parade squished in between.

    November 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • Norcalfellow

      I think the scariest costume I saw at my door on Halloween was this guy dressed as Santa Claus.

      November 19, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
    • Yeah

      norcalfellow,

      Heheheh, yes, one time I went to a Halloween party dressed as Santa and said those exact words... "This is the scariest thing I can think of!"

      I start worrying about and dreading Christmas in September.

      November 19, 2010 at 11:03 pm |
  17. Frogist

    Allright you non-believers, hold on to your hats! Revelations abound! I love Christmas! I always have... I think it's the blatant capitalist in me. Not to mention the idea of perfect, non-judgemental, innocent, love against all odds. To me, that, above all, is what the Christmas story is about. This will be my first Christmas as an agnostic. I can't lie. So far I'm worried that it won't have as much joy as past years. I'm comforting myself by acknowledging that what I used to believe in (joy, hope, the ability for people to be kind and good) is still what I believe in. Just minus the judgmental superiority complex or exclusionary prejudices. I know this is the wrong forum, but anybody else know what I mean? Be kind. This is hard.

    November 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • civilioutside

      My wife and I are both atheists. But we still celebrate Christmas (as a secular holiday) for the joy and togetherness it fosters. Because happiness and kindness and a bit of time with family and friends are wonderful things to encourage, whether you believe the myths that underly the holiday or not.

      November 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • ScottK

      The funny thing is, athiests & agnostics can see Christmas for what it is, capitalism & consumerism, but its highly unlikely that if Jesus were here today that he would have anything to do with it. Makes me wonder who this holiday is really for, since the only numbers the news cares about during the holidays is which stores had the beast "season" being the 2 months prior to Christmas. This then sets the tone for hiring and profits into the first quarter of next year. They should rename it Pricemas.

      November 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
    • KentAZ

      Jesus is not and has never been "the reason for the season." Everyone should know by now that "Christmas" began not as the ostensible celebration of Christ's birth but rather a pagan festival to the Roman sun god.

      In the last 150 years or so it has been revived as a celebration of commercialism. Thus agnostics, atheists, Hindus, and others not claiming to adhere to Christianity are very comfortable participating in the Xmas tradition. Slogans such as "Put Christ back in Christmas" are therefore quite ironic, to say the least.

      November 19, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      So sad, Jesus is real. I know. I've met him.

      November 20, 2010 at 3:33 am |
    • Frogist

      Thanks for the responses.
      I do feel that it's more about time together with people you care about. And the consumerism is rampant. But I do love shopping! Even if it's not for me. We have so little money that we never buy a lot that's unnecessary, so Christmas gives me an excuse to shop. As for those "put Christ back in Christmas" people... I often wonder what they mean. It seems if they celebrate it with all the Christian trappings, why do they need to force others to celebrate it their way. I always think what they really mean is they want govt facilities and public inst!tutions to put up exclusively Christian decorations and not say "Happy Holidays" but Merry "Christmas". That always seemed a bit arrogant to me.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:06 am |
    • Chase Dorway

      @KentAZ The date was chosen for the Roman Sun god, but the reason they made the holiday was for the birth of Jesus. No one really knows which date He was born, and if we found out, that would totally mess up our whole calendar system. I just wanted to throw that out there.

      November 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  18. Daniel

    We live in a society driven by a consumer economy, and gift-giving at Christmas (while a lovely custom) has spawned a cultural phenomenon where retailers milk the season for all that it is worth. That is forgivable – many make the bulk of their annual profits on Christmas sales – but it leads in general to a "holiday season" that runs from Hallowe'en to New Year's Eve.

    I like Christmas, though I personally celebrate its older cousin, Yuletide, and even will give it a full twelve days. But I don't like to see the frenzy of commercially-driven hype that assaults us for two months out of every year.

    November 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  19. St. John the Lutheran?

    I agree 100%! Seriously, this is a battle that goes on in my house – it's not unusual to hear my wife singing a Christmas song to the kids in October. If she had her way, Christmas would last 12 months a year. To me, Christmas is like chocolate – it's wonderful and we love it. But, if we had to eat it every meal, we'd get sick of it real fast. I'm almost there with Christmas. I do not want Christmas to lose its "specialness", but if they keep hammering me over the head with it for 8 to 10 weeks a year, at some point I feel I'm going become a cynical as old Ebeneezer.

    November 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Frogist

      @St John: Us Christmas people are irritating that way! 😉 Your wife and I would get along well!
      Radio stations don't bother me cuz I can change the station or turn on Pandora. It does get irritating to see Christmas-themed commercials on tv so early though. It feels out of season since Thanksgiving isn't even here yet. But in truth, I don't really get tired of Christmas! It's fun and I love the shopping mall displays. I'm a sucker for a fuzzy hat. And yes, I have my own elf costume.

      November 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • George Thore, Sr

      Can YOU support X-mas from Scripture, only? I think NOT, buddy. He was NOT born in the dead of winter; because Mary and Joseph, and the wise men would have froze to death, on their trips to Bethlehem!!! X-mas is of PAGAN origin, and adopted by X-tianity, plain and simple. If not, SHOW ME!!!!

      December 10, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  20. josephine

    lol prothero gets turned on by santa baby hahahahahahahaha!

    November 19, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      It is funny how christians think secular humanists and non-theists are attacking Xmas, yet it is the christians themselves with all of their commercial advertisement and selling ploys. christians themselves use their beloved jc to sell their wares.

      Th holiday season is really a celebration of the winter solstice. Historians think that if jesus truly existed, he was probably born in the spring! The romans used christianity as an easy tool to keep expanding their empire. christianity was an easier sell than the polytheistic religion of the greeks/romans. However, the roman christians had no problem assimilating other religions by making deals. Most of the Xmas traditions are actually celtic and northern european traditions that were NOT christian at all.

      It is funny to think that christians are actually celebrating pagan/druidic/celtic rituals concerning the glorious Winter Solstice. IGNORANCE is bliss, LOL

      December 3, 2010 at 11:32 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.