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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. Janice W.

    "But for nearly two months? Isn’t that a bit too much of a good thing?"
    No. It's not too much of a good thing at all. In a world gone crazy (as CNN reports every minute of every day), it's nice to be reminded of a "peaceful" time. Should be playing Christmas music all year long. Like someone above said, especially instead of that modern tuneless muzak.

    November 20, 2010 at 12:36 am |
    • fuyuko

      you are awesome! I agree. Why not celebrate goodness all year round?

      November 20, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  2. debbi

    one of my favorite radio stations here in fargo starts playing nonstop christmas on nov 1...has for the last few years....the first year, i endured it....the second year i sent them an email sayig i did not like it as it took away some of the 'specialness' of christmas to be hearing the same songs over and over for two months...by christmas i was sick of them...last year i boycotted the christmas music...and in doing so, discovered another station i like just as well...and i haven't been back...so all the advertizers that are paying first the radio station to push me into spending $$ at their stores aren't reaching mty ears any more....and i let the station know that...but i suspect i'm a single voice crying in the wilderness....

    November 20, 2010 at 12:16 am |
    • C

      one word for you my friend: Pandora!

      November 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  3. fuyuko

    I love christmas and would rather hear christmas carols at the mall like I did last night, than that annoying modern tuneless muzak. I don't decorate for christmas usually until after thanksgiving, but I have totally no problem with people celelbrating when and however they want and how early they want.. I particualrly love starbuck's seasonal drink list, the music, the special foods you only see this year. Christmas brings a special cheer when it gets dark early and there is no lights and it grows colder. So I guess I disagree with the author. Let christmas start whenever people want it too. It's all good to me!

    November 20, 2010 at 12:13 am |
  4. Mike E.

    It's a week before Thanksgiving and today I saw someone driving down the road with a fresh tree strapped to the roof of their car. It's Miami so that's a big deal. Playing Christmas music early, stores decorating before Halloween.... a psychological ploy to get consumers to spend money sooner. We had our first cold spell down here (Hi temps in the 70's LOL) several weeks ago and people were crammed in the malls the next day. They weren't enjoying the low humidity outside, the sunshine and the beautiful breeze. Nope they were in a mall pretending it was Christmas already. So judging by the happy tree shopper I saw today (the thing will be dead second week of December) the head game works all too well.

    November 20, 2010 at 12:12 am |
    • Chuck

      Are you that weak that you can't resist the urge to fill the big box businesses cash registers?

      Yeah the stores have tried to make as much money as they can. but only because people are willing to pay. I start my season early, but the big businesses don't make money off of family activities and holiday spirit....

      quit being such Scrooges already

      November 20, 2010 at 1:31 am |
    • C

      Yeah down here, they aren't playing Christmas music early, but the stores have skipped over thanksgiving and halloween. It sucks! The Michael's on Flagler had Christmas decor up a few days into November. That cold spell was great. I'm just thankful the radio stations like BIG 105.9 and Classical South Florida 89.7 (the two I listen to) aren't playing Christmas music, The decorations are driving me crazy because I love Halloween decorations. They're so cool. There was no Halloween spirit this year in SOFO.

      November 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  5. Muffin

    Check out http://www.blacksantabook.com!!!
    Its always the holiday season...

    November 19, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  6. Jimmy Nutron

    well, our nation is doomed. We are so easily manipulated by consumerism, it makes me sick. Wake up America, and don't fall for this obvious trap. Our nation has become a farm for China and other nations that are stealing our jobs...

    November 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
    • ifthatistrue

      *chuckle You know, I read the term "wake up" so often... it makes me wonder if ANYBODY can get any sleep to think clearly.

      November 20, 2010 at 1:04 am |
  7. disappointed again

    I don't mind Christmas in November but i work in a store where the displays for Christmas go up the day after Halloween. Talk about scary!!

    November 19, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  8. Kai

    I love Christmas. But I hate it when the decorations and music are coming out in stores and on the radio before Halloween has even arrived, especially when it's coming from the businesses that cash in the most at that time of year. Stop shoving it in our faces before October is even over!

    November 19, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  9. Jimmy Nutron

    I do find this annoying, and there is an obvious reason for this early start. Companies that sell products want to advertise early. Holidays, especially Christmas, give buisnesses like wallmart and tonka large profits. I find it very annoying that the companies manipulate our culture for profits. Wake up america!!!

    November 19, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  10. Heather

    I start with the music and decorating in early November, and I don't get sick of it at all. My husband thinks it's cute. What irritates me is when people complain nonstop about things they hate about Christmas, and the number one thing is "all the spending." My question is, if these people don't want Christmas to be about buying out Wal-Mart, why don't they just.... not spend so much? No one's twisting their arms. And if their kids are pushing for more and more and more, well, is saying "no" to excess really so hard? To me, Christmas is about family and love and warmth and music and cookies, not about presents, and I'll be bringing my kids up the same way I was, retail pressure or no.

    November 19, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • Chuck

      Very well said.

      November 19, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  11. Chuck

    I am a veteran that has spent 6 Christmas's in God forsaken countries ... 2 of them in the middle east and 3 in Afghanistan. I spent those 5 Christmas's away from my family, but thankfully with friends. The locals did not like us having Christmas on their "Holy Land" but we did the best we could. We tried to be empathetic to their beliefs since it was their country after all.

    Then I come home and these ungrateful SOB's are saying they are offended by me saying Christmas, putting up a tree, wearing a poppy, raising my flag, my national anthem, the uniform inclusion of the turbans, the veils and other Sharia garbage they want us to accept.....Bull%$%#!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    They would kill you if you spoke against their religious practices and God Allah or the prophet Muhammad.....yet they are okay with taking away ours?

    I say let their be Christmas everyday....send the Muslims back to the sand box....and celebrate the Canadian and American (and all their allies) men and women that lost their lives...my friends and your defenders. SAY NO MORE!!!!!

    They don't want peace they want us either dead or Muslim...I celebrate Christmas starting right after Halloween for all the days I spent in the garbage mid east.....I make sure my tree is lit and my house has celebration because my fallen friends can not....an extra week or so of holiday time....is it really so bad....I didn't think so.

    November 19, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
    • fuyuko

      good for you! Celebrate how you want when you want. I agree 100% I love the cheer that Christmas brings. It brings a wonderufl feeling to my heart, especaily when It is dark when I leave work and sometimes christmas things just make me happy. I love all things christmas which is why I am glad to be named afer the season.

      November 20, 2010 at 12:17 am |
    • Steve

      BRAVO!

      November 20, 2010 at 12:21 am |
    • Chuck

      fuyuko and Steve....

      Thanks.

      November 20, 2010 at 1:35 am |
    • Frogist

      Sorry Chuck, no Bravo from me. You can celebrate as you like, but I don't see the need to put down other people in order to do it. The muslims have been here and will be. You want to send them someplace? Too bad. You fought for freedom of religion for all this country's citizens. That includes muslims. You saw what intolerance of personal freedoms was like in Afghanistan etc, but you want to bring that here? If you can't handle the diversity that this country enjoys, then maybe you need to go back to the sandbox yourself. At least until you understand what you're fighting for.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • Chase Dorway

      I think Chuck and Froglist have good points. I support the troops, and am scared of them, because I hate war. I don't think we should kill all Muslims, because America was founded on religious freedom, which our troops fight so hard to protect. And I respect them for that, but not out of my soldier-phobia. And if you want to celebrate Christmas all you want, go ahead. And on a a different note, war sucks.

      November 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  12. Krissy

    I think it's cool that Christmas starts a bit earlier. But before Halloween would be a bit much. I can see it starting in Mid-November.

    November 19, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  13. Katie

    So don't celebrate it early if you'd rather wait. Here's a hint: change the radio station. I just don't see why people get passionate about this (except maybe those with religious beliefs who feel like the holiday has been exploited).

    November 19, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  14. Remy

    Merry Thanksgivoween to you!

    Seriously, you are all right about the blatant commercialism. I think what bothers me most is not that those of us who can remember anticipating the start of the Christmas season after Thanksgiving and all its fun, but that anticipation is confused for little ones today who see the witch hats next to the Santa hats. There's no anticipation for the night A Charlie Brown Christmas is on or for Rudolph. Those were big nights and you only saw the shows once a year - now every kid has the DVD and 20 others about Christmas.

    I'm all for extending the season of Peace on Earth - Goodwill to men and women, but really should the retail giants control the season? The only way to stop this is for everyone and I mean everyone to stop buying before Thanksgiving. We could control the season - maybe set a start shopping date like December 1st every year to show the retailers that we control when the season starts - not them. The only way they'll change is if we hit them in their bottom line. It would take a lot of resolve in people to let go of Black Friday, and now the even earlier deal days, but I think it would be worth it to preserve Thanksgiving and the anticipation of the Christmas season that follows for all the children.

    One more thing - I really dislike the fact that retail workers are now often required to work Christmas Day. When I was little, people planned ahead. A person took care of what they would need so that EVERYONE had Christmas off other than essential services like hospitals, etc. I cannot believe that gas stations, convenience stores, Wal-mart, etc., need to be open on Christmas Day. People who work there deserve to be off too. So fill your gas tank, get an extra bottle of wine, buy extra batteries for the toys, get an extra pack of cigarettes and buy extra milk before Christmas. Boycott stores so that it's not worth it for them to stay open on Christmas so that their employees will have the day off. If you find you really need something borrow it from a neighbor or your sister-in-law or your mother - that's what our parents did and we got through Christmas fine without running to the store.

    OK I'm done ranting!

    November 19, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Remy: Whoa that was a rant! I can understand your frustration. And I hate it that not everyone has Christmas off. I feel for those gas station attendants and store clerks... But I have to mention that I shop for Christmas presents pretty much throughout the year. Around October I really start in earnest, but throughout the year I pick up little things I know people will like. It helps defray the cost of Christmas. Putting out all that cash at once is getting less and less possible.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • Chase Dorway

      I really dug that. If we did that, that would be great. But everyone probably won't do that, unfortunately. 🙁

      November 22, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  15. Unlikely Oilfield Wife

    More annoying than Christmas starting early every year are all the articles written about it. NOTHING this guy is saying is new. It's already been said, and usually better than this. Complaining about Christmas? How sad are you? Here's a time of year (religious beliefs aside) that is about being with family and friends and pretty lights and a general feeling of coziness and happiness, and this guy is annoyed by people who want to start it earlier than he thinks is proper. Really? Maybe people are just excited for something happy. Too bad you don't get that concept.

    November 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  16. Dan

    I heard a Veteran's Day commercial on the radio with the "Deck the Halls" in the background this year. I found it in very poor taste to combine a patriotic holiday well over a month before Christmas with Christmas music.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
    • Chuck

      I disagree....I have friends that were killed while I was in Afghanistan...they don't get Christmas anymore....could be worse...could have a pin head wearing a turban doing the commercial.

      November 19, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  17. nonesuch

    Please, knock it off with the "Jesus is the reason for the season." He isn't. Never was. The pagan holiday was co-opted by the early Christians in an attempt to win converts. Christmas in the Victorian age was all about the secular side of the season, not about religious belief at all. It's only been recently that the born-agains have attempted to pretend that Christmas is about the birth of Christ at all and they're not fooling anyone.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
    • Unlikely Oilfield Wife

      Well, just because he wasn't the FIRST reason, he is now for many people (despite your "he isn't, he never was" statement). Stop being angry about how OTHER people celebrate, and do your own thing! Or do them all! Or none! Life is short, enjoy yourself.

      November 19, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      The date was co-opted with pagans to win converts. Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. If you're not into it, then that's fine by me. Don't celebrate it religiously. But it's the DATE that they co-otped, not the holiday.

      November 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • George Thore

      This Jesus person may be in the 'CHRIST'-mas holiday; but, the REAL Messiah is NOT!!! That is because His CORRECT name is Yashua–NOT Jesus, as the X-tians say; because, all proper names cannot be properly translated. They will lose the correct sound, spelling, and meaning of the original word(s), in the process. We have been hoodwinked for too long by X-tianity.

      December 10, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  18. Nancy

    Happy Hallo-thanks-mas!

    November 19, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
    • Steve

      ROFL

      November 20, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  19. Helen

    I agree TOTALLY !!!!!!!

    November 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  20. Bernadette

    I so agree, when I was younger, it was the day after Thanksgiving that all the stores would start preparing for the Christmas season. Now they start before Halloween is even over. PLEASE.....Yes Jesus is the reason for the season. But when it comes so early it takes the anticipation out of looking forward to the excitement that the Christmas season brings. I find myself spending and buying less because I am so frustrated. Why can't we turn the clocks back a few years.

    November 19, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
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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.