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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. Suz

    I hate the side-by-side Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas displays, too. I feel so rushed to celebrate and get on to the next holiday. Wouldn't want to stop and actually ENJOY the season. However, at least those holidays are in consecutive months. What's really annoying is to see the Valentines stuff go up practically the day after Christmas–2 months away! Utterly ridiculous. Consumers have been saying for years that they do not like the rapid-fire marketing of the holidays, so why do retailers continue to do it?

    November 20, 2010 at 5:56 am |
    • Reality

      "so why do retailers continue to do it?"

      Obviously, they make money doing it!!!

      November 20, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  2. ChristmasKid

    KentAZ
    Let us also not forget to mention that jesus wasnt even BORN in december, much less on the 24/25th.
    Anyone who has done their research would know that he wasnt born until the spring.
    It just really bothers me when people say jesus is the reason for the season. Um, no, he isnt.
    I personally love christmas because I grew up in a household with all my family during the holidays, together.
    Christmas, to me, is all about making my loved ones happy. I take great care in selecting the perfect gift for people, even if its something so simple or handmade. Just to see the smile on their faces puts a smile on mine.
    When I was a child, every christmas season was spent with family playing games or baking things or just doing things around the house, all the while listening to old christmas albums, I just dont understand people that get cranky during the holidays and do nothing but complain about the whole thing. are people that miserable that they cant handle 2 months of holiday music, out of 12 months? I just dont get it. I really dont.

    November 20, 2010 at 5:09 am |
    • George Thore

      Well said, Mark; but, J-sus IS' the reason for the season', as spouted by X-tians, world-wide.

      December 10, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  3. john

    its never to early to dupe the masses out of the hard earned dollars.

    November 20, 2010 at 4:41 am |
  4. Big Kitchen

    Christmas before December is shallow and commercial. It robs Christmas of it's special meaning just like the modern view of Santa Claus. To those who argue that Christmas is just a pagan holiday, you are partly right, but not totally. The modern worship of Christmas does not fall on the time of Christ's birth and was mixed with a pagan holiday as a means of evangelism. Which was not a godly action, but the practice of celebrating the birth of Christ through the centuries has been increasingly focused on the birth and glory of Jesus Christ. Only in this last century has the focus of St. Nicholas transforming into modern day Santa Claus been used by the ungodly to rob glory from Christ. Most true born again Christians however, still focus on giving God glory by celebrating the coming of Jesus the Christ or Yeshua the Messiah. So, whether you eat or drink or sustain from doing either; do it unto the Lord.

    November 20, 2010 at 3:43 am |
    • toby

      I get what you're saying about Santa (and by extension, materialism) becoming more prevalent than Jesus as the Christmas mascot. But many of us do not see the harm in exchanging one myth/legend for another if it makes people happy. At the end of the day, whatever floats your boat is fine with me, as long as it doesn't harm or hurt another.

      November 20, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
    • Frogist

      @toby: Well said.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  5. Lone

    With all respect to Mr. Prothero, hasn't this been common (if not universal) opinion for more than a decade?

    November 20, 2010 at 3:33 am |
  6. Jeff

    Stephen Prothero,
    My Wife and I totally agree with you! It seems the the holiday season is turning more materialistic each year. It is losing it's magic. I refuse to put up one decoration or play one Christmas song until after Thanksgiving, any earlier is absurd.

    November 20, 2010 at 3:26 am |
  7. pinkapril

    What will you say then if you learn that Filipinos in the Philippines usher in the Christmas season on September 1st when the BER months (Sept, Oct, and so on) start? This early, Christmas music is already played over the radio. You can be judged as lacking in Christmas spirit if you put up you tree and decorate in November which to them is a little too late. Oh, and btw, Christmas officially ends on January 6 which is the Feast of the Three Kings!!!

    November 20, 2010 at 3:09 am |
  8. Bubblepuppy

    Do you hear what I hear? Jingle bells! Santa Claus is coming to town!

    November 20, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  9. Bubblepuppy

    Can't wait to hear "Holly Jolly Christmas" in the middle of June, while preparing for my summer vacation...

    November 20, 2010 at 2:29 am |
  10. Richard

    Could be worse, you could work in retail. My profession has pretty much ruined xmas for me I have heard every song/version of song 1000 times and dealing with the crowds, long hours and consequentIy I am prevented from travelling to vist relatives so yeah it's not nearly as fun as when I was a kid.

    November 20, 2010 at 2:23 am |
    • Frogist

      @Richard: That sucks, man. If only we had a couple weeks off for Christmas each year, like other countries do it, so people can travel as they please and enjoy some relaxing time with their loved ones.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  11. MikeBell

    CandyCane – It is called Christmas. Christ Mass, the gathering of the masses to commemorate the birth of Jesus. As in a sacred religious ceremony to commemorate a holy event or selfless contribution of someone guided by their heart rather than their brain or brawn. The birth date of Jesus has many detractors and the actual birth date has been interpreted differently. The bottom line is that December 25 had become the day in which a day is dedicated to be the Holy day to commemorate the birth of Jesus.

    November 20, 2010 at 2:17 am |
  12. Bubblepuppy

    Just end the debate and have Christmas all year round! You can sing "Noel" on Valentine's Day... "Little Drummer Boy" on St. Patrick's Day... "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on the 4th of July. You get the idea...

    November 20, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  13. RTJones

    NCBT !!!!!!
    (No Christmas Before Thanksgiving)

    November 20, 2010 at 2:06 am |
  14. MikeBell

    What is it about again?
    Santa Clause, elves, candy cane, snowmen, ....
    Seems the real reason has be obscured; either deliberately or just out of pure greed.
    Should we say 'Happy Commerce Day!'? And what do you covet for this holiday?
    Too bad people have little understanding concerning the ultimate gift of what would later become the ultimate sacrifice for all of mankind; whether they believe they have a Soul or not.
    To this day groups and individuals continue to discount the miracle of infants with an intent to end the knowledge of and gift of Jesus as an infant and a willing sacrifice that gives everyone a hope for redemption.
    Let us not forget to be first thankful. Or we will find ourselves depressed because we didn't have our expectations pandered to on commerce day.

    November 20, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  15. CandyCane

    and yet Jesus wasn't even born on December 25th. So why do so many insist on saying Christmas is about the birth of Jesus?

    lemmings.

    November 20, 2010 at 1:40 am |
    • Lone

      If you're concerned about the date, you're missing the point entirely.

      November 20, 2010 at 3:09 am |
  16. Josine

    -5F and a fresh foot of snow on the ground means my decorations are going up tomorrow while I whistle a cheerful Christmas tune. Maybe if I lived in Boston I would feel otherwise.

    November 20, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  17. ifthatistrue

    I put up Christmas lights because it gets dark so early. I make construction paper Christmas chains to hang on the walls because it's fun for the kids and keeps them out from underfoot. We go hunting for a Christmas tree on Thanksgiving because that's the only time all the family is there to do it. In a way– Christmas has to be spread out. But, I will concede that radio stations should not play Christmas music for 2 months, and that Christmas decorations should not be on sale in October. I think consumerism is the main culprit for the holiday getting out of control.
    Reminds me of the movie "A Nightmare before Christmas". lol 😀

    November 20, 2010 at 1:00 am |
  18. peazandluv

    I completely agree! XMAS should be saved for at least post Thanksgiving. Give T-day the respect it deserves. 2 months of XMAS is definitely WAY too much and it just makes it too obvious that XMAS is no longer about family, Jesus or anything special; its just a ploy to get us into the buying spirit sooner.

    November 20, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  19. Mike in PA

    A number of years ago I started to get rattled about all the early holiday hoopla, but then slowly came to realize that it was up to me as an individual, and not the rest of the world, to decide how I observe these special weeks of the year. I don't begrudge those who may wish to celebrate early, or to have one long holiday, or even to rightly enjoy the more secular aspects of the season which, yes, originated in pre-Christian times. But for me, I just opt to follow my own traditions, even if it requires some effort and discipline at times. Once the Thanksgiving dishes are put away, I set out my Advent candles and gradually settle into a four-week spiritual preparation for Christmas. Unlike the old desert monks, I do have to go out and participate in the world each day, but when evening comes I carve out an hour or so of quiet time for reading, reflection, and contemplation. I let the anticipation of Christmas build with each successive week of Advent - perhaps putting out more Christmas items, playing more music, sampling some holiday treats, or spending additional time at church, family, and town events. When Christmas finally does arrive, I take a whole week to fully enjoy it, and then allow it to linger until at least mid-January - when the thoughts of many folks have already turned to sports, paying the heating bills, or awaiting the weather predictions of a groundhog.

    November 20, 2010 at 12:52 am |
  20. Neeq79

    I refuse to put up decorations, the tree, listen to Christmas music, or shop for Christmas presents until after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is it's own holiday, it is not Christmas Eve Eve. People are so into the consumerism of it that they forget the actual real reason, the birth of Jesus (or the date chosen to celebrate his birth). It always confused me as well why people who don't believe celebrate Christmas. I am not Jewish so I don't celebrate Hannukah, I hope they all have a good one though! Christmas is a religious holiday, but in todays society, it's a shopping holiday.

    November 20, 2010 at 12:43 am |
    • Chuck

      It's only a consumer holiday if that's what you want it to be. Sure the rich want to get richer, but those that really love the time of the year have no problem in stretching out the good parts. I start right after Halloween...and through Remembrance Day (to honor my fallen friends and celebrate for them...oh I am Canadian so my Thanksgiving day is different and I don't do much but eat turkey on that day). Basically I don't buy into the commercialism...I buy into the meaning and the season of family.

      November 20, 2010 at 1:28 am |
    • Frogist

      @Neeq79: I'm not hindu, but I love Divali. And celebrated it with family while I was with them. I'm not muslim but I celebrated Eid, with my muslim friends. I'm not Catholic but I've been to Christmas Mass with my in-laws. Holidays are not just about religion, they are about traditions and family and culture too. There's nothing wrong with learning about other cultures and embracing the differences. Also you get lots of different kinds of food! And that's always a good thing!

      November 22, 2010 at 9:49 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.