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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. Autumn

    People have gone overboard on celebrating this holiday. Some don't even know the meaning of christmas anymore. It is kinda like having easter on valentines day. This is one way of making the year go by too fast. Why can't we all just take the time and think about what Christmas is really about and celebrate it on the day that Jesus was born...not during Thanksgiving when we are celebrating something else. I listing to Christmas music a lot and I hear some songs playing 10 times withing that hour.

    December 12, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
    • albert

      Thank you, I like your comment

      December 23, 2010 at 12:17 am |
  2. Mark Olsen

    On Christmas the world celebrates the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was born in poverty, lived in poverty and died in poverty. Capitalism and materialism are trying to change Christmas to what is not.

    December 10, 2010 at 1:24 am |
  3. Pigbitin Mad

    I agree it starts far too early. And all the TV Christmas specials run too early like Charlie Brown (on December 7th). It should start the week before, otherwise it is too much. I used to like the Season, but now it seems like we are at war with consumer Fortune 500 America, so I refuse to buy a damn thing. They got their tax break extended so that is all they are getting from me.

    December 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  4. bryten

    I think that All parts of Christmas should be celibrated at most 13 days before Cristmas

    December 3, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  5. DDD COLLEGE

    First of all, I would like to say that this article was very helpful. WHY? Well it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who gets frustrated when I hear Christmas music in the end of October/early November. I mean I love the holidays and all, but too much is tooo much!!! However, Christmas has become a holiday all about spending money, getting gifts, and buying gifts. YET we have FORGOTTEN the true meaning for Christmas. While it doesn't really cost us money to know Jesus, it costs us our lives! Our lives in that we 'don't copy the behaviors and customs of this world but let God TRANSFORM us by changing the way we think" (ROM. 12:2).

    See, I think the issue isn't that we spend too much time celebrating Christmas, and not enough time celebrating Easter. Nor do I think that one holiday is any better, or more important than any other. Nor do I think that it's all about drinking. Christmas is all about JESUS! Easter is all about JESUS! The problem is NOT that we celebrate any holiday too long. The issue is that we have taken JESUS out of our holidays!

    November 27, 2010 at 1:31 am |
  6. Shaun

    I totally agree. I love Christmas, but it definitely seems to start coming earlier and earlier every year. I wrote a little something about it myself. Check it out:

    http://asanebreakfromtheinsanity.blogspot.com/2010/11/in-twenty-years-christmas-season-will.html

    November 25, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  7. Patrick

    Anyway I like to prepare Christmas in November, never too soon! I just found some nice decoration ideas at
    http://christmas.toosurtoo.com/

    November 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  8. Gary

    Christmas is about Santa , cheerfullness, family ,friends great food and of course beer....It has nothing to do with religion as far as I am concerned

    November 22, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      Whatever floats your boat. 🙂

      November 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  9. UglyDuckling86

    I agree 100%! I love Christmas as much as everyone else, but it is excessive. I refuse to put up decorations or anything until Dec. 1. I think the "Black Friday" sales are ridiculous.

    November 22, 2010 at 1:28 am |
    • stinky

      how very interesting... tell us more...

      November 22, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  10. tominscotts

    Is KentAZ just ignorant or what? Of course Christmas is about Christ's birth, otherwise it would be called Giftmas or some other benign name. It is all about the $$$$$ now, nothing more, nothing less, gimme gimme, gimme. How sad the place this country is heading too when money is the most important thing for everyone. Maybe since people don't want to celebrate it the way it was intended, it could just be removed as a holiday????

    November 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • Frogist

      @tominscotts: You mean like a capitalist country? LOL!

      November 22, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  11. Kahle

    Random, but why would you not want to celebrate His death? If Jesus never died, than I don't have the hope of ever getting to Heaven. As much as I love Christmas, Easter is the important one. Without it, we have nothing.

    November 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  12. Iqbal khan

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZN7kZ29S5M&feature=related

    November 21, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  13. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    When the church uses the worlds appeal for faith, they have reduced the grace of God to a myth. No wonder sinners look at Christians as delusional, and why those ignorant of God’s covenant look at Jesus as a Santa Clause. http://apostlestoday.net/

    November 21, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  14. John

    its gonna be crazy this year, I found stinky on http://www.buystinkythegarbagetruck.net

    November 21, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  15. Darryl

    My wfie likes to start Christmas as early as possible. Something about the music and the decorations.. I don't mind it if it is the house – I love some of the sounds like Ave Maria (though I'm not Catholic) and could listen to them year-round. But I wouldn't want the comercializacion to start too early...

    November 21, 2010 at 7:29 am |
  16. Jeff

    While i agree with the writer, we must remember that the shopper is part of the reason, that the christmas season starts in October and not December. The retail world is driving what,when and how we buy not the other way around. If customers would tell the retail merchants NO we want to have a time for all of the holidays not just the ones that make money, then maybe Christ could return to being the reason for the season.

    November 21, 2010 at 1:00 am |
  17. Peter F

    This article has more to do with our consumerism society, and less to do with anything religious.

    November 20, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  18. Amalia Sheran Sharm

    Complaining about early Christmas decorations is the stuff of hack standup comedians, not articles on CNN.

    November 20, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  19. Everyday SHOULD be Christmas! :)

    "Everyday is Christmas, and every night like a New Year's Eve" – Sade

    November 20, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  20. Reality

    Anytime is a good time to get into the Xmas spirit. My parish for example has a "Christmas in July" giving tree. A little "jingling" in July never hurts!!

    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 20, 2010 at 8:49 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.