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FIRST-PERSON: It’s the most secular time of the year

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Christmas controversies have seemingly become a new holiday tradition.

Lawsuits over the display of nativity scenes on public property and litigation over Christmas celebrations in government schools have been all the rage in recent years. The phrase “Merry Christmas” has even been the source of controversy.

This year has been relatively quiet on the litigation front. However, like a bad fruit cake, Christmas controversies never seem to go away completely.

This Christmas season, city buses in Fort Worth, Texas are sporting ads that declare: “Millions of Americans are good without God.” The advertisements are sponsored by the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, according to a report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that a van sporting pro-Christian messages has followed the buses around town.

“We’ll pray for them and hope one day they’ll come to see the light,” Rev. Ralph Emerson Jr., pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church, told the Star-Telegram.

The Lincoln Tunnel, a 1.5-mile long tunnel under the Hudson River that connects New York with New Jersey, is the sight of another Christmas controversy — dueling billboards.

American Atheists has placed a billboard on the Jersey entrance to the tunnel that reads: “You know it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason!” The message appears with a nativity scene.

On the New York side of the Lincoln Tunnel the Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy group, responded to the atheist message and placed a billboard that reads: “You Know It’s Real — This Season Celebrate Jesus.”

I find it interesting that atheists and some non-Christians feel the need to take issue with Christmas celebrations. After all, to be brutally honest, so-called Christmas celebrations in America have more to do with the secular than the sacred. Christ is rarely the focus.

The masses treat Jesus Christ, whose birthday is commemorated at Christmas, like an uninvited guest at His own party. Crass consumerism and vain sentimentality have become the reason for the season for too many in the United States.

Take a look at what passes for Christmas fare on television. Very few “Christmas classics” have anything at all to do with Christ. It is true that you can find a song exalting the birth of Christ tucked here and there in a Christmas special, but you have to look close and listen carefully to find a tune that focuses on Jesus.

Just consider that according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the Top 25 most-performed “Holiday” songs for the first five years of the 21st Century are:

1. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) — Mel Tormé, Robert Wells.

2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town — Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie.

3. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas — Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin.

4. Winter Wonderland — Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith.

5. White Christmas — Irving Berlin.

6. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! — Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne.

7. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer — Johnny Marks.

8. Jingle Bell Rock — Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe.

9. I’ll Be Home For Christmas — Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram.

10. Little Drummer Boy –- Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati, Harry Simeone.

11. Sleigh Ride — Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish.

12. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year — Edward Pola, George Wyle.

13. Silver Bells — Jay Livingston, Ray Evans.

14. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree — Johnny Marks.

15. Feliz Navidad — José Feliciano.

16. Blue Christmas — Billy Hayes, Jay W. Johnson.

17. Frosty The Snowman — Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins.

18. A Holly Jolly Christmas — Johnny Marks.

19. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus — Tommie Connor (PRS).

20. Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) — Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman.

21. It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas — Meredith Willson.

22. (There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays — Bob Allen, Al Stillman.

23. Carol Of The Bells — Peter J. Wilhousky, Mykola Leontovich.

24. Santa Baby — Joan Ellen Javits, Philip Springer, Tony Springer.

25. Wonderful Christmastime — Paul McCartney (PRS).

Of the top 25 most performed songs during the Christmas season for the first five years of the 21st Century, only one has anything remotely to do with the birth of Jesus Christ — “Little Drummer Boy.”

A survey of the most popular songs of the season only confirms that Christmas in America has little to do with the advent of Christ. I have come to accept the fact that what passes for Christmas in America is secular in nature. While I may not like it, I have come to realize that I do not need the prevailing culture to validate what I know to be true about Christmas.

If you think about it, Christmas the way it is celebrated in America is not too far removed from the initial advent of Christ. When Jesus was born, few were even aware and even fewer realized the significance of His birth.

While the masses are caught up in consumerism and satisfied with sentimentality, I will steal away like the shepherds of old and worship Immanuel — God with us.

While controversy may indeed be a new Christmas tradition, I will not let it distract me from the sacred purpose of Christmas: praise and adoration of the One who came to give His life — to die — for me.

Join me, and let’s purpose to have a meaningful Christmas this year.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs