Sitting around the Holiday Tree on Santamas
By John D. Turner
9 Dec 2005

This year, Christmas falls on a Sunday, giving our family a rare opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Savior in Church on the 25th of December. As is usual for the Sunday prior to Christmas, we will have a Christmas program, and will only hold Sacrament meeting instead of the usual three-hour block of meetings. However being able to partake of the Sacrament and hold our Christmas program on Christmas day makes it a special event for us.

Not so, evidently for some.

A number of “megachurches” around the country have decided that Christmas is a “family day”, and have canceled services due to a perceived lack of interest. After all, we wouldn’t want worship of Jesus to interfere with the annual worship of Santa.

Our ward meets at 0830. This means that when we leave for church around 0800, the Christmas tree will be sitting there in the living room, surrounded by presents, waiting for our return around 1000. Somehow, it will survive, unattended until we get back. This will not cause undo hardship or mental distress for my children, all six of them (including the six year old), because they understand that Jesus, not Santa, is the reason for the season. The presents will keep for a few more hours, and will be opened with no less enjoyment than they would be otherwise.

So what are the reasons for suspending services? It seems that it is being done in the name of efficiency. It takes a lot of people to run services at a megachurch. And it seems that not very many members of the congregation bother to show up anyway, since they are busy at home worshiping Santa. It costs money to pay those people and in any event, it isn’t fair to make them work on Christmas day, when they should be at home with their families. It is fair to make them work on Sunday, when they should be in church, however I guess that if they are working in church, then technically speaking, they are in church, so that’s ok. Except when Sunday falls on a Christmas, when they shouldn’t be in church, but should instead be home celebrating a family day with their family (who should also be in church, being as it’s a Sunday).

Sounds like business decisions are being made here instead of spiritual decisions. Or maybe the pastors of these churches want to stay home and open presents too, instead of being bothered by things religious. It is a holiday after all, and this gives them a chance to enjoy some time off as well.

This stands in contrast to mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and LDS congregations, where it would take a major calamity to cancel Sunday services, not merely an encroachment on Mr. Ho Ho Ho and his eight tiny reindeer. But then again, megachurches, with their multimedia displays, orchestras, rock groups, and Walmart-sized parking lots are big business. Millions of dollars flow through these enterprises every year, and each Sunday is a major production event involving hundreds of volunteers and employees to ensure the entertainment of their congregations.

Spokespersons from the megachurches point out that they are not abandoning Christmas, as they are having multiple services on days leading up to the event. The rationalizations for skipping Christmas Sunday are many.

“If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don’t go to church, how likely is it that they’ll be going to church on Christmas morning.” - Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.

Hmm. What about the people in their congregation that do go to church. Isn’t their church in existence to serve them? Or is their entire congregation made up of people who don’t go to church? That would be interesting. Seems to me like they could make the same argument all the time. What are the odds that a person who doesn’t go to church will be going to their church on any given Sunday. By that argument, why bother to have church services at all?

"If we weren't having services at all, I would probably tend to feel that we were too accommodating to the secular viewpoint, but we're having multiple services on Saturday and an additional service Friday night," said Cindy Willison, a spokeswoman for the evangelical Southland Christian Church in Nicholasville, Ky. "We believe that you worship every day of the week, not just on a weekend, and you don't have to be in a church building to worship."

We aren’t abandoning you, Jesus, we’re just moving you to a more convenient timeslot.

It also makes you wonder, if you don’t need a church building to worship in, and you can do it any time you like, just exactly what is the point of attending her church. The social life?

Or, as Troy Page, a spokesman for Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Tx (which will also be closing its doors on Christmas Sunday) said, “Doing them (services) early allows you to reach people who may be leaving town Friday.”

Hmm. There’s a good reason. By this rationale, why not do this for every Monday holiday as well, just in case people may be leaving town on Friday.

This decision to celebrate Sunday earlier to “free up” Christmas Sunday for a more secular celebration of the fat-man-in-red is even more ironic coming as it does amid the anger many in Christian America have for the seeming war on Christ during the Christmas season.

Stores where employees are told not to say “Merry Christmas” but “Happy Holidays” instead; stores where “Christmas trees” are referred to as “holiday trees” and schools where the season is referred to as “winter holiday” and “religious” Christmas songs (even instrumental only versions) are banned have many Christians tearing out their hair in frustration.

It’s called Christmas for a reason. If it were about Santa, it would be called Santamas.

What is the purpose of a “holiday tree”? What holiday? Well, the winter holiday, of course. And what holiday might that be? Well, we can’t say, because we aren’t allowed to use that word.

When I was a kid growing up, the only words I wasn’t allowed to use were words pertaining to bodily functions, slang expressions of a sexual nature, or taking of the Lord’s name in vain; words that wouldn’t be used in polite company. Such words would get my mouth washed out with soap at the very least. Now days, those are used ubiquitously; it’s words like Jesus Christ, Christmas, and other words of that sort that can’t be uttered. Doing so won’t get your mouth washed out with soap (that would be abuse, after all), but they might get you slapped with a lawsuit.

The whole “holiday tree” thing might be a marketing ploy though, rather than an attempt to keep from offending 5% of the population by offending the other 95%. Indeed, if one can decouple the tree from Christmas by making it a Holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree, then why limit its use to just Christmas? How about a New Year’s tree. Or if that’s too close to “Winter Holiday”, how about a Martin Luthor King tree? Or a President’s day tree? Or a 4th of July tree? I’ve already seen red, white, and blue lighting that looked suspiciously like Christmas lighting for sale leading up to that holiday. Or we can take it right back to its pagan roots, and have a good new fashioned Halloween tree, decorated with black and orange lights, spider webbing, and plastic pumpkin ornaments.

In the meantime, we now have purported Christian churches that have seemingly suspended the Sabbath and substituted a birthday party instead. It appears that the secular side of the day does trump the spiritual, as far as some churches are concerned. You can, it appears to some, do one or the other, but not both.

I know that many, whose churches will be open for business on Christmas Sunday, will find reasons not to attend. And that is fine. It’s an individual choice; you do have your free agency. My problem here is that when a church gets in on the act and does the same, when it says “we don’t think many people are going to show up so we’ll just suspend the Sabbath for today”, it is, in essence, condoning such activity (or inactivity as it were).

You know, a lot of people don’t go to church on Superbowl Sunday either. Perhaps the churches should close on that day as well.

It just doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly good precedent to set. It’s hard to argue against those who would remove any mention of Christ from the Christmas season, when we have churches that seem willing shut down when the secular celebration of the day of His birth “conflicts” with the Sabbath, the day of His worship.