Sometime during the night of December 26-27, someone vandalized our parish Christmas Tree that stands outside our church. He removed all of the tree's lights and removed the 6 Christmas wreaths that adorned the entrances to the church. He obviously was not a thief. Nothing was stolen. On the contrary the lights and wreaths were left in a neat pile - almost as if in imitation (most likely unintended) of the burial cloths mentioned in the Gospel reading later that day at Mass. As a result, those coming to church to celebrate the Octave of Christmas and the Epiphany are being greeted by a bare tree and unadorned entrances. (Inside, of course, the church remains fully decorated for the holiday, but with artificial trees and wreaths, which themselves suggest some of the many unfortunate compromises with which modern life has afflicted our celebration of Christmas. Only the outside decorations were natural.)
The so-called "War on Christmas." which President Trump claims to be successfully fighting off, is largely a product of the fevered imagination of those who believe Christianity is being persecuted in this country. There are in fact threats to true religious freedom in our society, but what particular festive greeting is used in stores is of no ultimate concern to Christian faith but is relevant rather to the competing religion of commercial capitalism.
There are, of course, at least three different Christmases being celebrated this holiday season. There is the religious Christian Christmas, which begins on December 25 and continues through Epiphany. There is the familial Christmas, which may be for many what is most appealing and which, while rooted in both Christian and pagan folkloric customs, requires no real religious commitment from its participants. And then there is the greedy, capitalist, commercial Christmas, which seems to go on forever until Christmas itself. The prominence of that third Christmas is the holiday sun whose brightness gets reflected in the religious and familial festivities. Indeed, without the commercial holiday, the Christian Christmas would risk becoming just another little noted religious holiday - like All Saints Day.
But the omnipresence of the commercial Christmas and the universal appeal of the familial Christmas seem to have left little energy for the Christian Christmas, which has increasingly become the victim of our own minimalism. So not only is church attendance on Christmas declining, but the celebration of the rest of the Christian Christmas season is increasingly minimal at most. True the Octave Day of Christmas is theoretically still a holy day - at least when and where it actually still is (not, for example, in the United States in 2018). As for the Epiphany - the oldest of all the Christmas festivals, older even that Christmas Day itself - how many Christmas Trees are still standing in how many homes on January 6 (or whatever day Epiphany happens to get shunted off to in the United States)?
The bare Christmas Tree outside our church is a sad sight. Sadder still is the increasing bareness of the Christian religious Christmas, so seemingly weak in competition with its glittering rivals.