I recently met a man who left his native Cuba when he was eleven years old. He came from an upper class family and remembered Cuba as a very beautiful country where the people got along well with one another.
Fifty years later, he finally got a chance to go back. Sure, he knew that Communism had impoverished the country, but nothing prepared him for the shock of seeing first hand what had become of his native land. The country has been totally sapped of its energy and strength and resources. People get a ration of food for a month that only lasts them two weeks; so the rest of the time they lie, steal, borrow, beg, whatever they have to do to get food.
It wasn’t only the diminished standard of living that shocked him: He told me about the extent to which the church has been suppressed by the Castro brothers. In fact, not only is freedom of religion severely curtailed in Cuba, there is an effort to expunge words and phrase that contain references to God!
An obvious is the Spanish word for “goodbye,” adios. It literally means “to God.” So, this gentleman told me, it is now suspect. In fact, there is a whole host of other common Spanish idioms being expunged from the language-expressions people had used all their lives. And they're being expunged precisely because they refer to God. In Cuba, as in any totalitarian state, you can get into serious trouble for using the words and expressing ideas banned by the government.
Listening to him, I realized that our culture is doing something similar right here at home: shape people’s beliefs and attitudes by controlling the language they use. The pressure may be more subtle, and the people doing the controlling may be private, not governmental actors, but the goals and effects are the same.
The effort is on obvious display during Christmas. Case in point: for seventy years, Tulsa has held a Christmas parade. Now, no one would ever mistake the parade for a church service: Santa Claus plays a far bigger role than the infant Jesus.
Yet even this watered-down reference to Christ was too much: in the last year, “Christmas” was dropped from the title in favor of “holiday.” If “Christmas” is too much for what is arguably the buckle of the “Bible Belt,” where can you use the phrase?
If you think that this is much ado about nothing and that “happy Holidays” is a perfectly acceptable substitute, you’re missing the whole point. The issue here isn’t avoiding offense – it’s redefining the terms of our discussion, eradicating or at least marginalizing any references to God in the public square. It’s to make people think twice about invoking God, even in passing, in public. Once you control their language, you control the way they think and behave.
The irony is that the approved word “holiday” is itself derived from “holy day”! All of this linguistic nonsense is another reminder of why Christians need to reclaim Christmas. The larger culture may be intent on taking Christ out of Christmas but, that’s all the more reason for us to place Him at the center of ours.
May you and yours have a blessed Christmas, and a happy holy-day season.