Working Christmas

Our news and politics are filled with all sorts of quibbles and controversies that many of us feel are silly. This fact doesn’t concern me, because free expression is a positive side effect of living in a free democracy. I would like to take the time and comment on one of the more silly (I think) controversies of the here and now; working on Christmas Day. There is an ever-increasing onslaught of commentary, both in print and electronic media, bashing the un-Christian (and therefore un-American) concept of working on Christ’s arbitrarily selected birthday.

I have family that expressed outrage over the local convenience store being open on Jesus’ birthday, and have heard more and more political figures who concur. On reflection, I suppose this whole line of thinking is an off-shoot of the conservative notion of culture war; liberals and other enemies of God are (supposedly) attacking Christmas as a part of their evil scheme to secularize the world. On this notion, the 20% of Americans who are either politically active conservative Christians or militant atheists fail to account for the fact that the rest of the country wants them both to shut up!

Christmas is, generally speaking, one of the three most important days in Christendom (the others being Good Friday and Easter). Even the concept of Santa Claus (St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children), has its roots in Christian belief. It stands to reason that common courtesy would prevail, and non-Christians could respect that day’s place in the lives of their neighbors. It also stands to reason, however, that Christians in 21st Century America would respect the notion that this holiday, in a free society, can and should have different meanings for different people. Christians themselves, split into a multitude of denominations, view this and other holidays through dramatically different lenses.

Far beyond the spiritual significance of the day, is the reality of life. Orthodox Jews have spent millenia coming to grips with the very real problems presented by the working ban on the Sabbath. It is a particular province of some 21st Century American Christians that they will always try and re-engineer artifacts of religion that others have already mastered. But complaining about businesses that are in operation on Christmas Day takes closed-minded contemplation to new depths. For starters, Jews, Muslims, Buddists, Hindi, Sikhs, atheists, and agnostics are all free from the notion that Christmas is somehow sacred. Commerce is perfectly acceptable for non-Christians on the 25th day of the 12th month in the calendar that didn’t come into use until 1582.

But what of Christians? Should the saved work on the day selected by the church in Rome 300 years after Christ’s death? Let’s work up to the answer. Crime happens on Christmas, therefore the police must work. Fires start on Christmas, therefore fire departments must work. People get sick and die on Christmas, therefore medical and hospital personnel must work. Threats to our nation happen on Christmas, therefore the military and intelligence services must work. Things break in homes, hospitals, police departments, fire departments, military bases, and the CIA on Christmas, therefore maintenance people must work. All of the above individuals who must work on Christmas must also eat on Christmas (and often away from home on lunch and break time), therefore restaurant people must work. Some of the above who must work on Christmas will need gas on Christmas, therefore gas station personnel must work.

I could probably run on for an additional paragraph or two, but you get the picture. Having managed businesses for a good portion of the last two decades, I can tell you that most businesses do try and scale back on Christmas. Managers work extra, shifts are reduced, hours of operation are scaled back. These steps are taken for the best reason of all; so that all of the above have a little more time with family on Christmas. These steps are not taken to force an arbitrary structure on a day in order to satisfy the very human requirement for false piety. On the day that celebrates the birth of Jesus, it is important to remember two things; the day is really about family, and Mary (at least) was certainly working on Christmas.

Have a joyous holiday filled with family!

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