In December 1965, nearly 15 million viewers, or one-half of the television viewing audience, tuned in to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It has become the longest-running cartoon special in history, but it almost was canceled before it ever was aired. You see, the CBS network executives were less than impressed. Aside from the technical criticisms, resulting from a rushed production schedule, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It was thought that viewers would not want to be preached upon by an animated cartoon, especially from biblical passages. Obviously, after 50 years of airing every Christmas, receiving an Emmy and a Peabody award, those CBS executives got it wrong.
“There will always be an audience for innocence in this country,” said Charlie Brown’s creator, Charles Schulz. Nonetheless, the religious celebration of Christmas continues to face trivialization by an increasingly vocal and secular strain of society today.
Retailers have tried calling Christmas trees “holiday” or “family” trees. They’ve pressed on with “Happy Holidays,” even though almost 70 percent of Americans prefer the greeting, “Merry Christmas.” Advertisers have pushed out “Christ” from Christmas and pushed on with “X-Mas.”
Last year, a group calling themselves “American Atheists” purchased billboards that proclaimed, “Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness’ sake. Happy holidays!” Another activist group spent big bucks to purchase a billboard advertisement in New York City’s Times Square – a 40-by-40 image that asks, “Who needs Christ?” and answers that question with “Nobody.” The Christmas before that, there was yet another Times Square billboard that urged viewers to “Keep the Merry. Dump the Myth,” with an image of Christ beneath a photo of Santa Claus.
And just last month, the Transit Authority in Washington, D.C., rejected an advertisement on their buses and subway cars that simply urged Christians to “find the perfect gift” with the image of the Three Wise Men. The ad was rejected because it “depicts a religious scene and, thus, seeks to promote religion.” Really?
Yes, really. So what is it about Christ, or Christmas, that is so offensive?
It’s not about Christmas at all – it’s Christ that’s the issue. While many might deny the existence of God, it’s much more difficult to deny Jesus, for whom we have historical evidence of his existence, even from secular sources that are outside of the Bible. Still, the life of Jesus is so powerful, and His words so meaningful, that even atheists cannot seem to get Him out of their minds. They must find it helpful to mock the religious beliefs of Christians everywhere with their billboards, even as they encourage non-Christians to do the same.
The year before was the deadliest, worst year for Christian persecution than any other time in modern history – over 7,000 were killed. Additionally, over 2,400 churches were attacked, damaged or destroyed last year, which is more than double the number from the year before that. Church shootings happen often enough that there is even a church-shooting database. We’ve seen church bombings in Egypt, Pakistan and across the globe.
North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years), and Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list.
And while it is true in America that 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, only 51 percent consider it a “religious” holiday – and that number is declining. That means the odds are pretty good that, when you are out Christmas shopping, the person ahead of you in line, or the person behind you, probably doesn’t consider Christ’s birth as the significant “reason for the season.”
They may not realize either that buying more and more expensive gifts or all that “stuff” we buy at Christmas doesn’t mean we “care” more about our family or friends, especially when the teachings of Christ can demonstrate that love so much more than buying another gizmo or gadget. In fact, the person in line with you may not know the life of Christ very well at all, or his teachings of tolerance and respect for one another and the goodness of life. Or of gratitude and humility.
So, while Charlie Brown first asked the question in 1965 on national television, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” the answer has been the same for over 2,000 years – it’s Christ. And for crying out loud, we ought to put that up on a billboard, too.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!