A long time ago there was a “War on Christmas.” I am thankful that the war ended and people arrived at a compromise. People used to complain about how the Christmas season began in the stores in September, and everyone had capitulated to the commercialization of Christmas and lost the spirit of Christmas. Then the Great Compromise was reached and the last five weeks of the year were devoted entirely to Thanksgiving. People agreed that, whether one celebrated Christmas, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, The Holiday Season, New Year’s, or Epiphany, whether one gave gifts or enjoyed special food or fasted from both, we all had reasons to be thankful, and that one day a year for Thanksgiving was much too little. So the Season of Thanksgiving was born. What better way to end one year and begin another than to give thanks?
To whom? Most people give thanks to God, but the spill-over into giving thanks to one another and the ability to be gracious even to those we disagree with, when we are truly grateful, are reasons enough to be tolerant of those who can’t agree about how to give thanks to God.
Some people continued to give thanks for the birth of Jesus as part of the general thanksgiving, and sang carols in the same ways and words they always had sung. A minority moved Christmas into springtime, and connected it with Easter, since the story of Jesus’ birth belonged in the springtime, when the shepherds were actually in the fields taking care of their sheep, and Easter and Christmas did logically belong together, they said, with “new birth” and incarnation themes. That meant a lot of familiar carols were sung to new words. “In the Bleak Midwinter” became “In the Blessed Springtime” and “Greensleeves” came to be called “Greengrasses,” which made more sense anyway, since no one knew what green sleeves was about. Other people gave thanks with the Santa Claus custom and continued the gift-giving traditions that came with it. Lots of things gradually changed.
“Seasons Greetings” was always too generic, while “Merry Christmas” was too specific, so “Be Grateful” came to dominate. Partly a happy wish and partly a serious recommendation, there was no room for a Grinch to be a grouch anymore. People agreed that everyone surely had something to be grateful for, and, if they didn’t, there was even more reason to spread good cheer by sharing in the spirit of Thanksgiving by giving to those who had little.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” became the “The Six weeks of Thanksgiving,” and lots more verse were added to the song, since there were now forty-two days for “my true love’s” gifts. The single day of feasting that recalled the Pilgrims at Plymouth gave way for some folks to continuous feasting during the six weeks so that all of those end-of-the-year family eating traditions could take their rightful place as part of Thanksgiving. Of course that didn’t really change from the way the end of the year had been observed for those folks anyway.
Wars need to come to an end, and the spirit of Christmas predominated finally over those who were resentful and jealous of the many customs that encroached upon Christmas. They understood that resentment and jealousy had no part in Christmas, and so they led the way toward a truce that captured the best of all the competing factions. And nowadays when we sing “Silent night, holy night,” it really is calm and peaceful. Thank God! Be Grateful!