While the world trembles in the face of terror and destruction, global warming and economic doom, Auckland is having a row about Christmas.
It seems an Auckland group is calling its annual end of year party a "Festive" party, deliberately avoiding the word "Christmas". Considering this would be pretty normal practice in the USA and a lot of the rest of the world, the number who are protesting the loss of "Christmas" is quite remarkable. From the national Race Relations Conciliator and the Anglican Bishop of Auckland to the worst kind of cultural bigots to get their few minutes on talk-back radio there's arisen a storm of anxiety that "their" Christmas may be taken away from them.
It's all a bit over the top. In the first place, Auckland Regional Migrant Services didn't want their essentially multi-ethnic constituency to feel excluded by the term "Christmas". That seems absolutely reasonable. Also, Christmas was originally set on the date of a pagan festival and bears no relation to any date that might ever be proved to be the birth of Jesus. And, as if that weren't enough, this country has been termed "the most secular society in the western world" by at least one observer.
I am reminded of a cartoon from the 1960s showing Christmas advertising with a tiny nativity scene sandwiched into the middle of it all outside a church. One onlooker says to another, "What will these Christians do next - now they're trying to take over Christmas".
It's not so funny. The churches in this country ran big campaigns to "put Christ back into Christmas" a few decades ago. I'm not at all sure that they did either church or society much of a service. I am not convinced that a nativity scene, probably including three kings who aren't in the bible (the "wise men" who are there should be celebrated at Epiphany rather than Christmas!) are any more meaningful than a nice blue and gold Northland beach scene with some pretty pohutukawa flowers and a simple greeting.
Projecting our faith and beliefs onto anyone else, be it ordinary New Zealand unbelievers or people who follow other faiths with commitment, is just not acceptable. In fact, come to think of it, it's not acceptable even among Christians either. Christmas may continue to be a feature of our society or it may not. But let's not kid ourselves that it has profound meaning for the great majority of us. Or that the minority who find meaning have a God-given right to thrust their views on others.
Next Sunday, I have been invited to offer what may well be one of the last opportunities to share my faith. Well, whatever it is, it won't be an in-depth reiteration of the Christmas myth. In the context of the stupid row that's going on over Christmas, think I might talk about children.