John McCutcheon wrote a song in 1984 for his “Signs of the Times” album about a beauty contest and p**n distributers. The money line in the song goes: “the bad one sells, but the worse one buys.” The issue that Terry Mattingly writes about here is completely in that vein. I think Terry has hit a homerun with this article about where the real problem lies regarding the “secularization” of the holy days. (The count for our household is way under 50% of the cards we’re receiving have Christian theme or content–and if they won’t send a priest a Christian Christmas card, what do you think they’re sending their neighbors and friends?)
If you are like me, you are reading all of the Christmas Wars stories (hey, I do have a degree in church-state studies) but you are also getting sick of them. Sick. Of. Them.
The stories are valid and they say something about, well, the state of public religion in a tragically large circle of lawyers and direct-mail fundraisers who have twisted minds.
But what does all of that have to do with ordinary people out there who either are or are not celebrating Christmas? I know that the interfaith public-school Holiday concerts matter, I know that they say something about us as a culture. But I’ve already read that story. I want to read something else. I want some journalists somewhere — especially if they have some resources for creative research — to come up with some new wrinkle, some symbolic set of facts that tells me something that I don’t already know about this cultural trainwreck called The Holidays.
So, in that spirit, let’s all give a big cheer for Ian Drury and the editors of the Daily Mail on the other side of the big pond.
Somebody over there had a brilliant idea for a way to look at this season at a really practical level — at the level of ordinary people buying and mailing what used to be called Christmas cards. Here is the top of the story to which I want to call your attention. It leads with one of those pesky facts that just gets in the brain and buzzes around in there:
Only one in 100 Christmas cards sold in Britain contains any religious imagery or message, a Daily Mail survey has revealed.
Traditional pictures such as angels blowing trumpets over a stable, Jesus in his manager, the shepherds and three wise men following the star to Bethlehem are dying out. Instead, scenes of the Nativity has been replaced on cards by designs or jokes with little or no relevance to the Bible story and the true meaning of Christmas.
One “offensive” card risked provoking Christians by suggesting the shepherds only saw the angel appear on the hillside because they were hallucinating after smoking drugs. And another card ignores Christmas altogether — wishing the recipient a “Happy December.”
. . . A Daily Mail survey of about 5,500 cards sold in well-known High Street stores, including WH Smith, Clinton Cards and Hallmark, found fewer than 70 — just over 1 per cent — had images linked to the Nativity.
Despite the vast majority carrying the word “Christmas” — about 2,920, or 54%, of them on the front — many wished only “Seasons Greetings” and others did not have a message. Hundreds of cards avoided any image linked to Christmas at all — including fir trees, baubles, snowmen or Santa Claus.
Wow. Now try to blame that on the government. This really implies that something much more basic has happened in the culture, down at the very level of oridnary life for adults young and old. I mean, what are all of the elderly Brits buying? What happened to that generation? What are evangelicals mailing out?
You can blame this on multiculturalism, interfaith families and “political correctness” — some people quoted in the story do some of that — but that can only be part of the picture. I mean, are there business people who own the greeting-card companies who are really ignoring focus-group data revealing an untapped desire to buy cards with icons and other forms of religious imagery? That could be the next story, I guess.
This also makes we wish that a major newspaper or wire service here in the United States jumped on this story and did a similar survey of cards here. Where is the greeting-card industry based? Anyone know?
By the way, here is one of the nice touches in the story — the Daily Mail’s list of some of the worst of the worst “un-Christmassy Christmas cards.” Enjoy:
1. Cartoon of two people, cosy in scarves and woolly hats, as snow falls. But Christmas is forgotten: “Have a December . . . to remember,” it reads.
2. Pre-Second World War photo of a prim, proper woman looking down the barrel of a rifle with the caption: “It wasn’t quite the same. Chavs were a lot slower than foxes, but at least no-one complained.”
3. Seven meerkats stand on their hind legs. One wobbles unsteadily. The banner reads: “It was obvious from the police line-up who had robbed the off-licence!”
4. Card to raise money for cancer charities features a photo of Westminster Bridge at night. Could have been taken in summer.
5. Photo of Brussels sprouts.
OK, OK, that’s enough. You get the idea.