First it was the Deon Maas/Satanism affair: (see Notes from underground: Christian responses to "Satanism" and journalists who write about it). Then it was the film The Golden Compass. Now, in this month's Synchroblog, Matt Stone comments about Christmas in a pluralist society, and the demand for a politically correct Christmas, where he says:
To my way of thinking what we should be aiming for, as a democratic and pluralistic society, is not a blanding out of religious distinctiveness, but rather for the mutual respect of religious distinctiveness. I may not agree with everything Jewish or Pagan tradition stands for, or Hindu or Buddhist or Atheist for that matter, but I can surely give non-Christians space to express what they find meaningful in life in their own way. I see nothing in the New Testament that would justify compulsion.
But by the same token I feel no compulsion to water down my own tradition either, and I expect the same courtesy and respect I show to others to be returned to me.
And that reminded me of the Santa boycott, which had a huge influence on the way in which I see and celebrate Christmas.
No, not that Santa.
It was this one -- the South African National Tuberculosis Association.
It was a long time ago, when I was still at school, about 1958, I think.
Santa was (and still is) an NGO, and one of the ways that it raised funds was by selling Christmas stamps. These could be bought at post offices, and they urged people to buy them and put them on Christmas cards that they sent out. This would not only raise funds for Santa, but also publicise the work of the organisation. Its work is needed more than ever today, because TB is on the increase, as Aids weakens people's resistance to the disease.
In about 1958 their Christmas stamp showed the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus, and the Dutch Reformed Church called for a boycott of the stamps, because they depicted the Virgin Mary with a halo.
Back in those days there were no cell phones, and so one couldn't call for boycotts by SMS, so it was done by press release instead. The Afrikaans press dutifully plugged it, and the sales of Christmas stamps dropped. And, as happens today, the English press commented on how bigoted and narrow-minded it all was.
My own response at the time was to react against it.
I resolved never to buy Christmas cards that did not show a nativity scene, preferably one showing the Virgin Mary with a halo. And I began, self-consciously and deliberately, to write "Christmass" with the double-s spelling.
The people who then called for a boycott of Christmass stamps were the same elements of society who have more recently been calling for a boycott of Deon Maas and The Golden Compass, and in that respect little has changed. But as Matt Stone points out in his blog, they have now been joined by other elements.
There was a reaction from other quarters as well.
The following year the Catholic Church brought out its own Christmass stamps, with the slogan "Put Christ back into Christmas", and sold them at Catholic Churches after their services. And many Anglicans I knew also went along and bought them.
Santa, on the principle of once bitten is not twice bitten, capitualted just as Beeld did in the Deon Maas affair, and produced entirely secular Christmas stamps the following year. I don't know whether Dutch Reformed Church members started buying them again, but by then many Catholics and Anglicans were buying the "Put Christ back into Christmas" stamps instead.
I've already posted my contribution for this month's synchroblog on Redeeming the season on my other blog, and tried to avoid the culture wars, and simply describe what the season means to Orthodox Christians, reckoning that most of the other synchrobloggers would not be familiar with that
But many of the other synchrobloggers did blog, directly or indirectly, about the culture wars, and Matt Stone's contribution reminded me of this episode in the past, so I thought I'd have a second bite at the cherry and blog about it here.
And the work of Santa is still needed.