The De-Christianizing of America

The America I grew up in was openly religious.

I was raised Catholic. Most of my neighbors were other Christian faiths, mostly of the Protestant variety. We had some Jews in the neighborhood, and, as I recall, a Jehovah Witness or 7th Day Aventist or two.

But, mostly Christians. We differed on how we observed our holidays and holy days - I was the envy of the neighborhood, as my Catholic mother (married to a seldom-attending Protestant) only required us to dress in ‘church clothes’ for our brief appearance at Mass.

Once home, we were free to switch to play clothes, and resume our regular activities.

My friends, in contrast, had to remain in dress clothing, and restrict their activities to reading, quiet conversation, and other ‘Sunday’ activities. No card playing, or board games. No TV. Sundays were treated as special for the entire 24 hours.

Christmas was the exception. Some of my friends did attend a church service that day. For us, it was a MANDATORY mass, no matter what the weather or the lure of games and toys.

I only remember one real difference between myself and my other Christian friends. When I was in 2nd grade, my mother had to send a note to the school, excusing me from attendance, so that I could go to the Catholic school for the day, and do a run through of my upcoming 1st Communion. The girls picked up their veils, the boys got ties (NOT clip-on), and we all got prayer books, rosaries, and a scapular (white for girls, black for boys).

The next day, a few of the other kids asked what we had done, and I explained. They had no comment, just some mild curiousity.

My mother consulted the Catholic newspaper to see if particular movies were on the forbidden list (surprisingly, the monster movies my brother and I regularly saw never seemed to make the list). Like most Catholic families, we subscribed to the Universe Bulletin, a weekly Catholic newspaper.

But, that was it. Other than the yearly attempts by my cousins to get me to ‘accept Jesus Christ as my Personal Savior’ (always occurred after the yearly revival meetings or church camp), I saw little difference in my neighbors’ observances and mine.

Front Page Magazine has a story about the changes in public attitudes towards religion. The statistic that caught my attention:

In a 2019 poll, 65% of Americans identified as Christian. Though that 65% is still a majority, it is but one data point on a rapid and steep decline. In 1960, over 92% of Americans identified as Christian.

Hallmark, as you might expect, makes a very big deal about Christmas. However, as the wife of a certified Hallmark Channel addict, I can assure you that the celebration of Christmas is mostly a focus on:

  • Food - particularly homemade cookies. Can occasionally be substituted by store-bought, if a dear friend has opened up a chic little bakery. And, don’t get me started on the construction of Gingerbread Housing!

  • Decorations - did you know that failure to put them up leads to Christmas depression, and possibly Scrooge-like behavior? Sometiemes, a semi-magical ornament is sought, because it will bring back the “true meaning of Christmas” to a dissolutioned person.

  • Trees - the selection of them is critical to a Happy Christmas Mood, and, don’t let me get started on how important the ornaments are! Preferably cut after a lengthy search in the nearby woods.

  • Santa, the elves, and flying reindeer as said to be believed in by HMC characters of all ages (and, scarily, they really DO seem to believe). Lack of belief is verboten!

  • Love - at least, romantic love, which is only possible for people that openly join into the Christmas spirit (I guess that atheists and agnostics are destined to wander the Earth without a life partner).

  • Hometowns - EVERY single woman in the stories finds true love in her home town, preferably with that man she broke up with to seek fame and fortune in the world outside.

  • Family, family, family. Parents may be widowed, but they have no problem in finding a new spouse. Sisters are lifetime friends, brothers are likewise. Peripheral relatives might be annoying, but that defect will be remedies by the end of the movie.

  • Wine - I had no idea just how important this was, untill I started sitting with him watching the HMC. Funnily, no one ever seems to get sloppy drunk (except for the designated villains), but the ladies put away bottle after bottle, anytime they get with friends or family. And, despite a diet that apparently consists of wine and desserts, with occasional side trips into latte or cappuchino, the ladies are all effortlessly slim.

Notice what I DIDN’T mention?

Church.

Oh, there is sometimes a preacher in the story (usually makes his appearance to ask for assistance with a Christmas pageant), and, of course, he will show up to marry people, if the storyline makes that necessary.

And, traditional caroling is a big thing, too, complete with traditional carols performed outside of people’s houses.

But, not church services. Not attendance at mass or other church rituals. Christmas morning is filled with gifts, food, drinks, and laughter.

But, not dressing up and heading out to services.

For that matter, other activities that aren’t on the menu:

  • Working for hours at a charity dinner for the needy, and missing one’s own family dinner.

  • Working at a job, and having to miss much of the day’s activities (I remember my mother getting us up at 5 am, so my Dad wouldn’t miss seeing us open the gifts. We were zombies that early.)

  • Cops breaking up fights, nurses and doctors laboring in operating rooms, holding the hands of patients with no family, watching people die.

OK, those last 3 are unlikely - HMC is a ‘feel-good’ channel, after all.

But, why not mention of Christ? What is the harm in bringing in talk of the actual ‘reason for the season’?