The results of a new survey by the Bible Society (U.K.) on what Britons know about Christmas were published in The Telegraph this morning, and they give us some rather surprising results. For example, of the 1,000 adults and 1,000 children surveyed only 26% of the respondents knew that the Virgin Mary was betrothed, but not yet married, to St. Joseph at the time she became pregnant. Now the fact that in this survey 37 people responded that Father Christmas – aka Santa Claus – was the first to drop by Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus made me raise an arched eyebrow. No matter how ignorant contemporary society may be, this seems to me to be one of those leg-pulling results, where those being surveyed decide to give bizarre answers for the sake of annoying the pollster.
In a weird way however, the mistake of believing Santa Claus dropped by the manger on Christmas Eve offers an opportunity for conversation with those who perhaps think that Christmas is just for kids, or is nothing more than a commercial scam, or that Jesus Himself never existed, and so on. For Santa Claus, of course, is a secularized version of St. Nicholas, the great 4th century bishop and champion of Christian orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea. Personally, I have always liked the image of Santa kneeling by the manger, for it puts him into perspective: God is God, and we are not, even when He comes to be born in such a humble fashion.
That being said, the results of the survey which mistakenly place St. Nicholas in Bethlehem do bring home to us the fact that in Britain, a significant percentage of the population is simply no longer Christian, but rather some sort of melange of Christianity, Gnosticism and bad Christmas movies. This is why there is such an urgent need for re-evangelization both in Europe and in this country, since unfortunately I suspect that such a survey if conducted in America would probably turn up somewhat similar results. There is also a need for an overall attitude shift toward one of looking for opportunities to ask questions and not be afraid of addressing the answers.
In assuming that we live in a society which is overwhelmingly Christian, many of us are probably guilty of a kind of laziness which has allowed all sorts of anti-Christian nonsense to be given attention which it does not deserve, particularly at this time of year. It is the same kind of laziness which over the past century has allowed all kinds of ideological pigs – Margaret Sanger, for example – to escape from their intellectual mud puddles and wreak havoc all over the place. So-called elites champion the cause of an ideological minority, with the blessing of the media, and thereby convince us that in fact, they are the new majority, the new orthodoxy. And gradually, regrettably, over time we come to believe it, through some combination of a sense of inevitability, ignorance, and pessimism.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way, but it does require that you stand up for what you profess to believe. Consider being brave enough to ask your next-door neighbor, the lady you always see in the supermarket, and so on, if they are celebrating Christmas this year, and if they are, why they are doing so in the first place. And while perhaps their answers may disturb you, if they are anything like those in this new survey, then congratulations! You have just found yourself an opportunity to try to counteract what has been happening to Western Christianity over the past several decades.
Much as St. Nicholas himself fought against the overwhelming popularity of Arianism in his day in order to champion the Divinity of Christ, take advantage of the opportunity of contemporary ignorance to help bring Christmas back to what it actually means. You do not have to give the devil his due. For despite all the bad catechesis, secular materialism, atheist chic, and so on, you can witness to your faith where you are right now, as we enter this final full week of Advent. It just takes a bit of courage and love, which none of these dark forces can take away, to take that one-on-one step of sharing with someone else.