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Tis the season for the life and death struggle over holiday greetings. You may have seen by now that Starbucks will be using all red cups for the holiday season–a simple design with no reference to anything Christmas-related (or really to anything at all). Apparently, this has outraged some Christians who are now scheming for ways to poke Starbucks in the eye with all the Christmas bad cheer they can muster. (I say “apparently” because (1) I don’t assume people online are who they say they are, and (2) I’ve seen far more Christians outraged over the outrage than outraged in the first place.)

Which raises an increasingly relevant question: how should we respond when the secular saints and corporate gatekeepers decide that this time of year has nothing to do with Christmas and that Christmas has nothing to do with Christ?

I understand the angst. It is annoying when the local nativity scene which offended exactly no one for 50 years is forcibly removed, or can only stay up when an obnoxiously insincere ode to Satan is placed next to it. It is sad that in a country which is still overwhelmingly Christian (even if in name only) that you have to see your kids in the “winter program” sing about snowflakes and candles and Santa and almost anything that happens in December that isn’t Christmas. I too think it is silly for stores, in an effort to keep in lockstep with the purveyors of Correct Speech, to prohibit their clerks and coffeemakers from uttering the words “Merry Christmas” when the same store manager probably rails on the evils of censorship in his free time and teaches his kids to “question authority.” So yes, keeping Christ and Christmas out of the public square is a step backward for a culture that once believed the month of December was about something more than shopping and trying to stay thin.

But reviling when reviled is hardly a wise or biblical strategy. I get the frustration. And yet, surely we can do better than communicate to the watching world, “Screw you! I’ll get you to say ‘Merry Christmas’ if it’s the last thing I ever do, jerk!” If the idea is to keep words like Christmas in the public square–and hipper-than-thou Christians take note, that’s not a pointless goal–there are better ways to go about it.

Even in our day where the language police, in the name of diversity, are eager to impose a strict uniformity of thought and expression, Christ has not been removed from Christmas and Christmas has not been totally stripped from the holidays. The same malls that may wish to rid their public space of the most innocuously “Christian” greetings, will pump out the most blatant Christian propaganda from their loud speakers by playing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, and Joy to the World. Let’s not curse the darkness when there is still much light for which we can give thanks.

More important than the Christians songs and salutations that may or may not ring out in the next six weeks are the Christians who will interact with their unbelieving friends and neighbors. What does it matter if we fight to preserve the culture of Christianity in the background if we do not dare to have any Christ-centered conversations in the foreground? Christmas is the season for welcome more than warfare, for invitation more than indignation, for hospitality more than hostility.

Let’s look at the next month and half as a season of opportunities instead of a season of obstacles. Invite a friend to church. Give out a good Christian book. Ask for someone’s favorite Christmas song. Bring your non-Christian family to the Sunday school program. Pray for 12 chances–one for each of the 12 Days of Christmas–to mention the Savior in the manger. Why not put Linus’s rendition of Luke 2 on your Facebook page? And while you’re at it, go ahead and say Merry Christmas to anyone and everyone. Just be sure to say it with a smile and not a sneer.

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22 thoughts on “Christmas Is Not for Cranks”

  1. Chris Beach says:

    An excellent and timely reminder. Thanks, Kevin.

  2. Christy Keyton says:

    THANK YOU for this. The whole red cup thing has really bothered me. It is this kind of embarrassing response which gives the name of our Lord a bad reputation (though I know He is quite capable of taking care of His own name.) Where is the kindness in our voice? It’s His kindness that leads to repentance.

  3. Dan Kreider says:

    Thanks, Kevin.

    Although, for the record… I think it was just one conservative blogger/media personality who raised a stink about it. Now everyone’s “outraged about the outrage,” but the original outrage in question is rather difficult to find in spades.

  4. Aaron S says:

    I think you stopped a little short in the analysis of the red cup thing to see it’s actually an issue. Ignore that the cups had Frosty and no religious references, that some emotional-based believers were troubled and the hypocrisy of Starbucks public announcement in light of their gift cards, advent calendars, and Christmas blend… dig deeper. What groups have funded and advocated for the remove Christmas effort? Who is Starbucks appeasing? The same groups that are protesting tax-free status for Christian organizations and charities, which, from the perspective of my finance MBA, would be catastrophic to churches and organizations alike. It seems like the cup with Frosty the Snowman has more to do with sex trafficking and orphans than we realize.

    If you disagree, consider these two points: Christian bakeries and the current lawsuit over exemption from ACA. Merry Christmas is gone just as gay marriage is gone… but we can salvage the culture of the season and stop this from gaining steam to taxes. We are on the precipitous of losing a court case involving religious organizations and ACA. If the church only continues to try to stop losing ground instead of standing on lost ground, we will only continue to lose ground. If we lose in ACA, tax exempt status is a foregone conclusion. That would cripple the existing organizations that have grown and flourished in today’s tax structure. The ridiculousness of these cups that had snowmen and ornaments is the same fight as ending abused women, sex trafficking, etc. It’s a fight the church can’t afford to remain silent on.

  5. Bobbi says:

    I agree with you Kevin. Christians are supposed to be in the world but not of the world. In Tokyo at Christmas there are many Christmas decorations but of course it is all about shopping. Now it is becoming the same here. It is all in God’s plan. God wants us to spend time with Him in prayer. When the school Christmas concert is all about snowflakes we can start a prayer group to pray for the school and especially the music. They are losing out on some beautiful music by not using the traditional songs. We can try to identify the Christian teachers and give them Christmas cards with the emphasis on freedom of religion. We can pray for the salvation of those in power. God holds their hearts in His hands and He can change them as well as ours. We need to be filled with God’s love for those who are lost. God is working in their lives as well as ours. It’s all about perseverance for God’s people! Pray and then act!

  6. 8thda says:

    I have always been rather surprised that Christians seem so upset that malls and other commercial establishments have removed Christian symbols in their December marketing campaigns. I would think just the opposite – that Christians would be upset that their religion is being used solely to market consumerism. If my most sacred symbols and language were being used to sell coffee it would certainly bother me.

    I grew up in an area of many cultures and religious backgrounds so that “Happy Holidays” was always much more appropriate than “Merry Christmas” Well, at least if you wanted to include all your neighbors and their wide range of December celebrations in your greetings. But I do agree with Kevin on this one. If you want to promote Christianity, than show some Christian values.

  7. Neville Briggs says:

    Mr DeYoung asks : how should we respond when the secular saints and corporate gatekeepers decide that this time of year has nothing to do with Christmas and that Christmas has nothing to do with Christ?

    I always think that a good strategist fights the battle on the ground of his choosing not on the ground of the opponents choosing. If we are going to respond to the world then shouldn’t it be that we engage on our ground not theirs, and we should make the encounter on God’s issues not theirs.
    Paul wrote that we are not to be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
    If we follow the world into the swamp of Christmas symbolism, aren’t we conforming to their issues and their mindset, we will sink, not them, as the Starbucks protester seems to have done.
    If they have to come to the ground of the Cross then it is they will live or die in that confrontation.

    Peter the apostle says that the living stone has been rejected by mortals, isn’t this the crucified and risen Christ. Peter calls HIm the stone that makes them stumble, a rock that makes them fall. The world easily accepts the baby in the manger, that’s safe.
    Paul didn’t preach Christ in the cradle, Paul preached Christ and Him crucified.

    It was Jesus Himself who always took the battle to His ground and on His issues.
    The Samaritan women wanted to argue about the site of temple worship, Jesus took her to her immorality, the leaders wanted to argue about paying taxes, Jesus took them to professed dedication to God. Nicodemus wanted to discuss Jesus’ qualifications, Jesus took him to his need for radical renewal.

    The world wants to play games with Christmas trees and coloured trinkets, we should take them to the cross.

  8. Sarah says:

    Two questions for you: 1) what are the “holidays” included by the greeting “happy holidays,” and which of these did Jesus celebrate? Which of these is anti-“Christian”?
    2) Our brains process symbols and all our senses process meaning not only through words and language. What do the colors red & green “say” if not “MERRY CHRISTMAS?” Do any other holidays share this exclusive color combination as symbolic in our minds?

  9. Brenda says:

    I really feel like this whole thing has been a media stunt by the left to make fools out of the Christians who would get irate by such a silly notion as holiday decorations on a disposable cup. I’m very glad that most Christians have passed the test and handled it very sensibly. I don’t know of anyone personally who was ever offended by the cup. Let’s keep thinking critically about how we present ourselves to the world as we model Christ. We need more critical thinking in The Body.

  10. Rob says:


  11. Linette McMahon says:

    Thank you!

  12. Christmas is the season for welcome more than warfare, for invitation more than indignation, for hospitality more than hostility.

    True, which is why my only objection to this excellent article is the title. Actually Christmas is for the cranks as well as for the rest of us sinners, since Jesus Christ came to save sinners.

  13. Keli Burfield says:

    I have been encouraging people to think of the whole Merry Christmas thing in a more liturgical sense. When someone says “Happy Holidays”, simply reply “And a Merry Christmas to you” A simple two part greeting with sincerity, not smugness. I have been surprised how many people will say Happy Holidays then when I respond with Merry Christmas, they will go ahead and say Merry Christmas back. I’ve let them know it’s okay and my guess is that many employees are told they can say Merry Christmas if the customer says it first. In some ways, I almost wish we could come up with a different greeting anyway-for so many people it’s not a “merry” Christmas anyway-or even a “happy” holiday. It’s sad and stressful and anything but merry or happy. And blessed or joyous doesn’t always work either. I keep hoping and praying a new tradition will start with a different greeting that keeps Christ in Christmas but isn’t all about being happy, happy, joy, joy and offers hope and encouragement instead.

  14. Linda says:

    Nowhere in scripture did God command us to celebrate Christ’s birth. Celebrating Christmas isn’t obedience to anything God ordained; not celebrating isn’t disobedience. The fact that Christians chose this time of year to remember Christ’s incarnation, his coming to earth in human form, makes it a sacred time for us. But to most people Christmas is a cultural, secular holiday with Santa and snowmen and cookies and parties and on and on. And the fact that most Christians participate in all of the cultural practices kind of blurs the distinction between holy and secular. That being said, I believe Christians who take a defensive stance in the “war on Christmas” often do more harm than good by alienating those who need to know Christ.

  15. Dan Wilcox says:

    Alright, I’m getting in on this…I’m not what you would call a “Facebook activist”, and I tend to see most things as a lot of initial hype that dies off very quickly.
    I like Starbucks, but I LOVE Christmas (as my friends will tell you). I especially love Christmas because of what it represents – the coming of Christ to earth to save a lost and dying world.
    To maintain the current climate of being politically correct, most businesses discourage their employees from saying “Merry Christmas” so as not to offend people who don’t celebrate. I find that when I say Merry Christmas to someone working somewhere, I’m usually greeted with a smile and returned “Merry Christmas” if they believe (or even if they don’t)/
    I will NOT, however, be OFFENDED that a cup does not say Merry Christmas on it – they are simply RED with the green logo – which are traditional Christmas colors. This is not some Illuminati conspiracy to eliminate Christmas, folks…just a business trying to protect it’s business interests by doing something that couldn’t even be considered offensive by anyone who is relatively reasonable.
    So, I’m going to try and start something here. I don’t know if this could become “viral”, but I’d like to make a proposal, and because most of us will still go to Starbucks.
    From now until Christmas, enjoy your Starbucks Peppermint Mocha, Caramel Brulee, Chestnut Praline, or Eggnog Latte. Wish the baristas and staff at Starbucks a Merry Christmas (and watch them smile) . Take your receipt, and commit to spending at least as much on a gift or donation to go to your charity of choice that helps spread the meaning of Christmas – Operation Christmas Child, Toys for Tots, Angel Tree, your local church, something for the kid down the street, Publix meals for needy families, a local homeless shelter…you get the idea. Since you’ve got $5 to spend on a coffee, if we’re all honest, we more than likely have another $5 we can use to share the love of our Savior, at a time of year when the rest of the world seems most open to listening to the story. I will be doing this starting today. ‪#‎redcupgiving‬
    You see, this truly is a first world problem. Jesus didn’t come to save us so we could waste time bickering of inane things like this. Can we use the time and resources we’ve been given to share His love with a still-lost and dying world?

  16. David says:

    Rev. DeYoung, I appreciated this thoughtful blog post.

    I noticed that you stated, “Christmas is the season for welcome more than warfare, for invitation more than indignation, for hospitality more than hostility.” I wonder why you wrote that. Are that many Christians angry, snarky, or snarly at Christmas time?

  17. Donna James says:

    I agree that me and my family now Know Jesus as our Savior! Thanks for this important article-it helps!

  18. Can I found any other details regarding to this subject in different languages?

  19. Meg Ishikawa says:

    While in the New Dehli Airport, I was reading your book on business. Though I do not blog, I took to heart a lot of what you said about time management and not being swept into the blogger/internet world. I thought, “Yes, I need to stay away from that TGC site as once I am in there………2 hours later I come up for air. Today I noticed this article on a friend’s Facebook page and loved it. That is the good aspect; the bad aspect is I ended up back in the good old TGC page. 2 hours later………

  20. Charley says:

    Once again, Kevin exemplifies the dismissive, entitled attitude of Christians that is making them less popular every day.

    ⦁ To him, the nativity scene on public land offended “exactly no one,” because he doesn’t listen to or care about anyone outside his religious clique, and besides, they were probably afraid to speak up in a hostile majority Christian community. If “exactly no one” cared about it, then it wouldn’t be an issue.

    ⦁ The country is “overwhelmingly Christian,” so who cares about the feelings of those who aren’t? Let them sit quietly while their kid sings about Jesus in her public school.

    ⦁ Never mind that our environment is saturated with Christian music, radio sermons, TV stations, pious billboards, and creches on lawns, churches and tire store counters; if a store decides to use a generic holiday greeting to avoid marginalizing Jews or other non-Christians, they are victims of “language police…eager to impose a strict uniformity of thought and expression.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

    ⦁ Christmas is a great opportunity to proselytize to non-believers, because, again, the views of those who don’t share your religion are not worth considering. You have all the answers.

    Go ahead, lace your Christmastime conversations with patronizing religious messages instead of showing genuine interest in the ideas of others as equals. You’ll just alienate yourselves from the rest of us, and what could be a better assurance of your righteousness than the fact that others don’t like you? It’s just like the Bible predicted!

    Christians should feel free to celebrate their holiday however they please. It would be silly to complain about the prevalence of Christian Christmas stuff this time of year, because there are a lot of Christians around. I would, however, like them to respect those who don’t share their religion. Too many of them, as Kevin demonstrates, do not. This is not political correctness; it’s just refraining from being an arrogant jerk. It’s just not that hard to respect some boundaries.

    Bonus hint: “Merry Christmas” in a personal setting is very unlikely to offend anyone. Fear of saying it is a product of right-wing stereotyping of non-Christians.

    So, Merry Christmas! And believe it or not, I really mean it.

  21. Neville in my view is correct stand firm on ground that CHrist calls us to do. The cross is our battle ground and CHrist is reason for the season. Christ…mass is to me simply a celibration of what Christ has done for us. Stand on the cross and HIs sacrifice, the greatest gift of them all.

  22. Debbie Siriwardene says:

    Thank you Pastor DeYoung! Linus is already on my FB page.
    We are in danger of losing Christmas…We must remember that the babe in the manger was God Incarnate and while “veiled in flesh”, He was upholding the world by the power of His Word.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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