Taking Christ out of Christmas TV Shows and Movies

Many TV shows offer special holiday themed episodes. Three holidays are most often highlighted are Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. What I find interesting is how different shows handle their Christmas-themed episode. Most present the holiday only in its secular elements. But occasionally, sometimes surprisingly, a show will throw in a religious Christmas song or a mention that it is Jesus’ birthday.

Now I don’t expect or want a TV sitcom, for example, to teach religion or theology. Entertainers are generally not qualified to teach religion. However, it is appropriate for entertainment shows to include religion in their portrayals of life. Many people are believers in religion, and in the U.S., most believers are Christian. So no reasonable person of good will should be offended if a show, once a year, happens to include the religious aspects of Christmas in an entertainment show.

One of the more prominent Christmas TV shows is the famous “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. When Charlie Brown asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”, Linus answers with a lengthy quote from the Bible, including the verse: “For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord….” [YouTube clip] This is the example, par excellence, of how to put Christmas in a TV show.

But that show dates back to 1965. As time has passed, it has become increasingly counter-cultural to put any religious elements in a Christmas-themed TV show. Many shows ignore Christmas, or make their Christmas episode entirely secular. Even so, some shows work in a few references to the religious nature of the holiday.

This year, “Modern Family” incorporated the song Silent Night into the episode “White Christmas”. Nice. The characters also said, “Merry Christmas”. Unfortunately, when asked “Christmas, who came up with this one?”, one character answered: “The emperor Constantine”. Not sure if that was supposed to be funny.

The increasingly bizarre yet delightful show “Undateable Live” did a Christmas episode with religious songs and a very blatant statement that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. The characters wore Christmas sweaters, with a Hanukah sweater for a Jewish character. One sweater had a large image of Jesus and the label “birthday boy”. The character (Danny) wore this image through most of the episode. It seems they were making fun of shows which try to remove religion from their Christmas episodes. Another character sang part of the song “O Holy Night”, and sang it very well, including the lyrics:
“Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine”.
And the show concluded with a lengthy rendition of Joy to the World, sung by an actual Gospel choir. Impressively counter-cultural.

Now I enjoy watching that beloved Christmas show: “How the Grinch stole Christmas”. But I notice that they have skillfully removed Christ from the holiday. In one sense, the show is a criticism of the commercialization of Christmas. When the “Whos” lose all their Christmas gifts and decorations, they still have a Christmas spirit. But even so, there is no trace of the real meaning of Christmas, no Christ, no mention of religion at all. The characters sing about welcoming “Christmas Day”. This is an example of a type of secular spiritualism, which seems vaguely religious, but lacks God or any belief system.

The Hallmark channel, for several years now, has been cranking out several Christmas movies every holiday season. They have built up quite a portfolio of Christmas movies. But the typical plot is a woman who finds true romance at Christmas time. These movies are typically rated G or PG, so they are suitable for the whole family. But there is little mention of the reason for the season. Even so, once in a while they have a religious Christmas song in the movie, or a character mentioning “midnight Mass”. So they have not entirely secularized Christmas.

Then there are the Christmas movies based on the idea that “Santa is real”. Elves, magic, flying reindeer, and some humorous version of Santa (or his wife, brother, or child) fills up the storyline. This type of movie is fun, and kid-friendly. I don’t have any strong objection to this type of show. But I would like to see more Christmas movies include the understanding that Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth.

Every Christmas movie doesn’t have to center around the events at the Birth of the Savior of the world. On the other hand, celebrating Christmas with no mention of Christ is offensive to God. It is not good for society when people try to push religious belief into a corner, as if faith were a cause of shame or embarrassment. I appreciate it when shows make some mention of the religious nature of Christmas, even if it is just a few lines from a religious Christmas song, or a passing mention of Jesus or attending Christmas Mass.

See also: Who is Saint Nicholas?

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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