(Nativity scene, courtesy Charles Paolino, public domain)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
If you wanted to pollute Christmas and distort its true meaning, how would you do it? It has been done all around the world for centuries with the Santa Claus commercial phenomenon.
How did the legend of Santa Claus begin? According to history.com,
the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick….
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.
The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas) (www.history.com 2016. S v Santa Claus).
A. A special Christmas attraction
Here is how a local business in northern Brisbane, Qld., Australia, took the Christ out of Christmas – for commercial reasons. This is one way that this shopping centre advertised the season and how to support its enterprise. The event had been promoted by this shopping centre, MarketPlace, at Warner Qld, for a couple of months. It was advertising that on December 15, 2015, the ‘Car-istmas Giveaway closes on Friday at 5pm! Zoom zoom in for your remaining chances to enter’. It was giving away ‘a Mazda 3 Maxx’, supplied by a local Mazda dealer. It promoted, ‘Or 1 of 20, $100 MarketPlace Gift Cards. Simply spend $15 or more in any’ store there or $50 in Aldi or Woolworths. It advertised some ‘Car-istmas give away conditions of entry’.
B. What had this business done with Christmas?
I was concerned with how the ‘Christ’ in Christmas had been replaced by ‘Car-ist’, so I wrote this email to the management of MarketPlace Warner on 17 November 2015, with the subject heading, ‘Your sacrilegious attack on Christ’:
Dear management members,
Since I live in North Lakes, I read your full-page advertisement in the North Lakes Times, November 12, 2015, p. 12. As a marketing ploy, the advertisement had the heading, ‘CAR-ISTMAS Giveaway’. I have now seen your link online at: http://www.marketplacewarner.com.au/car-ristmas-giveaway-second-draw/
I write to object strongly to the way you have desecrated the name of Christ for commercial purposes. You may have thought ‘CAR-ISTMAS’ was an attention-seeking headline, but I as a Christian am offended by what you have done to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a special season of the year for the Christian community for the celebration of Christ’s birth, not for a marketing grab to eliminate Christ from the season, which is what your MarketPlace advertisement has done.
I urge you to quit this sacrilege immediately. If you tried that approach with Muhammad at the time of Ramadan, could you imagine the response?
I added this P.S.: Sacrilege is ‘an act of treating a holy thing or place without respect’ (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v sacrilege). I also included my home phone number.
C. Response: ‘We are all Christians here’
The next morning (18 November 2015), I received a courteous phone call from a woman in the office of MarketPlace Warner, saying, ‘We are all Christians here’. Interesting that she included, ‘all’. I took this to mean ‘all in management’. I urged her to get the management to remove the emphasis of this advertising immediately. She did not respond to my gentle request. However, the advertising in the North Lakes Times continued the following week with ‘Car-istmas’ on 19 November 2015 (p. 8):
On 18 November after the phone call, I sent this email to MarketPlace Warner:
Dear management staff,
Thank you for the phone call I received this morning about my email from yesterday regarding the sacrilege of your use of CAR-ISTMAS Giveaway in promotion of MarketPlace.
However, my disappointment with the phone call is that no attempt was made to admit that you got it wrong and that CAR-ISTMAS takes the CHRIST out of CHRISTMAS and you will eliminate such a sacrilegious statement from your present advertising.
I commend MarketPlace for its nativity scene at a time when such are disappearing from shopping centres.
This is how MarketPlace Warner advertised on its homepage at Christmas 2015:
Notice the emphasis. The ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting (online) is with Santa and not with the nativity scene. So much for ‘we are all Christians here’! If they were, Christ should have received a more prominent place.
The woman who phoned told me that MarketPlace Warner has a large nativity scene at the centre, which she said was more than I would find at most other centres. As a result of this conversation, I checked on what was displayed at my local Westfield Shopping Centre, North Lakes, and found a very small nativity scene (near the NAB Bank entrance to the mall), but there was no wording to say what it represented. Instead, Santa was large as life near the food court and he had children lined up with parents for the children to be photographed with Santa.
D. Newspaper letter’s censorship
I adapted the letter sent to MarketPlace Warner in a letter-to-the-editor, North Lakes Times. My letter, sent on 17 November 2015, with the heading, ‘Sacrilege at Christmas’, read:
I read the full-page advertisement for MarketPlace Warner, with the heading, ‘CAR-ISTMAS Giveaway’ (North Lakes Times, Nov 12, page 12).
I object strongly to the way MarketPlace has desecrated the name of Christ for commercial purposes. It may have thought ‘CAR-ISTMAS’ was an attention-seeking headline.
I as a Christian am offended by what this business has done to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a special season of the year for the Christian community for the celebration of Christ’s birth, not for a marketing grab to eliminate Christ from the season.
I urge MarketPlace Warner to quit this sacrilege immediately. If it tried that approach with Muhammad at the time of Ramadan, could you imagine the response?
How do you think the North Lakes Times published this letter? Here is a Print Screen copy that appeared in the North Lakes Times, 26 Nov 2015, ‘Conversations’, p. 8, with the changed heading, ‘Reason for the season’:
1. The nature of the editing
Notice what the North Lakes Times did with my letter. It censored the last paragraph which read, ‘I urge MarketPlace Warner to quit this sacrilege immediately. If it tried that approach with Muhammad at the time of Ramadan, could you imagine the response?’
2. Is this an important issue?
Is this a trifling issue? Have I made a mountain out of a mole hill? I don’t think so, for this primary reason. Jesus told Christians:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt 5:13-16 NIV).
a. Salt and light are indispensable
In the world of the first century and extending to the twenty-first century, salt has the qualities of a sharp taste and preservative power. It is this latter quality, ‘the potency of salt as an antiseptic, a substance that prevents and retards decay, upon which the emphasis falls here, though the subsidiary function of imparting flavor must obviously not be excluded (see Lev. 2:13; Job 6:6; Col 4:6)’. The negative function of salt is seen in how it combats deterioration. Christians should be in seen in action against moral and spiritual decay (Hendriksen 1973:282). Why would a woman in the office at a reasonable sized shopping centre own up to, ‘We are all Christians here’, if it were not for my challenge to that centre? As of 2 January 2016, there had not been one letter of opposition published by the newspaper to the content of my letter.
The qualities of light should be self evident in exposing the darkness. In Scripture, we see light associated with true knowledge of God (Ps 36:9, cf Matt 6:22-23), goodness, righteousness and truthfulness (Eph 5:8-9); joy, gladness, true happiness (Ps 97:11; Isa 9:1-7). From Eph 5:8 we know that Christians are ‘a light in the Lord’. Believers are reflections of Christ who is the true light (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46). Jesus’ words were, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12 ESV).
I consider I was being salt and light in action in exposing the censorship of Christ at Christmas, all in the name of commercialism. This is engaging in the ministry of cultural apologetics. The Colson Center for Christian Worldview has stated that cultural apologetics involves the ‘working to transform the rhythms and practices of our culture – including the culture of our Christian communities – to reflect the beauty and desirability of Christ’ (‘Cultural Apologetics’).
What lengths will a significant sized business go to promote the commercialism of Christmas and take Christ out of Christmas?
MarketPlace Warner decided to attract customers to its shopping centre for Christmas 2015 by engaging with a local Mazda car dealership to put customers in the draw to win a motor vehicle if customers would make a certain amount of purchases. Of course, there was advertising chosen to promote this commercial venture that was designed to attract people to that shopping centre.
In doing this, MarketPlace Warner deliberately downgraded the Christ of Christmas to replace him with the Car of Christmas. This is sacrilegious marketing, in my view. In spite of the claim by an administrative staff member that ‘we are all Christians here’, I wouldn’t know that from the nature of the Christmas advertising in the full-page advertisements in the North Lakes Times (Nov 12, 2015, pp 12-14 and Nov 19, 2015, pp 8-9). There were half-page advertisements that I noticed on 10 Dec, 2015, p. 8 and 17 Dec, 2015, p. 2.
When I submitted a letter to the editor of the North Lakes Times, it was published, but the newspaper censored the portion when I compared it with what would happen if it did a similar thing to Muhammad at Ramadan.
The end result is that this message was nowhere to be found in the promotion of Christmas by MarketPlace Warner on its website or in the commercial (full page advertisements) in the North Lakes Times. This kind of proclamation was excluded, ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!’ (Luke 2:10-11 NLT).
You may say, of course it would be eliminated because that is not a viable message to sell goods at Christmastime. That’s my very point. Christmas is not a time for commercialism but for declaring Messiah’s coming into the world, becoming flesh, and this led to the provision of salvation to come through his sacrificial death on the cross (Matt 26:28), available to those who put their faith in Jesus.
Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.
 Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/marketplacewarner/posts/534421553374133?fref=nf (Accessed 1 January 2016).
 MarketPlace Warner 2015. Available at: http://www.marketplacewarner.com.au/file/2015/11/MPW-CARISTMAS-GIVEAWAY-2015-TERMS-CONDITIONS.pdf (Accessed 1 January 2016).
 Available at: http://www.marketplacewarner.com.au/merry-christmas-from-the-team-at-marketplace-warner/ (Accessed 1 January 2016).
 These Scriptures and emphases were supplied by Hendriksen (1973:284).
Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 January 2016.