Christian nativity displays are prominent during the month of December. FFRF's secular nativity is a reminder of our nation's secular roots.
It’s that time of year again. Red and green decorations dominate the landscape. Mariah has come out of her 11-month hibernation to serenade us with her Christmas carols. Time again to trade cookies with the neighbors and to watch a decked out pine tree die slowly in the living room.
Jesus is hard to miss this time of year. But at least it is little baby Jesus and not the bloody corpse hanging on the cross that graces most Christian displays. No matter your religion or lack of, that little bugger is everywhere. Nestled in his little bed of straw, he’s a kinder gentler depiction of Christianity than the horrific display of his death and resurrection at Easter time in the spring.
As I get my fill of hot chocolate and candy canes with dreams of new kitchen gadgets and perhaps a new pair of running shoes, dancing in my head, most of the religious displays go unnoticed by me. I left Christianity in my rear view many years ago. The symbolism of it for me at least has been rendered irrelevant. But it still lingers, like the scent of French fries in my car left behind from an ill-fated late-night trip through a fast food drive-through. Just the ghost of a bad fairy tale.
But one group has sought to give little baby Jesus a bit of competition for the eyeballs of the holiday shoppers and jolly pedestrians.
For the last three years, I have helped to set up my local Chapter of the Freedom of Religion Foundation’s Nativity display at our state capitol in Sacramento California. It’s not large or obnoxious, but a simple display of three of our nation’s founders. It consists of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe with Lady Liberty looking down at the sweet little baby Bill of Rights in the manger. A secular display, and an expression of the rights our founders enshrined in our constitution to protect all Americans from a theocracy.
So maybe not quite as festive as a fat guy in a red suit handing out presents.
Although it is a pleasant reminder, that someone is looking out for us. Not from heaven, but right here on earth. And this year, our chapter’s display sits at the entrance to the capital and visible to the incoming members of the legislature. Hopefully encouraging them to uphold their oath and duty to protect the religious and the non-religious from the slow but steady deterioration of the wall between church and state.
In the last few years, we have seen the ever-steady march of bad decisions such as the Bremerton case, where a court ruled in favor of a Christian Football coach to lead his team in prayer. Essentially giving him license to proselytize to public school kids. And of course the high court’s decision to take a terrifying step toward a real-life Handmaid’s Tale with the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation’s secular displays are nationwide and sorely needed in this time of rulings that privilege Christianity over the rights of everyone else. They don’t need myth or the threat of everlasting torture to instill dread that our very rights are in danger. Instead they have created a counter display that highlights the importance of inclusivity of all Americans to celebrate as they wish, or to not celebrate at all. Their nativity display needs no pretense of magic or a virgin birth to remind us that our founders intended us to be free from the tyranny of a government intertwined with religion.
The roots of the Christmas holiday come from the pagan celebration of the sun. It is a time to celebrate the coming New Year, our family and friends, and the things in our life we have to be grateful for. It is a time for reflection and renewal. And these secular Christmas displays are a sobering reminder of what our country was founded on and that the values of all Americans, not just Christians should be respected and preserved.