In our free society, people of faith have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We all have a right to express our viewpoints, including but not limited to our own religious beliefs. However, there are certain things that are often not said and will be surprising to see. Don’t look for me to tell you that Fox & Friends is the most religious show on TV, or that the attack on Christmas should continue. The truth is more subtle.
The latest TV commercial for “Punxsutawney Phil” — our annual Groundhog Day prediction day — features a cute baby girl gazing up at her big sister with concern. “Why are there so many rocks under the tree?” asks the girl. “We’re eight months old,” says her big sister. “Why don’t we have more presents?” asks the little girl.
That’s a challenging question for a parent of any age, but even more so for a parent of a very young child. The answer is simple: parenthood is a rewarding but sometimes unpredictable adventure, and there will be more stones under the tree. The rocks are boring, not something we can tolerate for much longer, so the real question should be why we would celebrate Christmas at all? Why do we feel the need to glorify the birth of a Roman Emperor, named “The Great,” who died in 323? How do we turn out our lights, decorate our trees and eat all the eggnog and cookies when the Romans who brought Christianity to Europe didn’t really know about Jesus?
We don’t really know, but those of us in the christian faith can only wish for a more complete understanding of this story. We can’t read the minds of our critics, so we are left to ponder, to wonder, “What if we had a night light, and if the Roman emperor really were the great?” If we had a daylight saving time to remember to the time that was appointed for the Christmas story, maybe, just maybe, Christians wouldn’t have to add “nativity scenes” in public places like schools and government buildings. Maybe, just maybe, nobody would make a big deal about how “politically correct” it is to only celebrate Christmas, which actually was not very politically correct until the 1920s.
These aren’t the questions I would ask you on national television. In fact, I’m not sure I would ever have the chance to talk to you at all — not if it weren’t for Barbara Walters.
I first came across the historical and mythological stories of Christmas on television in 1969. I was in graduate school, looking for internships in radio and television in Washington, D.C. A professor at American University told me about her church’s youth group doing Christmas carols at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. When the music stopped, the kids would hurry to the door so they could take the shirts off the people sitting in front of them. They’d put on their Christmas ties and ties to celebrate the story of the birth of the baby in Bethlehem.
The professor suggested I join that group. I was horrified. Christmas was a time for family and tradition and having fun. There would never be time for anything like that at graduation. My family was religious, of course, but I wasn’t interested in church, or in what my professor had to say about it.
When the word spread that I had applied for an internship at ABC News, I found myself doing some intern work for Barbara Walters. She had a long history in radio, TV and newspapers, and for more than 40 years she was still doing great work for her television network.
Watching Barbara Walters’ interviews with luminaries such as Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali, Barbara Walters and Martin Luther King, Jr., I realized that her three projects were: interviews with public figures and entertainers; reporting live from the scene of significant events; and working on the day’s broadcast. I learned that the earliest journalists had recorded what had happened to other people. From those oral histories came the information that made up the “man in the street” format that was pioneered by Roone Arledge, then known as “The Playboy of Television.”
In college, we were given scores of TV shows to watch on our university-provided cable set. I remember watching one after another, from The Phil Donahue Show to the Ed Sullivan Show to 60 Minutes. Donahue, an African-American Christian