How the Pope stole Christmas

So Benedict XVI writes a characteristically smart and accessible and spiritual book, this one on the infancy of Jesus, the third in his trilogy, and in it he makes some commonplace observations about the likelihood of various Christmas traditions -- all the while highlighting the centrality of the Christmas message, the Incarnation.But some believers and bloggers and media outlets are scandalized at the heresy of questioning the such dogmatic precepts as the presence of cute farm animals at the manger. Reuters' Phil Pullella has the holiday hullabaloo:

(Reuters) - And so it came to pass that in the eighth year of Pope Benedict's reign, some tabloid and social media decreed that he had cancelled Christmas.The day after Benedict's latest book "The Infancy Narratives - Jesus of Nazareth" - was published on November 20, Vatican officials found some headlines they were not expecting."Killjoy pope crushes Christmas nativity traditions," read one tabloid headline, claiming that Benedict had snubbed traditions such as animals in nativity scenes and caroling."Pope sets out to debunk Christmas myths," ran another.Holy Scrooge! Some blogs unceremoniously branded Benedict the new Grinch that stole Christmas and one rocketed him to the "top of the grumpy list for 2012."And then there was this zinger headline from a web news site: "Pope bans Christmas".

"I think that what people need to realize here is that the pope is trying to be as historical as he can be," Father Robert Dodaro, professor of patristics at Rome's Patristic Institute, told Pullella."He wants to see the biblical narratives as history where possible but he is also trying to explain details in the narratives that cannot be historically verified," he said.God forbid.UPDATE: The Vatican paper weighs in, rather unhelpfully, saying the media confusion is another symptom of the widespread and silent marginalization of God in contemporary society. It is alsoa sign of the secularization and spiritual desertification of today's world.I'm not so sure that a love of Christmas traditions, albeit somewhat unbalanced, is a sign of godlessness and barbarians at the gate. Maybe it's a sign that the Church has work to do on education as well as evangelization, and needs to do it better. Benedict's books have been bestsellers, and this one is likely to be so as well. But maybe atheists are buying them all to burn them. For heat. Over the solstice. Yeah, that's it...

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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