In Chicago Christmas begins in November, with the revealing of Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) Christmas windows and the hanging of golden trumpets on the façade of the grand old department store. Inside, for more than 100 years the Walnut Room restaurant has glistened in its holiday glory with its centerpiece: a stunning Christmas tree. On the fifth floor, Santa awaits his eager fans in Santaland. The store buzzes with shoppers in a crush of shopping bags from Macy’s and other stores up and down the historic State Street shopping district.
Tis the season of Jesus, Santa and Pope Francis. It’s too early to place Francis in the pantheon of church reformers alongside Gregory VII or Adrian VI—or even next to John XXIII, who memorably announced the Second Vatican Council by saying that it was time to “open the windows and let some fresh air in.” But the early returns on the first Latin American pontiff suggest that his will be anything but a caretaker papacy.
I am a historian of the prosperity gospel. My dad is a historian of Christmas. Yes, the apple basically fell straight down beside the tree. About this time every year we have something fun to argue about: has Christmas become just another reflection of the North American cult of consumerism?
G. K. Chesterton once called the U.S. the “nation with the soul of a church.” The Pakistanis now find us the nation with the soul of a Predator drone. The French and Germans called; they just want their privacy back. Meanwhile, Americans don’t know what or whom to believe about their country’s misconduct in the world.
Billy Graham’s 95th birthday party last week was a heartwarming event—and a media spectacle. Most accounts of the celebration emphasized the star-studded guest list. Even in his golden years, Graham has not lost his golden touch: an aura of wholesome Christian patriotism that appeals to entertainers looking to transcend showbiz as well as to culture warriors on the make.
The reporters who covered the party provided a window into Graham’s lasting power as a cultural icon, but they largely missed his significance to American Christianity.