Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Christmas Wars

Another holiday season, another spate of political correctness and intolerance all at the same time. With that in mind, here are some thoughts for everyone busy trying to "take the season back".

Note on terminology: I will use the term "Christian" to refer to those who feel this is a Christian holiday that has been taken by other groups. I understand that there are many Christians out there who have considerably more perspective, but it's a convenient term for my purposes. Also, I use the term "Christmas" to refer to the time of year, which coincides with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. I do not use it because it has more legitimacy, but it certainly does have more market penetration.

  • Christmas is old. Very old. A lot older than Jesus, in fact. Even the fact that Christmas occurs where it does has more to do with trying to convert pagans to Christianity than it does with an actual calendar date when Jesus was born. The turning of the seasons and the arrival of the shortest day of the year (counting daylight hours) was a matter of hope, nay, survival in the ancient world, because that meant that the sun would eventually return, and with it the growing season. Christians can celebrate it in their own way, but they do not own it (other than the term "Christmas"). 
  • The season has, if anything been taken over by commercialism. I have friends who are retailers, and this is the biggest time of the year for them. The season allows them to be in business the rest of the year. While I am right out in front in wanting to vomit when I walk into Costco on October 15th and see Christmas regalia, I also recognize that our economy not only has a major benchmark in how much people spend at Christmas, but also a major transfusion of capital. 
  • Christians speak of being singled out when public institutions put up "holiday" trees and avoid the use of religious imagery or terminology. Is it a little silly at times? Yes. At the same time, if Christians thing they are being singled out, consider everyone else. And yes, they go to the same public schools as Christians do. Imagine if you grew up as a Christian and all everyone talked about was Ramadan, complete with whatever religious imagery and terminology goes with that time during the Muslim calendar. 
  • At the same time, taking offense because someone wishes you well is ridiculous. If you don't celebrate Christmas, and someone tells you Merry Christmas, smile and wish them whatever is appropriate back (and if nothing is, you can say Happy Holidays). And vice versa. This is a time of hope and giving, not complaining that your interpretation of the holiday isn't getting it's fair due in the media and the public square. If that's how you think you "win" as *any* faith (or lack thereof), I think perhaps you don't have a very good idea of what your faith is really about. 
  • Finally, remember that the reason we seem to have this brouhaha every year is because this is the *only* public holiday that coincides (intentionally) with a sacred holiday. And those reasons, as outlined above, are commercial rather than theological. Were the founding fathers Christian? Yes, but they were almost certainly not evangelical Christians keeping score about how many souls were going to God rather than Satan. They were rationalists living in a homogenous society, and many of them thought of God as an abstract rather than personal. So that's not really an argument. 
The real problem with Christmas is that we all seem to put so much stock in it. Perhaps it's because this was the time of year as children that we all got that thing that we really wanted (or that our parents scraped for months to buy for us, even if it wasn't *the* thing). I know that as a child I started getting excited about Christmas two months in advance, and I loved the decorations, but I never got into it as a religious holiday. Clearly, I still don't. In fact, I dislike Christmas more every year. Call it the price of too many choir rehearsals in October singing carols from Norway and really hating it when people are so stressed out by the season that they can't be bothered to notice that *anyone* is in their immediate vicinity waiting for them to move their cart out of the middle of the aisle at the store because they're arguing over the phone over who was supposed to get the tinsel. I'm pretty sure that the season is *not* about killing ourselves to buy love from our children and family, but it gets worse every year. 

In other words, whether anyone likes it or not, it is both a religious holiday as well as a secular holiday. There is nothing wrong with you celebrating the day and the season in whatever manner you wish (within the standard rules, of course - human sacrifice is probably not going to go over well with the general population). You want to celebrate it your way, I wish to celebrate it in mine. I'm at a bit of a loss to figure out why Christians should win this one other than that for a very long time in this country, they won everything else. Except that this is *still* to this day not an officially Christian country. And all of those Founding Fathers wanted it not to be officially anything. I think that was a pretty smart move, because that desire means that you can celebrate it as you wish. 

So the next time you think that you get to decide how we all celebrate Christmas, I suggest that you try moving somewhere that everyone agrees with you. Like 12th Century Italy. I hear that was a great time to be alive. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!


~~R said...

Well written, and Good Yule.

Vandreyer said...

RAH RAH RAH and amen! Kickin' Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, Freaky Festivus, and all that other stuff which means I wish good things upon you and yours.