Sunday, December 13, 2009

Can we take back Christmas?

At left: Our Lady of Good Counsel, stained glass from St Mary's, Greenville, SC.

In this post, I quoted a progressive feminist Hindu on Twitter who was angry that Yoga was being used by non-Hindus. People erroneously believed I was attacking her, when in actuality, her remarks hit a nerve with me, and I understood what she meant. I compared Yoga to Christmas. I was informed, in short order, that this was not an appropriate comparison. And so, I will infuriate everyone, by once again making the comparison.

Because I think it's a perfect comparison.

Yoga is dazzling and wonderful, accomplishes several utilitarian aims at once, and is perfectly-suited to mass-marketing and cultural imperialism. Christmas is also.

I have been arguing (nicely!) with atheists today on Twitter, and when I go to their web pages, I see that the winter holidays have colonized their heads as thoroughly as they have everyone else's. Yes, yes, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Yule, yada yada. I know what Saturnalia is. (I even keep track of the little-known Feast Days, and their original derivations.) But Santa and reindeer haven't got squat to do with the Solstice. You will automatically get December 25th off work, not December 21st, unless you ask for it.

Let's face it, Christmas has been COMMANDEERED by mass American culture, the government, Macy's, and by a lot of people who don't know what it means or who have zero respect for the religious concept.

Can we take it back?

I've been thinking that we might.

In fact, the more fuzzy and watered-down "mass-market Christmas" becomes and the more it is referred to as "the holidays" (as in the nebulous, Dr Feelgood bleat of "Happy Holidays!" every whichway you turn)--the better it is for REAL Christmas. We should separate the actual Feast Day of the Nativity of Our Lord, from sleigh bells ringling, jing-jing-jingling too. They have little in common, except a Bishop named Nicholas.

If we don't like the wholesale capitalist theft of Christmas, it is up to us to take it back.

What I am proposing is the opposite of the right-wing's dreaded "War on Christmas"--an idea that seems based on the concept that the secular lefties, agnostics and atheists are dedicatedly de-Christing Christmas. In fact, it was Christians who first brought Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman and all of that into the festivities, in an effort to get the children involved and provide them with religiously-neutral songs to sing at Christmas celebrations in public schools.

It's interesting to note that most American Protestants never liked all that foofaraw much anyway. Kenneth C. Davis writes at HuffPo:

The Founding Fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were not a festive bunch. To them, Christmas was a debauched, wasteful festival that threatened their core religious beliefs. They understood that most of the trappings of Christmas --like holly and mistletoe-- were vestiges of ancient pagan rituals. More importantly, they thought Christmas -- the mass of Christ-- was too "popish," by which they meant Roman Catholic. These are the people who banned Catholic priests from Boston under penalty of death.

This sensibility actually began over the way in which Christmas was celebrated in England. Oliver Cromwell, a strict Puritan who took over England in 1645, believed it was his mission to cleanse the country of the sort of seasonal moral decay that Protestant writer Philip Stubbes described in the 1500s:
More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides ... What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used ... to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.
In 1644, Parliament banned Christmas celebrations. Attending mass was forbidden. Under Cromwell's Commonwealth, mince pies, holly and other popular customs fell victim to the Puritan mission to remove all merrymaking during the Christmas period. To Puritans, the celebration of the Lord's birth should be day of fasting and prayer.

In England, the Puritan War on Christmas lasted until 1660. In Massachusetts, the ban remained in place until 1687.

So if the conservative broadcasters and religious folk really want a traditional, American Christian Christmas, the solution is simple -- don't have any fun.
(Personal Note: I have always found it shocking when churches are CLOSED on Christmas Eve.)

So, when these same folks talk about the war on Christmas, what about their own history and their own lack of worship on Christmas? I get where Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly are coming from (Mormon and Catholic, respectively), but people from Puritan traditions have no room to criticize secular folks for 'making war' on Christmas.

It is up to us, if we want it. There is the secular, mass-market "holiday season"--and then there is the birth of One many of us believe was God, and what that signaled to the world, and to us: Wake up. Rejoice, there is hope.

This hope does not reside in shopping and in earthly treasures, because as we were counseled, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Do you really want to leave your heart in Macy's?)

To my brother and sister Christians: Let them have it. Stop fighting. If they don't know "the meaning of Christmas"--then don't worry about it. You do, and you are the one who will be held accountable for knowing. The so-called war on Christmas is being waged by right-wing Christians who don't want to let the mass-market version carry on in peace, and who want to keep all winter holiday celebrations partitioned for a certain demographic they deem suitable and worthy.

We have ours, and they have theirs. And that's fine, isn't it? What's wrong with that? Peace on earth, yes?

War is over, if you want it.


Blue Heron said...

I'm down with this. Don't celebrate the holiday meself but always like the song by the Band "Christmas must be tonight." Guilty pleasure.

John Powers said...

Back in the thread about Yoga you made a remark that hearing a musack version of "O Come, O Come Emanuel" used to particularly get to you. Something that's often missed in talking about Christmas is the Liturgical Seasons. Christians don't get their Easter baskets without having labored through Lent. Same way with Christmas presents, there's the penitent season of Advent. Nobody these days talks about the "War on Advent." But some Christians, probably of a certain age, do remember church folk never letting us forget about the penitence part.

thene said...

Funny that Stubbes saw Christmas as impoverishing, when for so many American businesses it's the only time they ever make any goddamn money.

sheila said...

Wow, great post! I couldn't agree with you more. When I point out to my hard core born again friends that paganism is the grounding for everything to do with Christianity and the way we celebrate...I'm called a nut.

Getting back to the basics in this world would be the best thing EVER. To just educate people on what is what and strip away all the garbage that's been added over the last couple thousand years would be a miracle in itself.

And it would save a butt load of money.

Mary said...

I like Christmas myself. It's the one time of year I wish I could be a Christian. (I like Jesus, but his followers scare me.) And personally, I find shopping for gifts is fun. There's nothing like watching someone's face light up when they get the perfect gift.

Marcia said...

Kudos Daisey! I agree with you. But I love Christmas! In fact, I love everything about it. Even the hodge podge version we've made out of it; thanks to mass marketing, Hallmark, Macey's, etc. But as far back as I can remember, depends on our generation I guess, I've always associated Christmas with Christ's birthday even as the sugar plum fairies danced in my head and a fat guy wearing a red fur-trimmed suit dashed through the star-spangled skies of my imagination in a sleigh with 8 or 10 tiny reindeer. But maybe we should take back Christmas before its meaning is forgotten or completely disappears. Christmas is beginning to resemble a Mardi Gras. But who better to take back Christmas other than Christians themselves? But the pagan part of me will still miss the elves and sugar plum fairies. Why is that I wonder? I guess we all love a good fairy tale or a (good) excuse for a celebration or party.

JoJo said...

"Foofaraw". Now that's a new one! lol

Interesting post. My husband and I have many debates over the whole "Christmas" issue, ie, "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays". I am just tired of all the PC stuff, what we can/cannot or should/n't say. I just wish that everyone could respect each other's beliefs and ideas w/o all the hoopla. Look what happened out here last year when the Freedom from Religion Foundation put an anti-Christian sign up at our State Capitol. This year all they are having down there is a "holiday tree". It's ridiculous to me. But if they have a nativity scene, it's seen as the state govt promoting religion, and then all the other religions want to be represented too. And then 2 years ago, a Rabbi complained that SeaTac Airport had Christmas trees in the airport but no menorahs, so the Port of Seattle removed the trees to avoid a lawsuit (not that anyone threatened one but probably would).

And to think Charlie Brown lamented how commercial Christmas was getting, and that was in 1964 when the TV special came out! lol

"Can't we all just get along"? Rodney King

Rachel said...

I often hear Protestants (I guess just cuz we have a lot of those around these parts) whining about the "Christ" being taken out of "Christmas." I'm thinking, "Oh, and you do such a good job keeping the Mass part in there, huh?"

Anonymous said...

heard about this?


Blue Heron said...

JoJo, the nerve of them "other religions" wantin' to be represented.

ArrogantWorm said...

I often hear Protestants (I guess just cuz we have a lot of those around these parts) whining about the "Christ" being taken out of "Christmas." I'm thinking, "Oh, and you do such a good job keeping the Mass part in there, huh?"


Ha. I remember when I was younger and in church, it was the opposite. Was the mass part that was focused on - everything else was superfluous. They gave the children small gifts - but it was always on the ride home, and definitely not part of the service. Was raised Protestant. I think it depends on where you are. Then again, my church was a bit old school - every time I enter a carpeted, chandeliered church (when they already had lights) with actual benches I have to suppress a cringe of "You don't need this, this is ostentatious".

Oddly enough, I don't get that feeling when I go to Catholic service. Possibly because it's all stone or brickwork and I know everything is being upkept instead of replaced when not needed and added to. There's also minimal decoration - or rather, every decoration has a use, so I don't mind it. Can't say the same for damn near every other church I've walked in to, and I've been in many.

ArrogantWorm said...

I prefer Happy Holidays to Merry Christmas - considering the country is full of different customs and religions and there're lots of holidays in this time frame (roomie celebrates Yule, for example), it makes more sense to me. I think Happy Holidays does double duty, really - It covers bases for when you don't know what someone celebrates and you still wish them a happy time and it also encourages people to remember their fellow man who - isn't - like them. All too often all I get to hear is "Merry Christmas" paired with the strain of "Those blasted ----, not like - us - Good People". If people only want to wish Merry Christmas, I'd think they could at least be sure Christmas is what someone celebrates first instead of making it a general greeting.

ArrogantWorm said...

"You will automatically get December 25th off work, not December 21st, unless you ask for it. "

Not that I disagree that Christmas and the Christ isn't mass marketed, but I know of no one that gets the 25 off work without asking, and most people don't get it when they do ask.My mother's worked for 18 years at the same company and she gets if off every few years, and only if she keeps a hawks' eye on the schedule, and - only - because she's a head cook.

D.B. Echo said...

Hey! You totally reached into the future and cribbed this post from the Jon Stewart monologue from The Daily Show on December 6, 2011!

"Keep Mass in Christmas" - I am so stealing that!