A Little Bit of Humbug

I should probably clarify my post title up front: I like Christmas. I like the lights, the food and drink, the tree, etc. Yes, my Christmas is a pretty secular version of the holiday, but let’s be honest, even the most devout Christians I know also celebrate a fairly secular version: this notion that the Christmas tree is some symbol of the cross (or wait, isn’t it a symbol of the trinity? What is it?) is a pretty convenient revision of history that ignores the fact that it actually came from pagan traditions. And if it’s not at least somewhat of a secular holiday, why do we have it in December when every theological and historical scholar I’ve read firmly agrees that the date has nothing to do with Jesus’ actual birth?  No, it came about as a way to take over old pagan holidays and rituals. Some people argue that a holiday like Kwanzaa has no real connection to December and was only created to contest the hegemony of Christmas. First off, the founders of Kwanzaa actually admit this, but second, this is exactly what Christians did originally trying to usurp the pagan solstice celebrations. And the candy cane as symbolizing the purity and blood of Christ? Rather than go through the whole history, you can just take a look here. And then there’s Santa and reindeer and endlessly crass commercialism (remember: it’s patriotic to spend extra on Christmas). I know there are people who buy into none of this, and have simple devotional celebrations, but they are few and far between. As I say, the most religious also have a secular holiday here. So even if we just are dealing with the Christmas holiday, it has always seemed plural to me. So I have no qualms wishing people a happy holidays. Again, even if we stick to Christians, there’s also New Year’s in the mix. So I’m not being PC if I wish you a “happy holidays” instead of a Merry Christmas, but acknowledging a season of celebrations.

I have no big axe to grind on the issue. If you want to wish me a merry christmas that’s fine; but I hope you realize that it seems much more about your holiday than actually sharing it with me. You feel better somehow if you wish this on someone who clearly doesn’t celebrate Christmas, not the person you say it to. I’m sure you’d get the point if you (I know I’m speaking directly to certain group of people here–you can decide whether you’re in this group or not) if you imagined yourself living in a Muslim country and everyone there felt compelled to wish you a happy Eid ul-Adha at Christmas time. I think you’d get pretty sick of it, yes, and find it pretty arrogant? (oh, but that’s right, Christianity has the “truth” while no one else does).  We somehow feel compelled to make sure that everyone is wished a merry christmas in every store, all day, for months at time as the speakers blare out that Christ is our Lord or what have you (mixed in with those songs about reindeer et al, go figure…).  As I say, I don’t have a problem if you want to say Merry Christmas (although, if we’re going to have this debate, can we at least get it straight: if Wal-Mart or any other business wants to stop you from saying  this, it’s not an infringement of your first amendment rights. A business can prohibit your speech while you’re working; a government can not. If you don’t want Wal-Mart to do this, don’t work there or don’t shop there. That’s the idea of the “free market” isn’t it?). And I absolutely would agree that the Left is a bit ridiculous in its approach to this issue. But what I don’t get is this sense that somehow if Christmas isn’t in everyone’s face, everywhere, 24/7, then somehow your Christmas can’t be enjoyable or fulfilling. Is it that important to you that I know you want me to have a merry christmas? The rhetoric makes it seem as if people who still say Merry Christmas are religious martyrs out to do the Lord’s work in an unaccepting society. Please….

There are many versions of groups on facebook that are all about the importance of sayingMerry Christmas. Here’s what the group  “I Still Say Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays” says:

“It’s the time of the year that we celebrate Christ’s birthday. December 25th is CHRISTMAS! Period! So where does this Happy Holiday stuff come from? We have always said Merry Christmas and we always will!! If you have a problem with it, get over it! Please join this group if you are tired of having to be politically correct. So keep on wishing everyone a MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!”

“Get over it?” That sure seems Christian and in the spirit of Christmas, doesn’t it? What I really like is the “we” in this statement. “We” have always said Merry Christmas. On the surface, it’s obviously referring to Christians. The subtext is clear, though: “We” refers to Americans. If the majority is Christian, that’s what “we” do and the rest of you should just get over it. How charitable. I know, if you can’t wish me a merry christmas, your holiday just isn’t fulfilling. It’s evangelical at core: somehow you think putting christmas carols in my head for months on end and making sure that you wish me a merry christmas at every possible opportunity will open my eyes to the real meaning of Christmas. I hate to break it to you: you are either preaching to the choir or you’re turning people away. As I said, I may not celebrate your version of Christmas, but I do celebrate Christmas, but at some point I want to scream enough!! As much as I love the season, I end up not wanting to go into any store for about 2 months. And I say Happy Holidays because there is a whole season of wonderful celebrations and festivities, not just Christmas. It’s important to celebrate a bit of light (and, yes, I know you think of the “light” as Jesus, but there are other versions out there) in the oncoming dark winter. Go ahead, wish me a merry Christmas; but please take my happy holidays as a sincere wish for the season and don’t condescendingly roll your eyes at me in judgment when I say it. I just can’t believe that’s what Jesus would want you to do.

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3 Responses to “A Little Bit of Humbug”

  1. John T Says:

    Hi Glenn,
    I was feeling a little down about the season and reading your blog reminds me why. I haven’t heard a single version of “The Little Drummer Boy” on a piped-in department store music station yet. Nor have I heard the Beach Boys sing that one they do (I forget the title.) Nor Madonna sing “Santa Baby.” I keep waiting for Charlie Parker’s version of “White Christmas” to show up on my new iPod shuffle, to no avail. I guess I haven’t been going to the gym enough lately. One thing we must never forget, however, is that Santa Claus (St. Nickolas, who died in 346) is older than Christmas (established by Pope Julius in 350). Jingle on!!

    • GJF Says:

      Hi John,
      When I saw there was a message, I assumed it would be the first of many rants against my rant, but alas it was a friendly face. I just heard Charlie Parker’s White Christmas this morning–great stuff. How, though, have you gotten this late in the year without hearing piped in Little Drummer Boy? I can’t go buy some nails without hearing it.
      Yes, you’re absolutely right about Saint Nickolas, but I’d hardly say that Santa Claus bears much resemblance to him (I forget if Nickolas had a reindeer with a lit nose or not).

  2. John T Says:

    Hi Again,
    Hilary and I have somehow gotten into the position of not buying presents for anyone, including one another. Well, that isn’t exactly true. We do “generic” gifts with the Toren family, which usually involves a “food” tie-in with one of the books I’ve done during the year. This year it was the book about a herring fisherman accompanied by a jar of herring, some hardtack, and a little bag of gummy worms (purchased at Ingebretsens.) For Hilary’s family we (i.e. Hilary) package paperwhites, etc etc. Last year I made a CD mix but it was a bomb, I’m afraid. We postponed one event due to snow and will be entertaining 25 tomorrow. Last night we read St. Mark “cover to cover” in front of the fire. This afternoon we saw “Me and Orson Welles.” We’ve been skiing eight times since the first snow of December. And I drank some vintage Ale the other day. Thus the twelve days of Xmas continue. Cheers!!! J

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