Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas: a great time to take leave of your senses

Usually I just watch all of this from a distance with equal parts mild amusement and cynicism and alarm. And you have to admit it really is amusing and perplexing and troubling all at the same time:

On the one hand you have the people who buy into the advertising and media hype and drive themselves to distraction and serious debt by buying and buying and buying more shit in order to prove to everyone that they love them and are good enough. They'll physically assault another parent to get that last zhu zhu pet or tickle me Elmo or whatever, or have a major episode of road rage in the mall parking lot, because they have so thoroughly internalized the consumer messages embedded in our culture.

On the other hand you have wingnut groups that boycott the Gap for failing to explicitly use the word Christmas in their ads, only to end the boycott and claim victory mere weeks later when a new Gap holiday ad, no doubt filmed in July, airs which does use the word. Cuz just saying the word Christmas makes you a fine upstanding Christian organization, apparently.

Meanwhile Bill O'Reilly rants about the "war on Christmas" (we have a war on everything else, so why not? this is America - we like wars) and claims that everyone who uses the phrase Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas must "loathe the baby Jesus." This just sort of makes me giggle. Two words, Bill-o: false dilemma. I don't believe that the baby Jesus had any particular supernatural powers or properties, and I certainly don't worship him, but I don't loathe him either. In fact, I generally like babies, and feel a lot of compassion for those who are born into tough economic and social circumstances. If I could, I would snuggle them all, ensure that they have warm clothes and a safe place to sleep, and contribute to their college funds. And this generalized fondness for babies of all types extends to historical babies too. I suspect most people feel this way. It's simply not the case that we either have to view the baby Jesus as the lord and savior of the universe and thus insist on using non-inclusive language during the holidays OR we despise Jesus and everything he stands for and wish to destroy Christmas altogether. So... sorry Bill - you picked a particularly bad - and transparent - false dilemma this time.

And then there's the CHRIST-mas tree. Which is profoundly amusing and puzzling to me. First of all, just look at it. Damn.
But more importantly, this seems so deeply contradictory to me. All of this hype seems deeply contradictory. Let's deconstruct it for a minute. Christmas, as we should all know, is a hybrid holiday composed of pagan traditions that were adapted by church leaders and blended with the story of the birth of Christ in order to broaden the appeal of Christianity. And then all of this was appropriated by The Capitalist Machine in order to become a giant profit-mill. But I digress. Just having a Christmas tree at all is totally rooted in pagan history, not to mention most of the other icons that accompany Christmas in our culture. So if you seriously want to reclaim "Christmas" you need to divorce it from all the pagan traditions with which it's been contaminated. In fact, Christmas shouldn't even be in December, although I can't really remember when it should be. As I recall, the idea that Christ was born on December 25th has more to do with the winter solstice than with historical documentation. I suppose we would know for sure if we looked up the census records of ancient Rome.

Then there's the name. If you come from a fairly anti-Catholic protestant church like the one I grew up in, you should feel a bit of discomfort over the name: Christ-mass. In fact, many of the older people in the church of my childhood felt uncomfortable at the very presence of a Christmas tree in the church, since they felt that it was a secular icon that detracted from the only icon which should be allowed in the sanctuary - a plain wooden cross. It seems to me like they were a bit more authentic than those who are running around screaming about whether we use the phrase Merry Christmas or not. On the other hand, I don't know how sincere/informed/power-hungry they truly are in their heart-of-hearts, so this is something I should probably reserve judgment about. However, my point remains that if you really care about the authenticity of your religion, just getting a CHRIST-mas tree or forcing people to say Merry Christmas is barely scratching the surface, and seems petty and trifling.

Still, I do have something in common with some of these folks. I know - it's shocking. Many of these type scream and fuss about the wording or the images in our public holiday displays while continuing to buy lavish gifts for their kids and, as far as I can tell, give little of their time or money to worthy causes that would truly spread love and joy to the masses. However, some of them really do target the materialism and commercialization of the season rather than petty wording issues, and work to limit their consumption and improve the conditions of the world's poor. And that is something I can get on board with. The thing is, these are the ones who aren't very vocal or visible in the media hype. These are the ones who are quietly working in prison ministries and homeless shelters and raising money to dig wells and build schools and orphanages all year long. They give much of their surplus money to these causes while giving only modest or homemade gifts to friends and family. But the thing is, they're usually too busy working in the trenches and too modest to run their mouths off like the Bill O'Reillys of the world. And I would suspect they're a tiny minority. But I know they exist, because I've known people like this, and I respect them. They at least put their money where their mouth is.

So even though I also despise the commercialization and consumerism and stress and chaos of the Christmas season (see, I used the word, yay for me!), I'm not ready to dismiss it altogether either. Instead, I hope my kids get the sense that it's a time to be aware of how privileged we are, and to try to be generous to those who aren't so privileged, and to bake cookies and make gifts for people and send cute pics and thoughtful cards to friends and family who are far away, and spend time sledding/snowshoeing/whatever-noncommercial-nonstressful-thing-you-like-to-do with people we love. Cuz, as the Grinch realized in his epiphanal moment: Christmas doesn't come from a store. And while I don't know what the original "Spirit of the Season" is or was (and no amount of cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movies will help me figure this out), I do know that if I was the dictator of the universe, that's what it would be all about. So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, y'all.


  1. The natzicop in the parking lot was listening to this infant in man's clothing was balling about being done so wrong about being 'SUV blocked' and couldn't penetrate a primo parking slot.
    And life goes on as people get more and more agitated. I'll see them all over today getting more and more surly as they pass like a stream of dour mannequins in front of my register.
    When does this end?

  2. Rachel,

    WTF? Did you take a break this December from enlightening the youth of Wyoming on the wonders of logic & philosophy to focus your significant talent and intellect instead on Bitching 24 / 7 ? Maybe you're just trying to get it all out of your system before the New Year. I don't know, but it's getting old. I suggest that you take a pill, get laid or do something about it.

    Unfortunately your overbearing militant feminist quasi-Marxist view of the world doesn't fit very well with December, so maybe you should just stow it for a while. While I'm by no means a bible beater the fact that you're pissed about your protestant upbringing doesn't invalidate their beliefs, although you and your loud-mouthed friends seem to think that should be the case. It continues to amaze me how the "Progressive Movement" is the most intolerant of the beliefs of others that we see in society today. It's no coincidence that you make your living in academia, where this progressive intolerance is not only accepted but also actively encouraged. Frankly it probably increases a profs odds of securing tenure…your Holy Grail. This attitude is of course a function of you geniuses just feeling that those that don't sign up for your program just "aren't very smart"…and you losers talk about bigotry. It would be funny if it weren't so perverse.

    For the record and for any other clueless folks reading your blog, consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of the U.S. economy. No Shit, check it out. So while I certainly agree that buying anything for the wrong reason is foolish, Christmas or not, you'd be amazed at the number of people that have REAL jobs, pay REAL taxes and buy REAL stuff that is actually needed by themselves and people they love. It's actually Pretty Fucking OK. By the way many of these people that you love to poor mouth also regularly give to their causes in a disciplined financial way. Let me go on the record here to say that I, like you think organized religion is not a good thing. That said, I still 100% respect people that do all of the right stuff, including tithing and whatever else. The best people I have ever known. If you and your cronies weren't so myopic maybe you'd get it.

    The real problem, as you've demonstrated this month with your posts is the overabundance of spoiled, privileged, over-educated white feminist assholes who have done nothing but gain ground over the past decades and still don't think their gains are enough.

    In any case, I want to thank you and your friends for your input. I took the final four months of 2009 off to focus on what I'm going to do in 2010 and I'm happy to say that you have inspired me. I'm going to open a business collecting on delinquent student loans. Not just that, but due to our meaningful interaction and assuming that it's legal, I'm going to focus my efforts on those people that aren't paying their student loans back that majored or minored in Feminist Studies and Philosophy. I'm thinking that when I'm successful I will have financially supported our new nationalized health care policy and the folks I collect from may finally feel self-actualized knowing that the money they pay will support their progressive cause(s). Stay tuned as I'm sure that when I pull this off there will be a Title IX complaint. Should be interesting. Wish me Luck.

    In any case Ebenezer, Merry Christmas. I suggest you resolve to Bitch less in 2010 and good health to you and your kids. I don't like you, but at least you have Juice.

    Your Buddy,

  3. diamondsforhorses12/20/2009

    Seems like maybe Burn has a CHRIST-mas tree.

  4. seems like maybe burn didn't read the last paragraph

  5. This post is so right on. And you don't even touch on the other reason we should be guiding our kids away from the selfindulgent overconsumption of this season: it's not sustainable.

  6. Sabriel12/22/2009

    1. I've been missing the sun this winter and decided it might be fun to honor the winter solstice, even though I'm agnostic. In looking up how to honor the solstice, I discovered the advice "just use christmas imagery. It's easy to find and it has all been stolen from paganism anyways."

    2. It's funny how fast and loose people are about the date of Christmas. I remember from history class, there was a big debate within the catholic church in about 600-800 A.D. about the exact date of Easter. The celtic-catholic church and the roman-catholic church had decided upon different dates, and then there was a big debate with people on both sides presenting historical and numerological evidence to back themselves up. The fear was that if you didn't celebrate Christmas on the Exact Right Date, you weren't being a proper Christian and you risked going to hell. There were even letters sent back and forth between members of the church that vaguely hinted at that: I'm so very sorry that you cannot see reason about the date of Easter. I am very sorry for the fate of your soul.

    Given all that fuss, I find it amusing that Christmas has become the primary Christian holiday, and it's not even celebrated on the right day...

  7. Anonymous12/29/2009

    Most experts place the birth of the historical Jesus Christ in September, from what I've heard.