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.