First, let us all breathe a collective sigh of relief. We have survived another Christmas, my friends, high-fives and eggnog all around (feel free to spike yours, go ahead, it’s allowed). While I love the Silly Season, I have to admit, I’m a wee bit tired. Spreading Christmas Cheer is a lot of work.
Second, I’m just glad that “Christmas Wars” is over for another year. And, therein, lies my next post…
What are Christmas Wars, you ask? In a nutshell, as close as I can figure out, it is the phenomena by which some individuals with clearly too much time on their hands have their undies all in a twist because some poor soul dared say “Happy Holidays” to them instead of the more specific “Merry Christmas”. This, as I am given to understand it, constitutes a veritable declaration of War on Christmas by a conspiracy of a leftist, secular and otherwise deviant element in American society. Funny, I must have missed that memo.
Perhaps here I should mention, I say “Happy Holidays”. Sometimes I get jiggy with it and say “Seasons Greetings” on cards or on gifts. On the actual Day or Eve of Christmas I say “Merry Christmas” because that’s what we’re celebrating, although I’m probably doing it in a leftist, secular and otherwise deviant manner.
The rallying cry of Those of The Twisted Under Shorts fluctuates between the philosophical “Jesus Is The Reason For The Season” and the activist “Let’s Put the ‘Christ’ Back in Christmas”.
I’d like to answer these statements thusly: a.) that’s up for debate and b.) knock yourself out. I know, that’s awful succinct for me. I must be tired.
Okay, let me try again.
“Jesus Is The Reason For the Season”, well, sure, for a Christian that makes complete sense. In fact, eloquently put. Now me? I’m a moralistic heathen, wandering the spiritual countryside and occasionally bumping into a Higher Power here and there. For me Christmas is a modern version of a holiday that has been going on for thousands of years. According to the Babylonians it was the time when their Queen of Heaven, Semiramis (she had other names: Astarte, Asherah, Isis, Ishtar and Easter… yep, I said Easter), celebrated the miracle of a fully grown evergreen tree (sound familiar?) appearing on the birthday of her dead husband/son (I know, murky and with a certain “ick” factor). Gifts were left under said evergreen. Coincidentally, the birthday of this king, named Nimrod and later called Baal, was December 25th.
Nimrod was not the only god to celebrate his birth on this familiar date. It was, apparently, a popular day for mothers of gods to bless us with their progeny. Other celebs to share this illustrious day were: Mithras, Horus, Attis, Dionysus, Tammuz, Helios, Bacchus, Apollo, Jupiter and Saturn. It is not a coincidence that this date, observed in the darkest time of our year, with the shortest day should celebrate so many sun deities. That’s what the holiday is about, a light in the black, sunlight through the dark, coming together to reassure one another that the warmth of the sun and its blessings would return. There is a certain logic that gods of wine and revelry should also share this day.
Nor was Babylon the only culture to mark the Winter Solstice. The Romans held to the festival of Saturnalia which featured gift giving and parties. The Scandinavians celebrated the Yule to honor the god Thor. (Incidentally, the Yule Log traditionally took about twelve days to burn, giving us our Twelve Days of Christmas). The Roman Catholic Church adopted the date as a Christian religious holiday in the fourth century and the term “Cristes Maesse” was first coined in 1038. Christmas in the Middle Ages was closer to Rio’s Carnival or New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. Consequently, more fundamentalist Protestant sects would call for Christmas celebrations to be outlawed as too pagan and idolatry, what with the trees (male fertility), the wreaths (female fertility) and the mistletoe (well, enough said there). In fact, the US of A, which certain politicians keep referring to as the most Christian of nations, did not recognize Christmas as a holiday until 1870.
So, IS Jesus the reason for the season? I think it sort of depends on where you are seating. If you are Christian, I cannot imagine a better or more inspiring reason. If you are not, you might have other motivations to look forward to the coming of Spring’s warmth… Just saying.
As to the second rallying cry, “Let’s Put the ‘Christ’ Back in Christmas”, as I said above, knock yourself out on this one, folks. However, I do not think that one can blame the leftist, secular, deviants for this one. I think maybe a few of those right-wing, Christian Conservatives might share the guilt here. The one thing those guys (and gals) won’t interfere with is the capitalist marketplace. Their uncritical support of corporate power is the biggest bargaining ticket they have to offer to businesses to join the conservative coalition.
For what has truly undermined the Christian version of Christmas? Not the leftists, not the Jews, or the Muslims or even the “deviants”; Christmas has been undermined by the capitalists. And there lies the rub. How can a right-wing activist argue with the free market? Even for God? Who figures more prominently in the Christmas pantheon today: Baby Jesus or Santa? What sales season saves most retailers from drowning in red ink? Its figures have been on the nightly news every day for the past two weeks, so yeah, go ahead, talk amongst yourselves. I’ll wait.
The problem and the disappointment I am sure for devout Christians is that Christmas, one of the two most holy days of their calendar, has become a secular, consumerism free-for-all. And that is not the fault of a grand conspiracy. It’s simply where the great, free Marketplace and Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover have led us. Is it what I think of as the true spirit of Christmas, or Winter Solstice or Yule (pick your name)?
Of course not. There is something fundamentally beautiful, even to a heathen like myself, in the vision of a holiday based on the child of a temporarily homeless, teenage mother who gives birth to her baby in the most humble of circumstances. It transcends Macy’s commercials, crass marketing campaigns and luxury cars shown with big, red bows on them. It is the idea that this vulnerable child would grow into a leader who would challenge an entire system and give rise to a new philosophy founded on forgiveness and love. This was the idea that the meek would triumph and the Kingdom of Heaven would go to the deserving, not those rich enough to buy their seats. Pretty heady stuff, my friends.
Do you truly want to put the “Christ” back into Christmas? Then perhaps you can. You want to make it a religious holiday? Do so. Are you going to church on Christmas? Are you praying or are you sitting around Nimrod’s gift-giving evergreen? Are you helping your fellow man, giving to those less fortunate or are you giving it all to Wal-Mart? Toys for Tots or gifts you don’t really want, much less need?
I’m not saying anyone is doing anything wrong with their Christmas celebrations. Gifts around a tree is fine with me. However, I am suggesting that before you look at a simple “Happy Holidays” as a declaration of war against Christmas, perhaps a look in the mirror is overdue. Perhaps the stranger who wished you “Happy Holidays” simply wished you well, no more, no less. Perhaps they did not know if you celebrated Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan or Kwanzaa but they wished you well all the same. There’s that bit about casting stones… I’m saying perhaps any good wish, any positive energy or blessing on one’s day should be viewed with gratitude, not as evidence of a grand conspiracy bent on the destruction of Christian society.
I just, and mind you, God and I don’t talk a great deal aside from the occasional lunch, I just think God cares less about the words that we say to each other and more about the kindness and forgiveness in our hearts when we say them.
I’m just thrilled now I can say “Happy New Year!” and no one will take offense… eek, the Chinese won’t argue with me, will they? I’m happy to celebrate that party, too… Well, fingers crossed.