Friday, March 27, 2009

You're Damned Right there's a War on Christmas, or, at least, there was one...

Whilst sitting in my lazy-boy not drinking hot-cocoa and ignoring the latest insipid holiday-driven carnival of television advertisements, I began to ponder the supposed "War on Christmas," as Bill O'Reilly of Fox news puts it, within the context of the American Culture War (the origin of the phrase "culture war," interestingly enough, actually comes from the German Kulturkampf, which was ascribed to the period in which Otto Von Bismark enacted policies limiting the Roman Catholic Church's influence on German government).

My internal dialogue was inspired by a preview of one of the latest holiday movies Four Christmases, no doubt an unfunny rehashing of very old themes; meeting the dreaded in-laws, etc. (we know them all, do we not?) seeking to cash in on the season. I then recalled snippets of conversations with friends, family, and complete strangers from the past few months and years, and they all seemed to feel a sense of anxiety, if not dread, about choosing gifts, working with limited budgets, negative feelings for that certain relative, the list goes on.

There's no doubt that at this point, via television specials, lame jokes, and cutesy journalistic commentary, these themes and many more have been explored and reused to a peak of cliche that would make Will Farrell hang his head in shame. But rarely have I heard any extensive mention of the surviving Bronze-Age superstition that a heavenly messiah, who was sent to be tortured and executed to erase mankind's sins, happens to blow out his birthday candles on December 25th (one wonders if his father might use trick candles). While the day called Christmas (an inept abbreviation for Christmass) is still an official US holiday, there is an apparent reluctance to publicly celebrate it as a Christian holy day. Two things are confusing here. First, the US Government, still technically officiates a holiday having to do with one religion, which seems to be a breach of the First Amendment, and second, that American Christians can stomach their holiday being associated with excessive commercialism, adoption of pagan practices (decoration of trees, etc.), Santa Claus, or rampant bovines trampling unfortunate mega-store clerks to get their hands on elmo dolls. It seems that many problems would be solved if the two groups downright disowned each other.

This is not to say I dislike the day. It is obvious that I'm annoyed with the nomenclature which, suprisingly, is not an issue for most people. But all the hum-buggery aside, when I think of this day and all of the astrological interpretations thought up by our ancestors (there's no need for me to rehearse them all, they're well documented), which came after astronomy, by the way,I feel a sense of connection and solidarity with our ancestors as well as with all of their descendents, and it is intensely moving. The bland chatter of the television and its Ho Ho Ho's and red-nosed reindeers fades to the background, and I am left with a moment of contemplative serenity.

So where does this take us? Obviously there are Christians who legitimately celebrate the day, while the rest of us tag along for the ride, and the food. Should a bill be presented in the House of R. to change the name of Christmas to something more like Winter Solstice, or Saturnalia, or Winter Festival? My short answer would be yes, and for the above reasons I would like to think that Christians would take pride in taking the name for themselves and their religion. The real question is, will people think long and hard about all the different concepts associated with 12/25 and come up with a fair and grandiose title that the day deserves? We won't soon know.

To return to the point of the "War on Christmas," I would simply reiterate that most of the "ground-fighting" has long since passed. And, given how passively Christmas has been gutted of all of its religious meaning in the American media and culture, perhaps war is a strong word after all. If one is compelled to continue with the use of bombastic vocabulary, one might refer to it as a Cold War, though it never escalated much from a drab detente. Allow me to call it evolution.

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