Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas, clarified

So, below, if you click on the tiny images, then click on that orange square thingy with arrows that enlarges them, you can read my 2002 Criterion Christmas piece. I wrote this before completing Chicago's notoriously rigorous Core Curriculum, so if it makes no sense, that excuse is as good as any. Regardless, I need to add the following:

Certain categories need to be made clear. First, there are two separate conservative pro-Christmas arguments. There's the more general argument that calling what's really Christmas "the holidays" is lame, PC, and so forth. The other, more radical argument is that, in calling Christmas "the holidays" stores, schools, and similar are insulting Christianity and disrespecting the holiday. One would think that this second group of conservatives would thus want all those evil, secular-type megastores, with their "happy holiday" greetings, to just leave December 25th alone, and to go about business as usual without bothering Christians. Not so. The problem for them is apparently that these stores are not including Christ in their commerce.

Related to the "telling it like it is" argument is the (neither left nor right) Jewish one: "let's not make a fuss." For whatever reason, American Jews so often feel the need to at least appreciate what a beautiful and wonderful holiday Christmas is, and to make clear how grateful they are to be tolerated by a Christian country.

Thing is, America is a majority-Christian country, not an officially Christian one. The difference being that Jews are not being "tolerated" by Christians, but rather America tolerates Christianity, Judaism, and all other persuasions or lacks thereof. Jews--and all other non-Christians--are perfectly justified in asking that Christmas, if it is to remain a religious holiday, be taken off the list of national holidays. This does not mean Jews "hate" Christmas any more than Christians "hate" any Jewish holiday. I have no numbers on this (and can't imagine such numbers could exist) but I would bet that more American Jews worry about making a fuss and being too outspoken than actually are. Complaining that Duane Reade is selling Easter-tinged candy, or that a non-Jewish employee wants off for a Christian holiday, or that President Bush makes no secret of celebrating Christmas, these things would be examples of making too much of a fuss. To choose to live in a predominantly Christian country while arguing that it is terrible that most Americans celebrate Christmas both in public and in private, that, too, would be going overboard. But to complain about federal recognition of a religious holiday is not only reasonable but also the duty of all religious minorities and non-believers.

Also needing clarification: What is this "War on Christmas" and what do the warriors demand? Depends on which warriors. Matthew Yglesias wants Christmas left as "Christmas," because "the holidays" makes it seem as though everyone fun-loving and decent must take part. I don't so much care whether it's "the holidays" or "Christmas," but do think one or the other must, sooner or later, be chosen. If December 25, perhaps even with the name "Christmas" affixed to it, morphs into something all about red and green and candy canes, with the "Christ" part remembered only by a dwindling pious few, the roots of the December 25 no more important than those of Halloween or Thanksgiving, or than of the January 1 New Year, then fine, keep Christmas, and only those who truly dislike holidays, or who care deeply about a holiday's roots, shall abstain. Such a "Christmas" exists for many in this country. (Is it disingenous to refer to a December gift between to non-Christans of $200 jeans, a subscription to Maxim, or a vibrator as a "holiday gift"?) But if Christmas is to remain Christ-centric, a religious moment even for otherwise secular Christians, then it is still a religious holiday, and objections are fair game. But objections to what, exactly? I don't object to Christmas music in stores any more than I object to stores carrying sizes that aren't my own, or styles I'd never want to wear. But I do object to the assumption on the part of too many Americans that Christmas is somehow both an areligious holiday for all to celebrate and a sacred day whose religious significance must not be forgotten. Pick one or the other. Because if it's a religious holiday that all must celebrate, that's where you run into trouble.

Until the pro-Christmas camp begins to argue that Christmas should be saved as a Thanksgiving-type day, whose original meaning is lost and which can thus be celebrated by all, as long as Christmas's would-be saviors want to save Christmas precisely from such a fate, it's simple: to give conservative pro-Christmas advocates what they want is to take December 25 off the list of national holidays.


Libby Pearson said...

On Michigan Avenue today, a homeless guy was shouting "Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, and all the other holidays that really mean Christmas."

Phoebe said...

No Chanukah gelt in his cup, then.

Anonymous said...

I object to Christmas music in stores. It makes me want to spend late november through early january in the middle east.

Dylan said...

Suffering through the War on the War on Christmas is the price Jews must pay for the three or so extra days off most private employers will (have to under Title VII?) give them for their religious holidays whether they are actually observing them or not.

Actually, I think I'll become nominally Jewish for that very purpose.

Phoebe said...


Do you really think there are that many Jews asking for holidays off that they aren't observing? I doubt it.

greg said...

Isn't Christmas a pagan ritual appropriated by the recently converted ruling class in the 4th century as a means of control over both the Christian and pagan populations? When I found a religion, I'm going to make damn sure that my actual birthday is celebrated by my followers, and not some randomly convenient day that only works because everyone already celebrates it anyways -- like Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

As a practicing Christian of a fairly liberal persuasion who enjoys Christmas mostly because it's an excuse to sing the really good hymns and play with fire, I agree with your old opinion piece, in that we should get rid of Christmas as a national holiday. It's not a national holiday, it's a religious one.

In fact, I'd like to get rid of all the secularism attached to my religious holiday. I mean, I know that the birth of Christ was attached to an already existing celebration, namely that of the equinox, but what's done is done and we have to celebrate the birth of Christ sometime. Let those of us who really celebrate have the day off to go to services--like say, Jews at Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanna, although, growing up in Northern NJ, I wasn't aware they weren't national holidays until I was 12 or so. And then attach a longer secular holiday to the New Year's celebration--perhaps give the 30th to the 1st off.