Tuesday, December 12, 2006


MP says:

A serious question, rmj. Wouldn't a menorah be completely acceptable in any Christian festivity and, actually, more relevant to the nativity event than a north European fir tree? And on a practical level a symbolic burning bush is much safer than the fire hazard that is a dried out shrub after four weeks in a centrally heated environment.
And he is, of course, right (he is, after all, the MP!) So to explain more thoroughly where I'm coming from with this, two posts from last year about the observance of Christmas: "So, where did Christmas come from?", and "Can Somebody Please Tell Me What Christmas Is All About?".

Short answer: Christmas has always been about two things at once: public revelry, and personal piety. The roots here are actually in the Puritan movement in Jollye Olde Englande, so it's not entirely American. But the Puritans here wanted to purge the season of its public displays and licentiousness by suppressing Christmas altogether. The other problem with Christmas was it was, well..."Papist." The Puritans recognized what we've forgotten: it was Roman Catholic observance, the "Christ Mass." We've long since split off the secular meaning (holly, trees, mistletoe, Santa Claus, gifts) from the religious one. But we've never quite reconciled that split, and so we get "controversies" like this one, which are really, as I said, a matter of poor communication, not of a "war on Christmas."

Which is one more reason I despise the FoxNews driven meme about that so-called "war."

But I'm fine with the public celebrations of the world's Christmas. As a Christian, I consider it a gift especially to a world devoted to commerce and industrialization, a world determined not to learn the most important lesson of Romanticism's reaction to the Industrial Revolution. It's a preservation, albeit a bare vestige, of a holiday spirit that used to pervade human life. We call the period in Europe between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance "the Dark Ages," but it was truly a time of joy and festivities the like of which have long since passed away. We are the ones living in the "Dark Ages" today, plodding the dreary round of the years keeping our nose ever to the grindstone until we are pushed out in retirement and left to fend for ourselves while the world races madly on. Our work year is punctuated only briefly by holidays, and that begrudgingly. Even Christmas is no longer the sacred day off it used to be. Back when Houston emptied out in the threat of Rita, I remembered what Christmas used to be like: no one on the streets, all traffic gone, no stores open. It was lovely.

We simply don't do that anymore. So any chance to half-do it at all, is a chance worth having. As for the religious observance, well, that's for the religious, isn't it? I'll be in church on Christmas Day. But that doesn't mean everybody has to be. Hopefully, they'll just be enjoying a season when we at least try to appeal to the public angels, at least, of our better nature.

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