Friday, December 17, 2021

Culture War On Christmas

Cultural Christian hegemony is still an issue even without religious enforcement.

control by one country, organization, etc. over other countries, etc. within a particular group

So allowing Xmas trees in public is exerting control over a particular group?

Individuals, especially Christians but not necessarily:

As I previously said, plenty of atheists put up Christmas trees and not all Christians around the world celebrate Christmas by putting up a tree. But in the United States a Christmas tree, a nativity scene, and honestly even Santa all have clear cultural, if not religious, connections to Christmas, which is a religious holiday.  

…may put up Christmas trees and even consider them "Christian."  In origin, yes, they were.  In the current context, well:  tell me what's essentially "Christian" about "'The Night Before Christmas."  I mean, "St. Nick" is a very familiar form of "St. Nicholas," but that's like saying Jill St. John is Christian because of her last name.  It's not culturally Jewish; or Buddhist or Muslim, but is it hegemony?  Or is there something Christian about a fake tree that stores easily and is sure to be a special memory for years to come? (Yeah, I watch too many TeeVee commercials.)

I'm really trying to sort this argument out.

Churches do not put up Christmas trees.  Liturgical churches (Catholic, Episcopalian) by and large don't allow them in the worship space.  Churches that do put them up front, near the pulpit, again by and large, call them "Chrismon trees," a word whose origin I don't know, but I heard it a lot growing up in a Presbyterian church at this time of year.  It didn't fool anybody, we all knew it was a Christmas tree decorated with overtly Christian symbols (rather than covert ones like paper flowers and fake apples), but it made the pastors happy so we went along.  Some churches even have Santa appear in worship for the kids, on Sunday morning.  

But Christmas is a religious holiday?

To non-Christians (Jews, atheists, Muslims, what have you), I'm sure it seems that way.  But why, then, do some Christians still put bumper stickers on their cars (more likely magnets, now) and signs in their yards saying "Keep Christ in Christmas"?  Why do some churches close on Christmas Day when it falls on Sunday?  Isn't Christmas a religious holiday?  Does that mean it's a holiday from religion?

It's a vexed question, is all I'm saying.  It's tangled.  Yes, St. Nicholas is a Christian saint, and Christmas trees with nativity scenes under them seem "religious."  (I always thought it funny the most Protestant of families would allow something so Catholic as a manger scene in their house once a year.  I suppose some don't, but they're pretty rare, I suspect.)  Yes, Christmas is supposed to be the "Christ mass," the mass for the Christchild.  "Christ" is even a specific word with a specific designation (and it's NOT Jesus' last name).  But is Christmas in America a religious holiday?

Is the sacrament of this holiday spending more than you can on gifts and food and travel?  Is it holy because you take the day off, whatever day of the week (even Sunday!) it falls on?  Is it religious because we've pretty much removed the "Christ mass" from the word? What's religious about spending money on gifts and expecting expensive presents and getting up early on December 25th to see what you got?  Is there even a mention of church, of Christ, or the Holy Family, in "A Christmas Story"?  "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"?  "Miracle on 34th Street"? "Elf"?

I like those movies, but if there's a hint of religion in those portrayals of Christmas, I've missed it.  What's especially Christian, or religious at all, about a holidy that encourages you to spend lots of money on your family, especially your kids, and to cocoon at home all day except for when the kids go outside to show their friends what they got for Christmas?

Religious holiday?  I mean, I wish it was.  The first year I was a student pastor, I was told to do a Christmas service on Christmas day, for the "old people."  This was in a town of 150 (no, seriously; 150.  It was on the city sign.).  People had nothing else to do on Xmas morning, most of them were too old to have young children, but the "tradition" was kept up for the "old people," the ones who were in nursing homes or couldn't drive and barely came to regular worship anymore.  So I announced we'd have "communion" (though even in the ultra-liberal UCC I wasn't allowed to call it that; it was quite a scandal around me, people I didn't think new my name were asking me if I was really going to do this) with hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls (yes, I've mentioned this several times before in the near 17 years I've been writing this fool blog).  It was a very casual service, I performed a "sort of" communion, read an Annie Dillard story in place of a sermon, and told everybody to stay around and help me finish this stuff off, it was too much for me and the Lovely Wife and the Golden Child (then about four years old) to eat on our own.  So we had a lovely time.  It was as close to one of Paul's house church eucharists as I've ever come.

That was a religious Christmas Day celebration.  Anybody doing that this year?  Gathering friends and near strangers under one roof for a cup of hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll?  It's a lot closer to a Christian religious act than sitting in your robe in your living room wondering if you bought any large trash bags or have enough of them for all that torn up wrapping paper.

A menorah is, much more than a Christmas tree, a specifically religious symbol.  It is used in a Jewish ritual, it recalls a story from Jewish history that's recorded in the scriptures. How many families read Luke 1 and 2 on Christmas Eve around a lighted tree?  Hell, how many families read "The Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve, a la Chevy Chase?  I get it that a Xmas tree is more related to Christianity than any other seasonal symbol, that indeed the entire holiday is seen as having Christian roots.  But it is any more distinctly Christian now than Thanksgiving?  That was supposed to be a day to give thanks.  To whom?  The turkey you're about to eat?  Your boss, for employing you for another year?  I know Lincoln was too cagey to go for 19th century piety (or not that religious himself), but how does one "give thanks" without directing it to:  something?  Most of us don't get in that mental tangle.  We thank God, if we're so inclined; or we thank Mom (maybe Dad) for cooking the meal, or the NFL for football, or we’re just vaguely “thankful,”  and we don't think about it beyond that.

Easter is more specifically a Christian holiday, to this good day.  Does that make the Easter Bunny on the White House lawn a religious symbol? Or just weird?

My vote is for "weird."

I dunno; I don't want to bash this argument (the favorite internet sport:  "YOU'RE WRONG!!!!!!!!!").  But I can't find much merit in it.  Yes, there's a cultural dominance of Christianity in American culture, but for that you have to blame Rome and Constantine.  The cultural dominance is real; but "hegemony"?  A Christmas tree is oppressive, is a system of control a la the Matrix?  Or it's just oppressive?

Christmas carols in the stores for six weeks; Christmas decorations going up around shopping malls in October; relentless e-mails reminding me I have little time left to buy BUY BUY!!!!!.  Donald Trump still telling people he 'saved' "Merry Christmas!" That's oppressive.

A Christmas tree in a public space?  I'll survive. I think most of us will. You want to put up a menorah, be my guest.  I recognize the problem for Jews and Muslims:  like very strict Protestants, their beliefs teach they should not have any symbols, especially any that represent people because that is to represent Allah/the God of Abraham.  Idol worship. I get it.  But nobody's worshipping a Christmas tree; not at home, not in a church, not really anywhere.  It made a great plot point in "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas" (yes, I have absolutely no taste, and no defense for my selection of Xmas movies), but nobody worshipped it there, either.  Close, but finally:  no.

So, I just don't see it.  There are other fights to have, other hills to die on.  This one?  People will just step over your corpse; or worse, pile packages on it, maybe even cover it with some fake snow.

Let it go.  It's not worth it. Enjoy the good nature of the season as best you can.  That, after all, is what it's really about:  peace on earth, goodwill toward all:  men, women, children, foreigners, gays, transexuals, non-whites, non-Americans, non-Christians, non-religious ... you get the idea.

1 comment:

  1. So, Raw Story is picking up the dripped gauntlet of FOX? And they expect to win on this issue? That's what comes of figuring the only People who matter are the ones YOU like and listen to. The atheist-secular left is a stupid thing, failing in the stupidest way about things that don't matter, ignoring the ones that do.