Thursday, December 25, 2008

The War On Christmas: The War Within

Every year at Christmastime which, sometimes, starts as early as Halloween, I start what seems to be a tradition of posts on the so-called "War on Christmas." The now annual battles start with Christianity's biggest loudest, most obnoxious and, by default, morally superior defenders throwing down the gauntlet to challenge anyone who shows lack of respect for one of the most holy Christian holidays for the heinous and heretical transgressions of holding "holiday" parties, "holiday" sales, sending "holiday" cards and, in the case of retailers, having staff use a "happy holidays" greeting. The complaints of the Christmas Warriors (Fox News, American Family Association, Focus on the Family, Bill Donahue, et al.) is that these people/corporations are blaspheming the holiday by rendering their commercialization and mass marketing too generic. In short, these offenders are not bastardizing Christmas enough for the taste of the holiday defenders.

The common meme of my posts tends to focus on that particular point and the logical conclusion that, if the goal really is to protect and preserve a religious holiday, the Christmas Warriors should actually be lauding the actions they fight and turn their fiery rhetoric against excessive use of their holiday to worship at the church of the almighty buck.

The truth is, though, that there is a bit of war on Christianity in this country. Ironically, it's a war coming from within the ranks of the diverse Christian community itself (including the Christmas Warriors) and the heart of that war is Christmas. The Puritans, the people from which the current crop of fundamentalists grew, didn't celebrate Christmas. As a matter of fact they tried to suppress it in the colonies by outlawing and fining celebration of the holiday. Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans continued to consider Christmas to be a holy day of obligation but the rest of post Protestant reformation Christianity didn't, exactly, join in the celebrations. It wasn't until mass German immigration to the US that Christmas celebrations boomed here and it became an American holiday as opposed to a religious one
Only with the arrival of German immigrants after the Civil War did it emerge as the major American feast. With the revolution in retailing--marked by the rise of department stores and advertising--celebrations focused on throwing parties, buying and giving gifts, and sending greeting cards (first sold in 1874, they became a million dollar business within a few years). The Coca-Cola Co. adopted as its logo a jolly bearded man in a red and white suit, and Santa bypassed Jesus as Christmas' main icon. Slate
The holiday has even become less religious as more and more Protestant (including those on the front of the religious-culture wars) churches close on Christmas Day
But however they spend Christmas Day — "the feast of Christmas" on the Christian liturgical calendar — one way most Americans don't celebrate it is by going to church. While demand for Christmas Eve celebrations is so high that some churches hold as many as five or six different services on the 24th of December, most Protestant churches are closed on the actual religious holiday. For most Christians, Christmas is a day for family, not faith.

If that sounds like the triumph of culture over religion, it is. By the middle of the 20th century, Americans had embraced a civil religion that among other things elevated the ideal of family to a sacrosanct level. The Norman Rockwell image of family gathered around the tree became a Christmas icon that rivaled the baby Jesus. And Christmas Eve services — with their pageantry and familiar traditions — became just one part of the celebration, after the family dinner and before the opening of presents. Time

So while the Christmas Warriors maintain an easily shattered facade that they are trying to reclaim Christmas as a religious holiday, what they are really doing is reinforcing the holiday as any but religious by continuing to conflate a very narrow view of Christianity with Americana. Why would they do this if the ultimate goal is to protect religion and religious tradition? They do it for all the obvious reasons illuminated above - in making Christmas a patriotic American Mall holiday and then tying it to religion on the back end, they tie Christianity in as a core tenet of US citizenship. There is a war going on, but it isn't about protecting a religious holiday from Atheists and "Sssssssssecularists" (uppity folks of other religions and people who claim to be Christian despite the fact their own politics of tolerance makes them anything but that in the eyes of "real" Christians), this is a war waged by Christian Nationalists against anyone and everyone who does not support the cause of the strictest of Christian Bibles supplanting the Constitution in the determination of civil law. This war on Christmas is nothing more than a way for Christian Nationalists and their supporters to take a figurative wiz on the whole country like an animal marking it's territory.

Happy Christmas!

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3 comments:

Jackie said...

Great post. I fully agree.

I want to let you know that I quoted you and linked to this post in my own blog. I'm new to blogging and haven't figured out how to use the "links to this post" or trackbacks yet which I think are the polite protocol for quoting other bloggers. So I thought I'd let you know via comments.

Peace

kccat said...

Wonderful post. I couldn't agree more. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Happy Holidays!

Anne Basso said...

I have yet to figure out why it matters what symbolism or connection anyone else puts with Christmas. As a Christian it would be intellectually dishonest of me to think that the symbolism of Christmas is inherently Christian. After all, we've borrowed most of it from cultures we've assimilated over time. I'm fine with that. In my theology, we've taken symbolism and rightly made it symbolic of what I believe is the One True God.

Yet, at the same time, that's my faith, my beliefs. If someone wants to see Christmas as a wholly secular holiday, it doesn't change one bit of it for me or my family.

This is just one more area in which I think many Christians make a mountain out of a molehill.

I'm glad I found your blog again, I've missed your "voice". =)