Is there really a war on Christmas? Let’s listen in to some of the public conversation.
1. “I hate how Christmas has gotten so commercialized these days. It didn’t used to be like that.”
Did you know that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was written as part of a Christmas promotion for Montgomery Ward? Copywriter Robert May first wrote this story in 1939. People liked it, so in 1947, it was made into a cartoon and shown in theaters. In 1949, Gene Autry recorded the version we know today.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a jingle. Not to mention a rather ugly story: “A reindeer with a physical abnormality is bullied by all the other reindeer. One day the Operations Manager realizes that this abnormality could be leveraged to streamline the delivery process. The low-status reindeer is promoted, and all the bullies instantly reveal their true colors as spineless sycophants.” Now that‘s heartwarming.
This is just one example of how aspects of buying and selling have become integral to this holiday. There are many others, just like there are with any holiday. Buying and selling is what human beings do.
2. “Christmas has always been about family.”
Actually, the idea of Christmas as a celebration of domestic virtues, centered around home, hearth, and children is a very modern idea. It was invented by the late Victorians as part of their general idealization of domesticity.
In the era before that, Christmas was more like Halloween: It was a time to get drunk and engage in minor vandalism. It was also a time when it was considered allowable to barge into other people’s homes and demand food and drink. This custom, similar to trick-or-treating, was called “wassailing.” You may recall the Christmas carol that goes: “Now bring us some figgy pudding…we won’t go until we get some.” As practiced in earlier days, it was quite a bit more threatening than we would imagine it now. Imagine your home being invaded by a lot of rowdy glue sniffers who stumble around stealing your spoons while you try and scare up a six-pack of Budweiser.
3. “Christmas is the most important day of the year.”
For most of the history of the Christian Church, the most significant annual celebration was Easter, and Christmas was lumped in with Groundhog Day. This is no surprise, since the Christ’s resurrection is clearly a much more unusual and powerful activity than being born.
Additionally, December 25th was an arbitrarily assigned date. This was probably an attempt by the early church to link in with other existing festivals celebrated around the time of the solstice. This kind of mingling is called “cultural syncretism,” and it can produce very powerful cultural artifacts, like the sing-along Messiah or vegetarian pastrami sandwiches.
4. “Making everyone say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of “Merry Christmas’ is part of the godless, pinko commie agenda.”
If the commercialization of Christmas is a key grievance, it’s curious that one of the main battlegrounds is whether store clerks say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” as you leave the register with your three bags of goodies. Why does it seem so desirable to make sure that “Christmas” is part of this commercial transaction?
There are many religious holidays that happen all year long, but no one launches a lawsuit because a 7-Eleven clerk doesn’t say “Happy Day of Remembrance Commemorating the Time When the Testicles of Uranus Were Thrown Into The Sea”* while she rings up your Ding-Dongs. There’s a place for religious celebrations, and it’s called “church,’ or alternatively, “home.” Or “forest.” Or “butte.” Or “enchanted island.”
The fact is, there are a lot of good reasons to throw a party in late December. The world is a tough place, and the moment in the year when we’re facing months of darkness is the perfect time for a pick-me-up.
So get together, in your churches and your planetariums, your Macy’s and your neighborhood watering holes. Let’s say “no” to darkness, and “yes” to celebrations. Go and God Bless.
* This is a real mythological event!