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Sunday, December 26, 2010

There is no war on Christmas

Seriously, there isn't.

That's because Christmas has never really been about Christ. It started as a minor holiday. For early Christians, the big deal was Christ's resurrection, not his birth. The birthday was no more important than any random Saints days on the calendar. It was celebrated around the time of the Winter Solstice for a number of reasons, none of them having to do with anyone thinking this was the actual birthday of Jesus. It was mostly about the Winter Solstice and people celebrating that already so it made a convenient for Christians to have a holiday they could celebrate around that time too.

Christmas, and how it was celebrated, changed in the 1800s as a result of a number of occurrences. One was the publication of Clement Moore's poem "The Night Before Christmas" which featured "Saint Nick" -- not as a saint, but a "right jolly old elf." Another was the publication of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Notice that neither of these stories were about Christ's birth. They were about giving presents and "goodwill towards men."

Retailers seized on these tales to encourage people to buy things in celebration of Christmas. And thus the modern Christmas was born. A Christmas that had nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with rampant consumerism mixed with good works.

So you can't put Christ "back" into Christmas as he wasn't ever really there. Christ's birth is not an important event spiritually and, early Christians believed, shouldn't be celebrated with great fanfare. On the other hand, putting Christ back into Easter makes sense because Easter used to be all about the resurrection and Christianity was all about the resurrection and not about any Easter bunny or egg hunts or other trappings of pagan celebrations of Springtime. But Christmas? Not so much.

Therefore, the true "war on Christmas" is the battle to make Christmas only be about Christ and remove the parts that the rest of us -- the non-Christians and the non-observant Christians -- love about the holiday -- the giving of presents, the sentimental feelings one is more freely able to indulge this time of year, the family traditions around food, stockings, the Christmas tree, and all the other trappings of the holiday that came from the pagan celebration of Yule.

Now, if you want to celebrate Christmas in the ways that early Christians did, that's fine with me. But that means: no presents, no Christmas tree, no stockings, no Christmas lights on your house, etc., etc. Instead, you should go to Mass in the morning and have a big dinner around 2pm and that's it. Because that's what putting Christ "back" into Christmas would truly mean.

Then again, if you want to celebrate in some hybrid way -- keeping all the trappings of Yule but also celebrating Christ's birth with some hymns and a Nativity scene or two, that's fine too. What isn't okay with me is when you try to tell other people that (a) they are doing it wrong and/or (b) that they have no right to celebrate Christmas unless they believe like you do and celebrate like you do. Yes, I have actually read people say things like that -- that Christmas doesn't belong to me but to them. This strikes me as being particularly non-Christian and in the worst possible way, but there you go.

And it leads me to the other (somewhat related) issue that really bugs me... Christians in the US are not persecuted. They are the majority religion. Our culture, laws and customs are steeped in this particular religion. Therefore, it's completely unbecoming for people in the mainstream of our society to act like they are being persecuted just because not everyone agrees with them 100% and also sometimes they are challenged in  their views. Oh and they can't just do whatever they want whenver they want it. (Like getting government support for their religious trappings.)

I'm sorry, but being challenged in your views and having limits on your behavior is just part of being a human being living in society where you have to give a little to make society work. It happens to everyone no matter what their beliefs are. Persecution is being thrown in jail, being tortured, losing your job or home or both, just because of what you believe in (and not because of your actions). But it's not against the law in the US to be a Christian. It's not against the law to celebrate Christian holidays. In fact, the biggie Christian holidays are all National holidays. No other religion can say that in the US. Banks and schools don't close for Ramadan or Rosh Hashanah and people don't run around telling strangers to have a good Diwali and just assume they are celebrating that holiday because "everyone" does.

So to all my Christian friends (and enemies) who act like they are persecuted and in a minority, please cut it out. It makes you look petulant and entitled. The world is changing and now you can't just assume pretty much everyone you meet is a Christian and shares your core values. But this is not only not persecution, it's a good thing.

Because values that are never challenged tend to grow weak. If you don't know why you stand for something, it's harder to stand for it when the going gets tough. It's much better to be challenged at every turn and to truly understand both what you believe and why you believe it than it is to have your beliefs be so much a part of the society and culture around you that you never even have to think about an opposing part of view.

P.S. Happy Dakinis' Day.
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