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Thursday, December 16, 2004

A reminder: Christmas isn't about being American

This article momentarily made me want to strip down my handful of Christmas decorations and burn them. And then I remembered that while Bill O'Reilly may gather his family around the tree and explain to them that they come together once a year to celebrate that they are Americans, just like Jesus was, and that non-Christians are going to be cast into hell and that is reason for joy, well, that's just not what Christmas is to me. And then I realized that it would piss off O'Reilly and all the rest of the people raising the false alarms about Christmas to know that an atheist like me celebrates Christmas, and I felt the warm glow of Christmas cheer. I nearly wanted to buy a tree. And then a mental picture of Max clinging to the branches, ornaments everywhere popped into my head so I decided to be satisfied with my lights and garland.

I'm not a Christian, but I figure that I can still celebrate Christmas because it's part of my heritage. And, despite my mother's beaten-up Nativity scene shoved up in the corner, my family still kicks it pagan-style with elves everywhere, and not the modern Santa's elves sort. My mother favors the old-fashioned, fairy tale elves that peek out at you from between the branches of the tree or from behind a garland. Without really meaning to, we channel our pre-Christian Welsh ancestors so thoroughly, we might as well call it Yule. There will be more rueful discussions about how we wish it would snow than about how this is the birthday of Our Savior or anything like that. Oh, I have one cousin who was somehow smuggled away in the middle of the night by fundamentalists and then returned to us "born again" with a disapproving look on her face to match who will insist on praying before dinner, and we'll indulge her to be polite. But the dinner table will be weighted in favor of those of us who are trying really hard not to laugh and crack jokes when she thanks Jeebus for the food. (Get back with the people you were kids with, and suddenly you're 12 again.)

Twenty bucks says O'Reilly's pre-Christian ancestors were celebrating the winter solistice around this time of year, albeit on the next island over from my ancestors. That Christmas is a hastily converted pagan holiday makes this whole thing a joke on one hand, but on the other, it's deeply alarming. Because there's little doubt that to most people who celebrate it, the holiday is just as much about their ethnic heritage as it is about their religion. Hell, for most people it's much more about reconnecting with their roots than it is about Jesus.

Tradition, family, and celebrating your heritage--there's a good way to do these things, and a bad way, as we all know. It's one thing for people descended from European Christians to have the holiday and have fun and keep old country traditions alive. It's another thing entirely for people descended from European Christians to turn around and declare that to be a "real" American, you must do the same as them. For the life of me, I cannot see the difference between the people here declaring that you have to be from a certain Euro-Christian heritage to be American and those who declared that Jews couldn't be Germans you-know-when. But I will say this: Snottily refusing to be inclusive is un-American. Bill O'Reilly in particular would do well to remember that his particular ethnic group was treated like they weren't "real" Americans not that long ago.

32 Comments:

Blogger Anne said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/19/arts/19rich.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5090&en=c8398da9a3c7332d&ex=1260939600&partner=rssuserland - Frank Rich

12/16/2004

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"That Christmas is a hastily converted pagan holiday makes this whole thing a joke on one hand, but on the other, it's deeply alarming."

Is it intellectually honest to write a post about engagement rings and suggest that a man and a woman can transform the meaning of the rings by simply giving and wearing them equally and mutually, but then turn around and suggest that a civilization with 2000 years to spend can not convert the meaning of a pagan holiday? It seems to me it has to be one or the other. Either Christmas is, at this point, truly and deeply a Christian holiday, or a man and a woman are not really able to convert the meaning of engagement rings simply because they want to.

12/17/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Yes, because my larger point holds absolutely true, that Christmas is celebrated for reasons beyond just Christianity; it is also a time for family and ethnic traditions. It's compltely consistent--Christmas is about togetherness like the rings are about being a couple. The choice presented to people is whether or not to use these symbols in an inclusive or exclusive way, to reinforce injustice or not. Getting your panties in a wad because a business tries not to offend their Jewish customers by saying, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" would be a perfect example of treating the holiday as a way to grandstand and act superior to other people. Simply throwing up some lights and elves is not.

My point about paganism was to serve as a way to underline my overall point which is that Christmas is experienced as part of a tribal and not just religious identity.

12/17/2004

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"Twenty bucks says O'Reilly's pre-Christian ancestors were celebrating the winter solistice around this time of year, albeit on the next island over from my ancestors. That Christmas is a hastily converted pagan holiday makes this whole thing a joke on one hand, but on the other, it's deeply alarming. Because there's little doubt that to most people who celebrate it, the holiday is just as much about their ethnic heritage as it is about their religion. Hell, for most people it's much more about reconnecting with their roots than it is about Jesus."

What you're saying is that Christmas is less and less a Christian holiday, and more and more a holiday where people reconnect with their roots. That's fine, and I agree with you - the meaning of Christmas is changing. But it's not consistent to suggest that we, now, in this day and age, have the power to change the meaning away from being about Jesus, whereas the Christians, who ran the show for a good 1800 years, lacked the power to change the meaning of Christmas and make it all about Christ. When I asked earlier if you were being consistent, this is the point I was trying to make. If we, the living generation, over the last 40 years, have had the power to change the meaning of Christmas and turn it into a secular holiday, then surely the Christians, with 1800 years to burn and a universal consensus in Europe for most of those 1800 years, had the power to change the meaning of any previously existing pagan holiday and make that holiday all about Jesus.

I guess I was taking offense at the tone of voice in the line "Twenty bucks says O'Reilly's pre-Christian ancestors were celebrating the winter solistice around this time of year". But I do understand that O'Reilly is deeply offensive and it is hard to read his stuff and remain civil.

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