December 11, 2006

Hey Chuck! - Can we give Jesus a break for the holidays?

Yeah, I’m a heathen, but I love the holidays. So take this: Merry Christmas to all!

There I’ve said it, and not with sarcasm but with sincerity. I’m crazy about Christmas, always have been. Even after I became an atheist.

I always knew that there were other, more overtly secular ways to acknowledge the season. But I never imagined not celebrating Christmas. It was an integral part of my childhood. It was a mountain summit that beckoned during the long, uphill trudge through the rest of the year (especially school in the Fall). And to be honest, it was never a particularly pious observance in my house anyway. Though we went to church most Sundays, Christ played a pretty small role in the Christmases of my youth.

So I never considered not celebrating Christmas, even after eschewing religion. Nor have I ever thought myself hypocritical for doing so. And I’ve never felt particularly proprietary about the season. In that spirit, then, let me also wish everyone a happy Hanukkah and a felicitous Kwanzaa.

That done, I’d like to suggest, meekly mind you, that it couldn’t hurt for some of our conservative religious brethren to throttle back on the holiday testosterone just a wee bit. The threat level is not high, it’s not necessary to rush down to your local recruiting station and sign up to defend Christmas, regardless of what everyone’s favorite bad-ass bard, Chuck Norris, says in a post over at WorldNetDaily. That lovable kick-boxing, keyboard punching palooka has taken up the most overblown, nonsensical non-issue of last year - the supposed "War on Christmas," and run with it...over a cliff.

It’s obvious, of course, that the notion of a war is all out of proportion (apparently in Chuck’s world the sky is not only a different color, it’s falling all around him). But it’s true that there is something of a skirmish going on.

Why is it that as Valentine’s day, July the Fourth and Thanksgiving continue to go off without a hitch, Christmas seems to grow a bit more disputatious every year? Why should we see spitball crossfire over the hap-happiest season of all?

There are several reasons, a big one being the desire on the part of retailers to embrace the spirit of the holiday while disenfranchising as few walking wallets as possible, resulting in such obvious ploys as the awkward “Holiday Trees!” Even though I am disposed to appreciate a multicultural approach, I too gag at such marketing not, as with the religious, because I am offended by the sacrilege, but because it is so vacuous.

Perhaps, though, the more fundamental issue underlying this annual commotion is the fact that Christmas itself is something of a hodgepodge of influences. The Chuckster will try to tell you otherwise, as he does here at the end of his screed,
“To me, it also stands for ''Jesus” [the letter J], without whom there would be no Christmas at all.”
But the truth is that Christmas, or something like it, would likely still be rolling around every year, even without Jesus Christ.

The history of the yuletide (Scandinavian pagan origin), replete with its ornamented trees (Romans and Germans) and mistletoe (Celts and Druids), is one of multifarious influence. The Christmas we know today is the result of bi-directional sharing of customs drawn from diverse mid-winter celebrations. As such, there can be confusion about the derivation of many of the holiday’s traditions. Even the true date of the birth of Christ is unknown. Some scholars place it in early January, and some put it in April. It has also been suggested that the December 25th date is the result of a bit of cross-pollination with Hanukkah.

In fact, considering the contemporary holiday environment, the most broadly Christian aspect of Christmas is arguably not Christ. It is that jolly target of humbugs both secular and sectarian - Santa Claus. Imported from the Dutch and derived from Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, old jelly-belly upholds an early December celebration of yore in which kids were the focus, gifts were given, and a feast was held. Sound familiar?

The point here is not to diminish the fact that, for many, Christmas is about the reverent celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is to observe that the philosophically and culturally diverse Christmas crock-pot bubbles with ingredients of disparate origin. Sure, Jesus Christ is part of the mix, but so is a lot of other stuff.

This allows plenty of latitude to those who wish to emphasize non-theological aspects of the holiday. It’s as legitimate to celebrate selflessness and sacrifice on the 25th as it is to venerate sinlessness. It’s as meaningful to wish for peace on earth and goodwill toward men as it is to espouse the spiritual rewards of a redeemed afterlife. Heck, if you’d rather hug a tree than decorate it you’re covered too.

I just wish guys like the Chuckmeister could give poor JC a break for the holidays. Celebrants of many denominations (or none) have a claim to the season, just not an exclusive one. That concordance is, in my opinion, what makes this the best time of the year. I’m guessing even Jesus would appreciate a diversity of traditions that manages such cross-cultural good cheer.

Happy Holidays indeed.


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