Saturday, 24 December 2011

The True Reason for the Season

Well, as we all know, Ross Romaniuk decided to brush off the ol' "War on Christmas" drum this year. The topic's really flared up in Rhode Island, framed much more in religious than cultural terms.

All the times this non-issue flares up I can't help but remember an event from my time in high school which really displays the enormous ignorance of so many "defend Christmas" culture warriors.
A teacher was talking about how she wrote "Xmas" once but had been persuaded not to continue the practice by a student who exclaimed that she had "Xed the Christ out of Christmas". I'm stricken by how misguided such a complaint was for two reasons:

  • Honestly, is any sane person of average (or even low average) intellect going to have problems  figuring out that "Xmas" is the same as "Christmas"? 
  • If people did any historical research at all they'd realize the "X" comes from Χριστός, a Greek word meaning Christ!! 
Well, I'm glad that historical ignorance coupled with traditionalist paranoia has ensured that a useful shorthand now has stigma attached to it. Saving space when writing on tiny cards will just be that much more difficult now!!!*

The irony of the culture warrior's crusade is that many elements of "Christmas" have decidedly non-Christian origins.

A relative of mine worked in an white-collar workplace where a given employee compulsively decorated everyone's office for Christmas (she had no actual jurisdiction over their offices, she just did it anyway). This relative worked in an office with a Jehovah's Witness who wouldn't celebrate Christmas due to it's undeniably non-Christian origins. My relative said that, out of respect for his office mate's beliefs, he'd rather not have Christmas decorations plastered all over the office. The compulsively decorating co-worker indignantly moaned "why should he be able to hijack Christmas?!" Aside from demonstrating the unjustified sense of entitlement some traditionalists have (she was decorating other peoples' personal offices), it also shows an interesting dynamic in the "War on Christmas": genuine campaigns against Christmas are the brain children of Christians.

Indeed, in 17th century England the Puritan ruler Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas because of its hedonistic ethos. At least one modern Christian Fundie has bemoaned the humanistic values inherent in Christmas's theme of goodwill towards others without invoking a Sky-God.

So what do we make of all this? What is the true meaning of a holiday that has incorporated many elements from different cultures? Cutting through all the theology, what unifies the reason for all this celebrating?

Simply put, it's bloody cold & dark in winter and people need a holiday to cheer up. I'm sure Winnipeggers can particularly appreciate the sentiment, even given the mildness of this year's winter.


*Okay, I'm really not going to heed to this sensibility at all.  


  1. Happy Saturnalia to you too.

    Or Festivus if you're of that persuasion.