Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Fox that Stole Christmas

The mere existence of this blog is evidence that I am not a Christian. With that in mind I should make it clear that Christmas never bothered me. At least it never bothered me until this year.

I can remember a good number of Christmases. For all of them there was a message there. It was “Peace on earth and good will to all men.” How could anyone complain about that? And the fact is that virtually no one did.

Christmas was never exclusively Christian. After all the bulk of the Christmas traditions, including the very day itself, are not of Christian origin. They are all adopted from non-Christian traditions. The day came from older non-Christian celebrations. The early Christians never celebrated Christmas but that is because no one knows when Christ was born.

Many of the Christmas traditions are older than Christianity and originated in pre-Christian Germany. The Christmas tree, the Yule log, holly and mistletoe are all adopted from German pagan sources.

Not only did early Christians not celebrate this holiday but at a few times in history Christians waged aggressive war against Christmas. When that joyless strain of Christianity, known as Calvinism, ruled Christmas was banned. The Christian theocracies of Cromwell’s England and the New England Puritans both banned the celebration of the holiday completely. Even today some Christian sects refuse to acknowledge the day because they say it is pagan in origin and has nothing to do with their religion. Like all theocrats they felt it was their obligation to impose, by force, their religious doctrines upon unwilling and non-consenting victims.

Non-Christians have long celebrated Christmas for non-religious reasons. The Swedish pro-globalization expert Johan Norberg pointed out that he had no problems with the holiday even though he is an atheist “since it is an old heathen holiday here, to celebrate mid-winter, and here the word for Christmas, ‘jul’ bears no relationship to Christ.”

The advocate of capitalism Ayn Rand said that that Christmas “is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men.” She spoke of the twinkling lights, the singing, the brightly wrapped gifts and noted: “One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”

The famed evangelist of unbelief, Robert Ingesoll, was no Scrooge either. In 1891 he wrote: “I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy.” He said it was “a good day to forgive and forget---a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds---a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and house of others, with sunshine.”

I’ve had Christmas presents and given them. I’ve had Christmas trees and sent cards. I’ve joined friends to celebrate the holiday. So why this year did it feel so different?

In past years if someone said “Merry Christmas” I took it as a cheerful greeting. It didn’t offend me. It didn’t come close to be a problem.

But this year each “Merry Christmas” felt like a slap in the face. It was as the words themselves were meant as an assault. And I have never felt that way prior to this year.

For as long as I can remember, and that is the good part of five different decades, many people said “Happy Holidays”. It was appreciated although Christmas is not celebrated by all people. After all, contrary to the impressions given by some, not everyone is a Christian. Not even in the US is that true. And if someone did say “Merry Christmas” not realizing this it was not taken as anything else but a greeting of good will.

What changed is that this year individuals with a political agenda discovered that not everyone celebrates the Christian interpretation that was imposed on this pre-Christian holiday.

A few rabid conservatives on Fox News, to boost their own ratings, invented the idea that their is a “war on Christmas.” This, they argued, was a direct assault on their religion.

The concept of “good will” was obliterated. War was declared. If a vocal minority did not get their way of having every aspect of this day endowed with their interpretation they would make the holiday miserable for everyone. All one had to do was watch these men on television for a few minutes to know that there was no “good will” left. It was anger and fury and rage and hatred. It was all screaming and condemning.

Cromwell and the American Puritans banned Christmas. But it took Fox News and the rabid Right to strip it of any good will and joy.

These men condemned businesses which understood that at this time of year people of all faiths, and none, celebrated different holidays. They simply made an effort to let all people know that “your money is welcome here.” It’s good capitalist common sense.

But the Fox fanatics endowed that recognition with sinister purposes. Anyone who didn’t says “Merry Christmas” was seen as some Christ-hater. For the first time in my life the simple phrase “Merry Christmas” took on political meaning and the word “merry” seemed so insincere.

It sounded more like a salvo in this war they declared than as a greeting. So for the first time in my life I have not wished a single person a Merry Christmas. I have in the past. I may again in the future. But this year the joy in that phrase has been stripped away. It makes me wonder exactly who it really was that declared war on Christmas. I know that the hard Right took away any joy in the holiday for me.

For as long as I can remember Christmas was a holiday that could be celebrated on many levels. It was a day that religious and non-religious could celebrate each in their own way. It was inclusive in that sense. But the Right hates inclusion. Their agenda is driven by exclusion. For them the world is divided between their allies and their enemies. Unless you are with them you are evil and an enemy and their goal is to make your life miserable. What is amazing to me is that they took a joyful phrase like “Merry Christmas” and managed to give it such negative meaning.

They truly are the Fox that stole Christmas.


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