Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Holidays

Having said that, here are some thoughts I've been thinking about the declawing of Christmas:

1. You didn't know it had claws, did you? Maybe it doesn't. (But it is the celebration of the human birth of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.) I'm pretty sure there was blood, at least. In spite of having some Roman Catholic sympathies, I'm not one, and I really think that Mary had a normal labour and there was blood. Although I have always enjoyed and probably always will enjoy Christmas trees and wreaths and pepparkakor, they don't particularly point to the reality of road-trips-via-donkey (or foot) and blood and dirt and naturally-scented animals. People get a little bent out of shape about the growing insipidity of Christmas, but it seems to me that, without the grit, it's always had the trappings to be insipid if we let it.

2. One day on one of my breaks I got in line to order and "mark out" a drink, and I asked for a "tall Christmas blend."

"A tall Xmas blend?" asked Kiran with a subtle tone of irony in his voice. (Yes, this is the same Kiran I drove home the other day. Please do not hold this against him. We actually had a chat in the car that day about whether I was "religious." It was interesting, but I don't feel I was particularly articulate.)

"No," I said. "Christmas blend."

I'm not really one to quibble about the whole "Xmas" thing. If people want to think they're neutralising the word, I can content myself with thinking about how "X" is the first Greek letter in "Christ." I don't feel like I need to argue about it, and frankly, if they're not celebrating Christ, why should they call it "Christmas"? However, I am celebrating Christ (or at least, I mean to--and I hope that's what I'm ultimately doing), and so I do not wish to be corrected for my use of the term--even when it's only in regard to coffee.

3. I also do not feel that I am selling out if I tell customers to "enjoy the holidays." Why would I wish someone a "Merry Christmas" if they don't celebrate it and/or celebrate something else? I do not suppose that by saying the words, "Merry Christmas" at someone I am magically converting them. And, as I have said before, if I wish to offend them, I'd rather do it in a context where we can discuss or argue about it almost immediately.

4. Christians in my neck of the woods seem to feel threatened by the fact that the big censorship trend now is to call Christmas trees "holiday trees." I join in the concern based on the fact that I do think it's censorship (I also think taking Oscar the Grouch off Sesame Street is censorship, though. Someone told me this was happening, although I have yet to find any documentation).

As I have said, I like Christmas trees. I have one, and I intend to keep having one. I also intend to keep calling it a Christmas tree. However, I would just like to throw this out there: it doesn't really have much to do with Christmas. And maybe, if we stop being allowed to slap the "Christ Mass" label on all the extraneous stuff that has come to be associated with the holiday, maybe we'll start to get the real holiday back. I'm not convinced that being able to keep calling public coniferous decorations "Christmas trees" is the way for Christians to keep their holiday.

Sometimes, for example, I wonder if calling the-obligatory-mass-purchasing-of-more-or-less-useful-material-possessions-for-other-people "Christmas shopping" is a little bit like taking the Lord's name in vain. I'm not saying it is. But I think it might be. If we separate things into "Christmas" versus "holiday" categories, we might just end up with unhelpful dichotomies, I suppose. We might compound our propensity to compartmentalise Jesus. On the other hand, if we actually started thinking about what we're calling stuff, we might start thinking about what we're doing. And then we might be able to be more intentional about how we celebrate Christmas--and really celebrate it.

In the meantime, I don't think people should call their winter holidays "Christmas" if they are in no other way acknowledging Christ. I wish everyone was celebrating that Jesus is God's Son, come to earth to set us free from ourselves. But if they're not yet, please, let's let them call their holiday something else. So that when they do meet the Incarnate God, they have a special name to call a special time of year that really has a lot more depth and meaning than tradition and nostalgia and presents and glitter and even family.


Annelise said...

Lovely tree (whatever it's name) and a really good post. I think part of the problem with Christian holy days is that early missionaries tried to Christianize the pagan celebrations (you know that). Whether that was a good idea or not is open to question and lots of discussion! The Church of Ireland pastor in town really didn't want a "Christmas tree" in the sanctuary, so he put up a Jesse tree. The cool thing is that a Jewish au pair has been coming to services with "her family" and she was fascinated by the Old Testament links to the Jesus story. A good example of how being creative and biblical can enhance the celebration and acquaint people with the Gospel story in ways that will grab their attention.

revjas said...

Such a brave girl to take on the AFA (for example: it's 3,341,431 supporters -- with a bit of sanctified reason! I do respond to some of AFA's appeals for email protest, but I'm with you on this one!

Jenn said...

Mom--I like the Jesse tree idea. It sounds really cool. I like to feel that most if not all of the ornaments on my tree have some sort of symbolism or significance anyway.

Dad--heh. Thanks!

maryannie said...

Hey Jenn! It's Mary Anne. I totally agree with your post. The retail establishment has completely exploited Christ's birth by turning it into the biggest money-making event of the entire year. So frankly, I'd prefer they not use the word Christmas at all. Let them market their crap with the word "holiday" and keep Christ out of it completely! Maybe we'll reclaim Christmas when the word is only used by individual people, and at church, and with our friends and families. Think about Good Friday, for example. There's no talk of it in the secular world, and notice how sacred that day always feels. Maybe the same would be true for Christmas. And by the way, Merry Christmas!

Heather said...

I love Christmas trees! Love them.
Technically, if we called them by their original celebratory name, wouldn't they be known as "Saturnalia tree" or "Ra tree" or "Balder tree"?
I kind of like that early Christians took pagan holidays and turned them toward Christ. The pagan holidays had an idea of celebrating the hope of life in the midst of the winter season. I like that Christians took that potential and infused it with the meaning of true life.
I also don't have a problem if people stop calling it Christmas if they don't celebrate the Christ part of it.

Inihtar said...

Good points! I guess I always make it a point to wish people a Merry CHRISTmas, not so much to impose Christmas on those who don't believe in Christ, but to show that to me, it's CHRISTmas, not XMas or Holidays.

And what bothers me about removing the Christmas label from things like the tree is that even if the tree has nothing really to do with the birth of Christ, removing the label is just one more step in moving further away from acknowledging the holiday as a Christian one. Do I make sense?

L.L. Barkat said...

Loved this little soapbox!

Barry Pike said...

Merry Christmas, Jenn!

Jenn said...

Mary Anne--I hadn't made the Good Friday parallel, but I like it. I think that's probably quite true. I wonder if Christmas would be less stressful that way. Can't wait to see you in a couple of days!

Heather--I kind of like it, too, in that I like the idea of God leaving bits of truth and pointers to Himself and the Gospel in pagan religions. I do think, though, that because some of that "borrowing" of the holidays was an attempt to blend in and avoid persecution, it has led in the (very) long run to our confusion over the holiday now. But I have to say I like some of the pagan elements that have crept in. (Maybe it's not such a great idea to say it . . . )

Ini--it totally makes sense. I guess I'm just not convinced that the holiday everyone is celebrating at this time of year IS a Christian one. I think the one the Christians are celebrating is.

LL--thanks! (I kind of enjoyed it myself. ;)

Barry--Merry Christmas to you, too! (Heh.)

Dan said...

I find it funny that more people don't "freak out" about Easter. I mean, Jesus was born - it's a proven fact without even cracking a Bible open. I don't know how reliable this source is, but have you seen the poll that says "eighty-five percent (85%) of Republicans report a preference for “Merry Christmas.” However, 61% of Democrats and 60% of those not affiliated with either major party hold the same view." (
Just something to think about! Good post!