It seems like everyone has something to say about the holidays – oh wait I can’t call them that because it implies holiness – let’s call them the ‘winter celebratory season’ instead. Christians want to get rid of Satan Claws, secularists want to get rid of Jesus, atheists want to get rid of all the religious holidays, consumer advocates want to get rid of Walmart and most of us just want the whole lot of them to go away so we can unwrap our new iPods and zone out infront of the fire.
I’m definitely in the later camp, but I don’t have problems with any of the observences or non-observences of the season. What I do have a problem with is people who try to impose their vision of society on everyone else by taking away their nativity scene, banishing Father Kronos or just insisting on diluting the whole experience by making sure that every cultural tradition is exhaustively explored out of proportion to its actual relevance. The real religious significance of the holidays ought to be private in observation and personal in nature. Beyond that everything is fair game. What most of us enjoy is a demented mishmash of pagan, Christian and commercial observances which has almost no meaning but makes us happy.
Charles Dickens had the tradition exactly right in his Christmas Carol where there’s precious little mention of the Jesus and an awful lot of secular morality and three pagan gods disquised as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. If the religious aspects of Christmas were already that muddled 150 years ago, what hope of ideological purity do we have today?
I like sitting here in my living room in nothng but my pajamas drinking wassail sacred to a Viking sea god, next to a tree covered with sacrificial offering balls – serving in place of the hanged men we used to offer the all-father there – waiting for the arrival of a red-suited fellow who’s a hybrid of a Celtic sky god and the underworld deity of a Roman mystery cult. He’s supposed to show up on the Winter Solstice, but every year he just misses it and shows up a few days late, perhaps hoping to do a two-fer on the birthday of the Christ-child who wasn’t actually born until January 6th anyway. Good thing we have a chimney with a convenient yule-log in it, since he can’t get in through the doors as they’re barred by rowan and holly wreathes and there’s good old druidic mistletoe hanging from the ceiling. Hopefully, when he does show up he’ll accept our guest offering of milk from our kine and baked goods from our fields and not steal the children away to his mountain realm. Old religions never fade away, they just become harmless holiday traditions.
When I lived in soviet Russia many years ago they had the perfect secular society and Christmas had been banned for 50 years. There was no Jesus, no manger and even Santa was banned as a symbol of capitalism. The front doors of the churches were even locked. But every winter there were ‘New Years’ markets selling ornaments for nonexistent trees, many of them featuring the suspiciously jolly, red-robed ‘Father New Year’ or the strangely beatific ‘Baby New Year’ lying in his cradle, and on January 6th everyone seemed to have no problem sneaking in the back door of the local church for a Christmas service.
Recently a local town wanted to put a holiday light display on the lawn of the courthouse. They were immediately descended on by advocates for the ACLU and every other advocacy group telling them they couldn’t represent any particular religion in their display, including images of Santa Claus. There was even a taxpayer group which wanted to make sure none of it was paid for with tax money. Their response was to shut the whole thing down and not even put up colored lights. That seems like the wrong response to me. They should have invited every church and community group to pay for and install their vision of the holidays, none more prominent than another. They could have put a bit of the spirit of competition in the holidays and it could be a kind of multicultural tour event for the kids, with lots of lights and things to learn. Seems like a lost opportuity. Why not embrace every celebration of the season?
Christmas is a juggernaut you cannot stop. Everyone wants it in some form or another and they’re not picky. They’re willing to put up with everyone’s goofy traditions so long as everyone else puts up with theirs. It’s the one time we get to stay in touch with our pagan roots while making a nod to the Christianity of our fathers and enjoying the fruits of our decadent capitalist society without feeling guilty about any of it. Plus, Dickens was and remains damned fine writer even if he fondled factory girls on his book tours, and giving really is better than receiving once you already have everything you want anyway. So sit back like me an enjoy the spectacle. It’s far more sensible than railing in futility against the inevitable and not enjoying any of it.