Once again Christmas time is approaching. Houses in our neighborhood are all decked out in colorful lights with inflatable ornaments sitting out on snow-covered lawns. The stores are full of holiday shoppers making retailers smile while dreaming of big holiday bonuses like kids wishing for candy-apple treats. Our TV screens are aglow with the many incarnations of Santa Claus telling the viewers in TV land just how great of a gift their trinket would be for that special someone.
So who’s winning the War on Christmas?
Besides all the general merry-making this time of year, we also have our right-wing brethren ranting about the “War on Christmas” that heathens, Liberals, and other evil-doers are committing in the name of destroying all that is good and holy about our most holiest of Christian traditions.
However, a quick trip to the ever wonderful “Wikipedia” gives us these gems about the Controversies of Christmas Pasts and the truth about the war on Christmas.
The first documented Christmas controversy was Christian-led, and began during the English Interregnum, when England was ruled by a Puritan Parliament. Puritans (including those who fled to America.) sought to remove elements they viewed as “pagan” (because they were not biblical in origin) from Christianity (see Pre-Christianity below). During this period, the English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas entirely, replacing it with a day of fasting and considering it “a popish festival with no biblical justification”, and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior. The Army was sent to raid homes and confiscate any cooked meat. This led to such resentment that it provoked riots in Kent, leading to the Second Civil War and the Siege of Colchester.
So, OK then. Back in the 1650s in Jolly Ol’ England, the War on Christmas seemed to be a pretty hot time, what with soldiers breaking into people’s homes and taking their roast beast right off the Christmas dinner table and all. I can see this leading to a deeper level of warring and stuff.
Then we have this:
Prior to the Victorian era, Christmas in the United States was primarily a religious holiday observed by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. Its importance was often considered secondary to that of Epiphany and Easter.
As was the case with other Christian holidays, Christmas borrowed elements from Pagan peoples, including yule logs, decorations such as candles, holly, and mistletoe. Christmas trees were seen as Pagan in origin. Cited as proof is Jeremiah, 10:3-4, which states, “For the customs of the peoples are false: a tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an ax by the hands of an artisan. People deck it with silver and gold they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.” The Advent period (originally a fasting period meant to point to the Second Coming of Christ), and gift giving (invented by Martin Luther to counter St. Nicholas Day, 6 December) were also Pagan in origin.
During the various Protestant reformations, these paganizing elements were a source of controversy. Some sects, such as the Puritans, rejected Christmas as an entirely Pagan holiday. Others rejected certain aspects of Christmas as paganizing, but wanted to retain the “essence” of the holiday as a celebration of the Christ’s birth. This tension put in motion an ongoing debate within Christianity about the proper observance of Christmas.
Leave it to the Protestants to figure out how to ruin a good time. But, it seems the War on Christmas kept right on going.
According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Charles Dickens. In A Christmas Carol, Hutton argues, Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Modern celebrations of Christmas include more commercial activity, compared to the more religious celebrations of the past.
Historian Stephen Nissenbaum contends that the modern celebration in the United States was developed in New York State from defunct and imagined Dutch and English traditions in order to re-focus the holiday from one where groups of young men went from house to house demanding alcohol and food into one that was focused on the happiness of children. He notes that there was deliberate effort to prevent the children from becoming greedy in response.
So, thanks to Charles Dickens, we went from a celebration where folks spent all day sitting in church on Christmas Day, to a celebration where people went house to house asking for free booze and food. Until some undoubtedly well-meaning do-gooders put a stop to all that stuff so as not to set bad examples for the children. Of course, it had to be New Yorkers…
And today, we have the modern era with such notable luminaries of civil discourse and rational discussions as Bill O’Reilly claiming:
[…] that any specific mention of the term “Christmas” or its religious aspects was being increasingly censored, avoided, or discouraged by a number of advertisers, retailers, government (prominently schools), and other public and secular organizations. A variety of Christians and non-Christians alike have agreed with these claims to varying degrees.
I guess the fact that Christmas hasn’t necessarily always been a major holiday, and in fact is not even celebrated by every Christian sects (at least not on December 25), and that even the way we celebrate Christmas has changed dramatically over the centuries, doesn’t seem to matter to our purveyors of reason and rationality screaming about the war on Christmas. It’s all about equating what is supposed to be the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace with finding ways to get people hating on each other.
Now that is obscene. But, it seems that things today are about the same as they ever was…
Here’s to a merry Festivus everyone, with peace on earth and good will towards men.