Monday, December 22, 2008

Why sometimes it's OK to keep the Christ out of Christmas

I saw a sign today that said "Remember: Jesus is the reason for the season."

I've been seeing variations of this kind of thing since I was a little kid. There are two kind of people who put these signs up:

1. Normal, every day Christians who treat Christmas like the rest of us do (a Caligula-style orgy of naked consumerism and fatty-foods), but who still want get a little holy karma thrown their way in case Jesus is in the habit of reading lawn-signs.

2. Truly committed Christians who reject outright all the pagan trappings of Christmas (and who probably think that the Three Wise Men were perverting things by distracting the baby Jesus from Himself with all that myrrh.)

For 32 years, I understood where both of these people were coming from. After all, Christmas started life as a religious holiday; it only makes sense to want to remind people of that fact. I'm sure if, for some reason, Ramadan all of a sudden became a hip holiday with all sorts of wacky traditions grafted onto it (Achmed the Ramadan monkey brings the most obedient little girls trampolines or whatever), Muslims would justifiably try to steer the holiday to its original purpose.

But something occurred to me today:

Maybe the most Christ-like approach to keeping the Christ in Christmas is to remove him from the occasion altogether.

See, Christmas is teetering on the verge of becoming a secular holiday in much the same way that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July already are. Christmas is so profitable that it's already been put through the capitalist ringer: it's been buffed and polished by Hollywood and Wall Street to be the most appealing holiday on the calendar. As a consequence of this, there isn't a little boy or girl -- of any faith! -- that doesn't want to celebrate it.

Parents of different faiths worry that Christmas is therefore a sinister missionary, spreading not just good cheer, but Christianity as well. There is understandable resistance, then, to embracing Christmas.

This is sad, because the atmosphere at Christmas -- the lights, the gifts, the super-awesome pagan traditions -- does actually make a difference in how people view the world. There's a happiness possible at Christmas that is separate and distinct from anything to do with religion. People sometimes just want to have an excuse to decorate their house, put on reindeer sweaters, and got sloshed on eggnog.

The world is a much better place at Christmas, and it would be even better if we could get more people celebrating it. Christians make up a majority of the country, but they don't make up a super-majority (sorry Sarah Palin). All the best parts of Christmas, the ones that make us light up happily every December, could easily be exported to those non-Christians without any mention of the Notorious J.H.C. Further, thanks to the aforementioned polishing of Christmas by corporate America, it would only take just the littlest of pushes to make Christmas a universal, secular holiday.

Imagine if the holiday cut across religious boundaries the same way Thanksgiving did! Imagine if all your Jewish friends were able to stop pretending that the socks they got on the fourth day of Hanukkah were just as good as the minibike you got for Christmas. Imagine if the son of the neck-bearded atheist associate professor of philosophy was able to get the same GI Joe figure as you.

What a wonderful world that would be, eh? In fact, I would say that the philosophy of Christ -- namely, the goodwill toward your neighbor stuff -- would be more alive in a world like that, even as we diminish, just a bit, the worship of Him.

I would humbly suggest that the Jesus of the New Testament wouldn't care how it was done, just so long as it was done.

(Now, his pissed-off father from the Old Testament is another story. The only person who wailed on his children more than Yaweh did was Bing Crosby.)

We could make the world a place that emulates Christ if we could just get him the Hell out of Christmas.


On a side note, my wife and I put in an offer -- and it was accepted! -- on a house last week, which is part of the reason why this blog has been so inconsistent. We're gearing up for the new place now (assuming that the deal doesn't fall apart on its way from contract to settlement). We bought at what we hope is the bottom of the current market, so it's either up from here or that house is where we make our final stand against the Zombies. Either way, I'm deliriously happy and can't wait to share with you all the news of the move (hopefully, with some entertainment value attached).


Megan said...

Congrats!!!!!! And Merry Christmas. Jay, I work at a shoe store part time and we have the winter sale going on right now and I think of you everytime a person with and accent(english not being their 1st language) comes up to me asking if all shoes are 70% off, and I say no and then have a 10 min demo/explanation on which ones are and how you can tell. If I were funny I would be able to explain it better with some humor.... but Im not. But you would have a good laugh at all of us "team members" trying not to kill ourselves as we point out sale items. And I should point out, only people from other countries have issue understanding the sale. As my mom said "they pick and choose what they want to understand and then try to pull one on you" And I am thrilled for you and your wife, buying a house is a huge step but its so exciting and fun! Congrats again.

Wayne A. "Tony" Conaway said...

Japan is a good example of a non-Christian culture that has wholeheartedly adopted Christmas traditions -- but not Jesus. (Japanese Christians are a small minority.) Of course, their IDEA of Christmas can be fuzzy...witness the Japanese department store which put up Christmas decorations, featuring Santa Claus nailed to a cross!

Some of most successful Christmas marketing in Japan is by KFC. They've managed to conflate the image of Santa Claus with Colonel Sanders. As a result, millions of Japanese feast on a Christmas dinner of Kentucky Fried Chicken. You have to place your KFC Xmas order in advance, and the KFC chef proudly puts his signature on each takeout box.

Oh, and congratulations on the house, Jay!