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Friday, December 15, 2006

Taking the "Christ" out of Christmas

"...And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger...".

--Linus, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown"

It's been a long, long time since Linus reminded the Peanuts gang what the True Meaning of Christmas was.

It's been almost as long, since Christmas had any true meaning left. In the aforementioned Christmas special, Charlie Brown was depressed (BIG surprise) about Christmas being so commercial. Okay, that was the "B" story; the "A" story was about him going on a power trip directing the school Nativity Play.

Up until the last ten, fifteen years, it's safe to say that North America was not as secular a continent as it is today. Christianity held Sway in all things. As American popular culture came into its own in the 1950s, this Christianization of mainstream American culture continued. This can probably be seen as a consequence of the Cold War; the Soviet Union was very much an Atheist nation (More to do with the Russian Orthodox, Coptic and Catholic Churches' complicity with the Tzarists in subjugating the Russian people than Karl Marx's proclamation of religion as the Opium of the masses--Had Marx been born 100 years later, he'd have said the same thing about television.) and America and "The West" was fighting against EVERYTHING the Soviets stood for; hence introducing the phrase "Under God" into the American Pledge of Allegiance and putting "In God We Trust" on American money.

In any event, as American pop culture became heavily Christianized (And anyone who knows anything about how decadent America was prior to the Great Depression and WW2 will know it wasn't really so much, before) in retaliation against Soviet Atheism, it also became rabidly Capitalist--and Commercial--in retaliation against Soviet Communism and Frugality.

For a very long time, Corporate Culture and Christianity worked well together. But slowly but surely commercialism began overtaking the cultural mainstream. Likewise, the social revolution of the 1960s began to create a more pluralist--and inevitably more secular--society.

Gone are the days when Charlie Brown would even have a Nativity play in his school. The multicultural reality means that North America, the "Great Melting Pot", must be sensitive to other cultures and other religions in order to maintain its integrity as an all-embracing place.

On the one hand, taking Nativity Plays and other quaint Christian traditions out of the public life leaves me thinking we've lost something. But perhaps what we lose is ultimately less important than what we can gain.

Arguably, one of the greatest problems in the world today is religious fundamentalism. Jihaddist filth desecrate the Koran to wage terror campaigns against the West; Zionists refer to Talmudic Law and ancient history to proclaim their right to persecute the Palestinian people; so-called Christians from the Pope to Pat Robertson use the Bible to defend everything from the subjugation of women to the persecution of homosexuals. George Bush's tragically misguided AIDS policy of "teaching Abstinence rather than safe sex" is the same kind of Faith-Based Initiative as flying airplanes into buildings in the name of Allah. Ultimately, the former may cause more deaths than the latter.

But I believe that even in our secular world there is a place for religion--all religions--and I believe that people who are sincere in their faith and use it to bring people together instead of alienating people are the true Faithful.

However, there is in North America a growing Fundamentalist Christian movement. Just in time for the holiday season, the Christian Fundamentalists are currently boycotting stores in the US, including Target, Sears and Wal Mart because their decorations and seasonal slogans are secular and multicultural: wishing people "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas".

My question is: why?

Christmas hasn't had much to do with the birth of Jesus Christ for a very long time. If anything, I would think that Fundamentalist Christians--hell, any Christians who hate having their faith disrespected--would boycott stores who try and use Christmas as an excuse to sell, sell, sell.

Can there really be any doubt in anyone's mind that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus, anymore? It's not that it's become secularized; three major religions all have Holy Feasts during this calendar period. No, what is truly un-Christian about Christmas is how commercial it's gotten.

Christmas isn't about Jesus' Birth any more. It's not even about getting together with family. It's an excuse to stay off work, eat a lot of food, and get as much stuff from other people as possible. Whereas within even MY short lifetime many Christmas gifts were hand-crafted, now everybody wants to "get a good haul" on the 25th--or, increasingly, over the 8 nights of Chanukah. Given that Ramadan is even becoming less about the Fasting and Atonement during the day and more about the Feasting at night, no one's religious holidays are safe from this sort of exploitation.

It's not even enough to get people presents; you have to get the "good" presents; expensive presents, and most importantly, MANY presents.

Whether you believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, a Prophet, a philosopher or just a really cool guy, the historical record is there to show that he sermonized against greed, and preached a doctrine of love, selflessness and community. So why, then, do so many Christians object to having Christ's name removed from "the holiday season"? Would YOU want YOUR name to be used for something that celebrated everything you had always stood opposed to?

Maybe it's time to take the "Christ" out of Christmas. His actual birthday was sometime in March or April, anyway. Certainly it would honoour His name better to celebrate His birth than through the completely Godless capitalism and commercialism of the Holiday Season. Come to think of it, Holiday is a contraction of Holy Day. Perhaps we should find a new term for this time of year, altogether.