Opinion » Maxed Out

Ho, Ho, Ho... Merry Christmas!



Oh yeah; says who?

Oops. Here we go again.

One of the abominations of modern life is the inflation, the expansion, the stretching to the breaking point of things many of us enjoy. Like what, you ask? Like watching hockey playoffs while sweating around a swimming pool in JUNE! Root, root, rooting for your favourite baseball team during a snowstorm in NOVEMBER! Presidents' WEEK! Halloween decorations and pop-up stores in SEPTEMBER! And, of course, the six-week buildup to Christmas, commencing well before Black Friday, America's high holy holiday of mindless consumerism.

As odious as Christmas carol Muzak in November may be, the culture wars sparked by the holiday are even more revolting. I believe it was the third week in November when I saw the first volley fired this year: Put Christ back in Christmas!

Puhleeze. Christ never left the building. Just look at the times I've injected His name in the first couple of paragraphs. Right there. In black-and-white. You can't take Christ out of Christmas. If you do, you're left with mas. Mas isn't even a word, in English. I think it means something in French and I know it means "more" in Spanish.

Somehow that's both comforting and accurate. Perhaps we should take Christ out of Christmas and just leave it at mas, more. And more and more. Because, honestly now, isn't that what Christmas is really all about: More.

Of course, that misses the point of the Put-Christ-Back-in-Christmas folks. For it is that very stretching of the holiday, coupled with overblown sensitivities of multiculturalists and the precious, hair-trigger offence taken by the Self-Esteem generation that has spawned the movement, if it can be called that.

But really, people, can't we just get along? Can't we all just enjoy this holiday and leave religious grievances behind? I know it's asking a lot but the culture wars over Christmas are a perfect example of why history is important. If we understand just a bit more of how this celebration of mas came about, perhaps we'd fight less over its meaning and let the religionists enjoy their holiday and the secularists enjoy theirs.

The very concept of Christmas is tenuous. At least in the sense of celebrating the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, a day of the year — regardless of historical calendar used — on which the man considered Jesus couldn't possibly have been born. It was a conceit invented in the fourth century by the powers of the Church. It was a marketing exercise to inject religiousness into pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, the rebirth of the sun, not the Birth of the Son. The Roman holiday Saturnalia and Iranian Mithraic festivals were recast — co-opted some would say — as the Christian doctrine of the miracle of the Son of God's birth, an early form of cultural appropriation.

So far, so good. After all, you can't control the masses if you let them celebrate 12 days of saturnalian debauchery, deck their halls with holly and mistletoe, feast like fools when they could be celebrating 12 lords a-leaping and a partridge in a pear tree.

It was, in fact, this overt Christian assimilation of saturnalian ritual that led early Puritans to abolish Christmas! At least as a holy holiday.

But by the time that was going on, Christmas was well on its way to being reconstructed as a groaning board of holiday rituals brought to the New World — America — by immigrants. Santa Claus himself was far more the English Father Christmas — himself derived from the pagan Lord of Misrule — than he was the Dutch Christian Saint Nicholas from which he gets his canonical name.

And just as the power brokers of the historical Catholic Church knew a good opportunity when they saw one, the commercial power brokers of the New World knew both a good opportunity and exactly how to market it. The commercialization of Christmas, while inflated to 21st century standards, began in the early decades of the 19th century. The decorations, the old pagan tree adorned with new, shiny ornaments, brightly wrapped boxes of longed-for gifts, the sanitized jolly old elf himself, grew like mushrooms in a B.C. rainforest. The 20th century raised the bar with garish department store display windows, so many Santas to whisper your deepest desires to an astute child might begin to question why there were so many, parades, Christmas cards and, perhaps most egregious of all, Christmas carols.

Everybody was in on the fix, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof. Who doesn't like a good parade?

In fact, without this secularization and commercialization of Christmas, there likely wouldn't have been a, let's call it a re-Christianization of Christmas, the clarion call to put Christ back in Christmas. Ironically, it was the efforts of both the secularists — pagans included — and the religious that have made Christmas what it is: a holiday all can enjoy and most do.

Whatever compromises those who want to put Christ back in Christmas have been forced to make — the banning of nativity scenes from schools and public buildings, for example — is not an attack on the Christian version of Christmas. It's an understanding that not everyone shares their version of the holiday and an implicit nod to the fact many of them would be as uncomfortable if their children were forced to light a Menorah in school as non-Christian parents are that their children have been, in decades past, made to sit through assemblies celebrating the birth of Christ. Keep Christmas well but keep it at home.

Which brings me to Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. It has been argued by people far wiser than me that it was largely the heart-tugging story of Scrooge, his four spirits, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim that morphed the religious-secular holiday toward its finest characteristic: compassionate charity. Had Dickens not penned A Christmas Carol, we'd probably be spared the Salvation Army's bell ringers outside every store this time of year, the call to donate for hampers of food and gifts for those less able to celebrate the holiday in style, regardless of their religious beliefs, and the seemingly unfathomable truce often called between warring nations on Dec. 25.

So, after popular demand, the Whistler Short Skirt Theatre players will, once again this year, present a dramatic reading of A Christmas Carol. The venue will be Whistler's beloved and well-used public library's fireplace room. The date is Dec. 16, next Friday. The time is 7:30 p.m. — please arrive early if for no other reason than I'm certain there will be cookies and something ciderish to enjoy. The price is only your attendance and, if you wish, a contribution to the Whistler Food Bank, purely optional but greatly appreciated. Children of all ages are welcome.

See you there... no matter what you believe.


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