Friday, December 03, 2010

Merry Christmas?

During this most wonderful time of the year, it just wouldn't be Christmas without mistletoe and greenery, eggnog and figgy pudding, Christmas songs and family gatherings, and endless outraged ranting from goofy evangelical Christians about saying "Merry Christmas."

This tired old discussion pops up every single year like an old fart wafting up from a basement couch.  In public places - at the checkout counter, perhaps - you'll hear people say: "Merry Christmas," with an ironic emphasis on the last word and a wry little smile that indicates a certain rebelliousness against evil secularism and the PC brigade that wants to desecrate Jesus's birthday.  

Or you'll come across it on places like Facebook and Twitter, or pundits on TV and mouthpieces on the radio.

Today, I had the misfortune of coming across a Facebook post on the page of a Cincinnati country radio station.  Being a country radio station, they are naturally a flag-waving, Jesus-loving, gun-toting bunch of Red-Blooded Americans, and the post said "Merry Christmas.  Pass it on," and included a picture of a billboard somewhere that reads: 

I miss hearing you say "Merry Christmas." 

~ Jesus

We'll ignore for a moment the blasphemous presupposition of putting words onto the lips of Jesus, or the ridiculous notion that no one says Merry Christmas anymore, and instead focus on the comments made by a number of people on this post.  

Here are a few of the more classic ones, reprinted verbatim:
I wish everyone I come in contact with...A Merry Christmas...No one can take that away from ME... So To Everyone... A Very Merry Christmas.... :0)
It's Christmas...not Holiday!!! Dont remove Christ from HIS birthday!!!
Love it. The world is becoming way to PC and it needs to stop. It might hurt someones feelings? How did we survive way back when...sheeesh. Merry CHRISTmas everyone.
he [presumably Jesus] is prob. acutally thinking ...I miss hearing you say happy birthday jesus ! 
Aside from the misspellings, which these sorts of folks can always be relied upon to provide, the thing that strikes me most about these responses is that people really think of December 25th as "Jesus's birthday" - as though Jesus is their cousin and they are celebrating his birthday with cake and party hats.  The Facebook friend of mine who posted a link to this page made the following comment on the link: "Celebrate the birthday of THE KING! We will be making a birthday cake for Jesus this year."

Pardon my French, but are you fucking kidding me?

Here are a few facts relative to all of this:

1. We don't have any idea when Jesus was born, neither the year, nor (especially) the day and month.  Luke clearly conceived of Jesus being born during the warm months of the year, because shepherds would not have been in their fields during the winter.  But of course, Luke's entire story - like Matthew's - is not a literal account of historical facts, so the point is moot regardless.  The simple fact is that we don't know.  He may just as likely have been born on July 4th or October 31st or the Ides of March.

2. December 25th was chosen sometime in the 4th century C.E. for the day of Christ's Mass because that was already a traditional midwinter celebration day, honored as the birthday of several ancient gods, most notably the Roman sun god Sol Invictus.  Sol was a relatively "new" god for the Romans, instituted in the 200's C.E.  His name meant "Unconquerable Sun," and it is easy to see why this Roman god could be equated with Jesus - the unconquerable "son."  (It is important to note, of course, that the linguistic connection between "sun" and "son" was not as explicit in ancient Greek as it is in English.  Still, equating Jesus with the sun - the great giver of life and light - was already by this time a very old Christian tradition).

3. The word "X-mas" does not equate to "taking Christ out of Christmas" or "x-ing out Christ."  This is something I was taught as a child - that the word "X-mas" was borderline blasphemous.  In ancient Christian tradition, the Greek letter Chi - X - was an abbreviation for the word "Christ."  The reason for this abbreviation is simple: X was the first letter of "Christ" in Greek!  It also made a nice play on words, since X is also the symbol of the cross.  In numerous Christian manuscripts of the late Middle Ages, Jesus is referred to as X, or XP (P - the Greek letter Rho - being the second letter of the Greek form of "Christ").  In fact, there was even a Christian symbol - called the Labarum - which artistically depicted X and P wound together, which dates all the way back to Constantine the Great in the early 4th century C.E.  This symbol - also called the Chi-Rho - was one of Constantine's military emblems after his conversion to Christianity.

4. Saying "Happy Holidays" does not equate to secularizing Christmas.  It is a fact of modern society that numerous holidays - many of them celebrated by the majority of Americans - fall between the end of November and the end of December.  There are no less than six that are celebrated by the majority of Americans (two at Thanksgiving, two at Christmas, and two at New Year's).  Furthermore, there are several other holidays celebrated by a lot of folks in December, most notably Hanukkah and Boxing Day.  Thus, "Happy Holidays" recognizes that we do a lot of celebrating from the end of November to the end of December.

5. If you are talking to a stranger, and you have no idea what their religious background is or what their personal feelings are about the Christmas holiday, why in the world would you say "Merry Christmas" to them?  Regardless of whether it offends them or not, it's just pointless - as pointless as saying "Happy New Zealand Independence Day" to a Lithuanian.  Insisting on saying "Merry Christmas" to people who don't celebrate Christmas is simply Christian bullying.  There is no other way to describe it.  It's bullying not because the phrase "Merry Christmas" is mean-spirited, but simply because the insistence on saying it to every person you come in contact with - even strangers about whose religious beliefs and celebratory traditions you know nothing - can be a crude form of unwelcomed proselytizing.

6. People who get offended over hearing someone say "Merry Christmas" to them need to lighten up.  Yes, that may seem to be switching gears from the argument I've been making, but I'm just as capable as the next guy of being reasonable.  I don't have a problem with "Merry Christmas."  I think people who DO have a problem with "Merry Christmas" need to get their priorities straight.

What I am lashing out against here is not "Merry Christmas" per se, but against the insistence by goofy evangelicals to shove it down everyone's throat and act morally outraged that a  lot of Americans don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday - and who like to imagine that this is somehow a new trend!  That's perhaps one of the funniest things about these arguments - that, in their moral outrage, these folks imagine that this secularizing of Christmas is new, that somehow fifty years ago, every American was a Jesus-centered Christian who solemnly kept Christ in Christmas.  In mainstream American society, Christmas ceased being a religious holiday about 100 years ago.

So, to wrap this thing up, let me quote the immortal Christmas wishes of South Park's Mr. Garrison:

In case you hadn't noticed, it's Jesus's birthday, so get off your heathen Hindu ass and fucking celebrate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love. It.

As I'm fond of saying, don't tell me how to spell my own fucking name. :)