27 November 2023

Happy holidays!

In the United States it’s the holiday season. As soon as Halloween is over, out come the Christmas sales, and people start putting mint in everything. You know what we’re ramping up towards.

Javascript isn’t working this Christmas!

Some elf overdid it on the sugar.

I get why the holidays bug people. It’s the commercialism. The merchandising. The obligatory traditions which hold no more meaning for you. The mandatory functions which aren’t any fun, like the Christmas pageants where you gotta watch kids and earnest church members, who have no business singing in public, charitably permitted to nonetheless sing in public. Or the naked, unadulterated greed which sucks the soul out of this time of year.

It’s why I advise Christians to redirect our attention to Advent, the four weeks before Jesus’s nativity. Eastern churches start it even earlier, 40 days before Christmas, and make a fast of it, like Lent. Which you could do, if you’re into fasting; I’m not. But Advent’s purpose isn’t to deprive ourselves so Christmas seems way better by comparison. Nor is it to ramp up the pressure to make ready for a super-blowout Christmas Day. Properly it’s the time to set our eyes on Jesus. He came once before… and he’s coming back again.

Merry Xmas!

In the United States we turn the holidays into a massive end-of-the-year thing. Christmas of course. Plus Thanksgiving in November (true for Canada too, though they have theirs earlier in the month). Plus New Year’s Day in January. Plus Hanukkah for the Jews, and Kwanzaa to celebrate Black Jesus’s birthday. (KIDDING. Laugh with me.)

Most of the focus—particularly when it comes to shopping and music and holiday specials—is Christmas. Stands to reason; most Americans consider ourselves Christian. But not every Christian celebrates Christmas. Till the mid-1800s, Christmas was considered a Catholic holiday, so anti-Catholic Protestants rejected it. Times have certainly changed: Merchants heavily promote Christmas. Particularly the gift-giving, and the spice-flavored food and drinks, and the minty treats. Some businesses depend on Christmas shopping to put their ledgers in the black.

Inevitably some stores put up a “Happy holidays” sign. Stands to reason; we’re not just doing Christmas. But in recent years certain Christian jerks have decided this isn’t acceptable. The holidays center on Christmas; how dare merchants downplay Christmas? So they’ve started a “War on Christmas”—which of course they blame the merchants, and our secular society, for provoking. If anyone dares not acknowledge Christmas in the way they want, they throw a tantrum.

The word Xmas makes some of ’em xtra-crazy. I don’t know what moron first came up with the idea Xmas “takes Christ out of Christmas.” Clearly someone who knows neither Christian history nor Greek: The title Christ comes from hrío/“anoint, smear, rub on,” as does our word christen. One who got this done to them is a hristós/“anointed one,” which is a Greek translation of mešiakh/“Messiah, king.” Anyway, in Greek letters hristós is spelled Χριστός, which is why we see the monogram , representing Χρ, in many churches. Including many ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, as an abbreviation for Christ. (Or just the Χ.) It’s not our Latin letter X. It’s the Greek letter chi.

Xmas isn’t pronounced “ex-mas,” but “Christmas,” same as if it’s spelled out. Feel free to correct everyone who mispronounces it. Feel free to also correct those people who think we took Christ out of it: Christ is still right there, because he’s who the Χ stands for. And warn your culture-warrior friends, ’cause their ignorance is making them look stupid.

The culture war is about politics, not Christ.

I agree “happy holidays” can also come across as pretty stupid. Some years ago there was a Lowes ad where Gene Hackman warmly proclaimed, “We have all your holiday decorating needs”… and all the images on TV were for trees, lights, nativity crèches, and other ornaments which clearly won’t be used for any other holiday but Christmas. Go to these stores, and you won’t find a thing for Hanukkah or Saturnalia. Maybe Festivus; I would think Lowes of all places has aluminum poles.

But their foolishness is no excuse for ours. Once again: We’re celebrating multiple holidays. Not just Christmas. It makes far more sense to wish happiness to everyone, whatever holiday they focus on. It’s not political correctness; it’s kindness. It”s generosity. It’s fruit of the Spirit, remember?

But Christianists are interested in neither common sense nor courtesy. For them it’s purely about selfishness: Christmas must be done the way they want it done. Some of ’em demand people are forbidden from speaking of Christmas till midnight Thanksgiving: No Christmas decorations, no Christmas sales, nothing till the fourth Friday of November. Thereafter, people can only wish one another “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays,” and any Christmas carols which don’t mention Jesus are verboten.

They want their holiday, their way. Kindness isn’t compatible. Nor patience, forgiveness, nor any of the other fruits of the Spirit. Which just goes to show how little their anal-retentive celebration really has to do with Jesus.

Because the War on Christmas wasn’t created by people who demonstrate the fruit of peace. It was created by conservative pundits. It’s their way of generating ratings for their TV and radio shows—by, as usual, stirring up outrage. It’s by telling the supermajority of Christians in the United States, “You’re an oppressed minority. You need to stand up for your religion!” (As if shopping is our religion. Well okay, for some of us it is.) “It’s your right to celebrate Christmas—and demand your government stop pushing us out of the town square, and boycott those stores which say ‘Happy holidays’ when they damn well know better!”

Demanding merchants and government acknowledge Christmas, has nothing to do with spreading God’s kingdom. It’s about forcing others to recognize our collective might as Christians, as a demographic group, as a voting bloc. Petitions and boycotts? That’s not how Jesus taught us to behave. That’s how pagans behave.

Christianist pundits insist we Christians oughta make merchants and government respect us, and respect the might of our wallets. Now, does God’s power come from political clout or money? No. Again, it’s how pagans behave. Mk 10.42-43 Did Jesus promise his followers the world would fear us, or did he warn us to be prepared for persecution because of his name?

As if “Happy holidays” looks anything like real persecution. Go talk to some of the Christians whom ISIS drove out of Iraq and Syria about how greatly you suffered when a shopclerk wished you “Happy holidays.” I’ll wait.

Real persecution looks like, “This store doesn’t sell to Christians; get out or I’ll open fire.” And the proper response to real persecution wouldn’t be petitions, boycotts, and threatening their livelihood unless they accommodate us… much less bow and scrape to us, and say “Merry Christmas” like we want. We’re to return evil with love. Since “Happy holidays” isn’t even close to evil, we have no reason to return it with hostility.

Nothing demonstrates the Christlessness of the “Christmas wars” so much as the uncharitableness, ungraciousness, and unforgiveness demonstrated by angry Christians who demand merchants wish them “Merry Christmas.” Seems we can’t be satisfied by the fact they acknowledge our religion: They have to do it our way. And that’s not grace. That’s legalism.

Jesus may be the reason for the season, but he’s certainly not the reason for any war.

Empty substitutes for Jesus. Advent the cure.

The reason so many people have grown to despise Christmas, and seek alternatives to it, is because we permit these wannabe culture warriors, the secular merchants, and materalist expectations, to set the tone for the season.

Secular Christmas tries, and fails miserably, to replace spiritual depth with “the magic and wonder of Christmas.” By which they mean surprises. Things which shock us into euphoria, like unexpected or expensive gifts. Or myths about flying sleighs and reindeer, and trying to make little kids believe in them. Or nostalgia for previous Christmases when we didn’t know what to expect (or believe). Or gaudy decorations, which distract from our mundane reality.

Thing is, people recognize this for what it is: A poor substitute. A giant fraud. A humbug, as Ebenezer Scrooge described it in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. And Scrooge was absolutely right, too. Because in real life, three spirits won’t appear to you overnight and convert you away from your bitter, stingy life with nostalgia and death threats. That story was simply a bigger humbug—one which just happened to work on Scrooge. Still works on people who love Dickensian melodrama, and fail to notice the emotional appeal doesn’t work on the hard-hearted.

For magic isn’t real. Presents don’t satisfy. Dinner doesn’t last. Parties end in unfulfilled expectations, raging hangovers, and embarrassing photos uploaded to Instagram the next day. The family pays no attention to the appeals to nostalgia, nor the talk and songs about peace on earth and goodwill to men. They’re just as dysfunctional as ever. And that’s just depressing.

The grinches and Scrooges try to buck that, and either skip the day altogether, try to ruin everyone else’s fun, or “celebrate” an ironic Christmas where they mock the day and the people who believe in it.

The rest of the world tries to believe in Christmas. Not so much Jesus. They don’t realize he’s what’s missing from the whole scenario—that what they’re truly chasing is spiritual depth. Instead they’re hoping to achieve that “perfect Christmas”—a perfect moment of happiness. Just the right traditions, the right food, a proper tree, the correct amount of snow, familiar decorations, the right people. Put the formula together and the magic of Christmas will kick in. Or it won’t… but next Christmas then they’ll get it right.

But the moment passes. Vanity of vanities; it’s like chasing wind.

Advent correctly puts the focus on a man, Christ Jesus. It reminds us there are no perfect moments to achieve every holiday season… but one is coming. Jesus is invading! We don’t know when; could be any time, including during this Advent season. Or after: During the Easter season, summer vacation, all year round. We focus on it at Advent, but we know it all year round. We look forward to it all year round. The joy doesn’t come and go with a date. After all, we don’t yet have one.

So our Christmas joy doesn’t come from achieving perfection. It comes from the Holy Spirit, for joy’s a fruit of the Spirit. It comes from doing what God meant for us to do. It comes from the Christian lifestyle; not from a combination of “right” things and nostalgia.

A Christmas Carol, and pagans thereafter, speak of “keeping the spirit of Christmas all year round.” In other words, keep the warm euphoria, the sense of generosity and forgiveness which goes along with it, with us always. Stretch the joy out. But it’s awfully hard to do this when the focus is on one day—a day which is gladly forgotten by many folks on 26 December. Whereas we Christians do (or are supposed to) practice generosity and forgiveness year-round. Again, it’s the lifestyle. It’s not a special feeling, uncorked only at Christmas.

Advent is the cure for the sickness of secular Christmas. It’s why I prefer it. It’s why I recommend it: It may be exactly what you’ve missed every year.