Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Civilization, Commerce and Christianity

Capitalist Lion on the trend of desperately trying not to mention Christmas: It's unmitigated PC crap, and I'm sick and tired of it. It's a Christmas tree. It's a Christmas list. The effing holiday is flipping CHRISTmas. You know, the big guy. Whether you believe in "Him" or not, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, guess what: It's a frigging duck. Now, I personally don't believe in the background story. I don't need to. I believe in myself, and that's all I need to share the more important moral convictions most religious people tend to hold. As Kim du Toit aptly put it, "the product without the packaging or marketing." But, I realize that a whole hell of a lot of people do believe in the Christ part of Christmas, and I'm just dandy with that. I don't feel any need to avert my eyes from the hues of red and green, nor nail santa to a stake because "he" is an icon of *gasp* religion. See, one of the first things they teach you in Conservatism 101 is: Tradition: Good. Whiney hippies who want to change the world to suit their mangled little view of reality: Bad. So that's why, while I don't necessarily buy into the marketing, I'm perfectly fine with the icons. Bring 'em on! I love the huge tree at Rockefeller Center. I can appreciate how beautiful the centuries-old churches are, decked out for the season. And even if I didn't, much as is my reaction to other things of a generally annoying nature, I'd effing deal with it like a rational, well-adjusted member of society. Amen, as it were, to that. The real issue is that Christmas isn't about belief or faith at all; it never has been. It's about ritual, and tradition. In the same way that Easter is an ancient Germanic fertility festival and Hallowe'en (AKA the Feast of All Saints) is the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, Christmas isn't about Christianity; it's the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, the Norse festival of Jól, and any number of other pre-Christian midwinter festivals rolled up into one, and - as we would say today - rebranded. I love that, you must understand. Religions (and the changing iterations thereof) come and go, but some basic cultural traditions are forever. If there wasn't historically a cheery celebration of life and consumption in the darkest days of winter, one would have to be invented. (See Terry Pratchett's Hogfather for a delightfully witty satire on the psychological need for myth and celebration, in precisely this fashion.) I don't go so far to consider myself Atheist - that would require actual effort in consciously denying the existence of any deity - but neither am I at all religious. I'm not offended by Christmas; why would I be? On the other hand, I agree that being offended by attempts to diminish Christmas is a profoundly conservative way of looking at things; not because conservatism = Christianity, nor because traditions in general must be maintained (and the traditions in question happen to be Christian), but because they stand outside Christianity. The imagery of Christmas is iconic. It just happens to be (somewhat wrongly) identified with Christianity at the moment, which a few hypersensitive souls are (significantly wrongly) offended by. That, I suspect, is the easiest way to sell the C-word to joyless politically-correct curmudgeons: point out it's not really Christian at all, but the product of disparate folk traditions and proto-Indo-European polytheism. (If they were coherent in their philosophy, that might not faze them. Luckily, most aren't; it's only Christianity they loathe, as a proxy for the dreaded lack of obsession with multicultural sensitivities.) Theoretically, then, what's another round of seasonal rebranding between friends? If the substance survived, I'd be satisfied. However, the substance of Christmas has become so wrapped up in modern myth that deprecating the very name of the festival has a chilling effect on its celebration. If, in Robespierrean fashion, Christmas was officially renamed the Feast of Secular Goodwill and Economy-Sustaining Consumption, I doubt there'd be much left to it. I'll celebrate Christmas as Christmas, and may the small-minded fools who fear the name of an unobjectionable seasonal tradition be damned.

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