On one end of the spectrum are the pious who denounce the holiday for its revelry and commercialism. These were the Puritans and now the Jehovah Witnesses. They argue there is no precedent or command in the bible for the event. Furthermore the Santa Claus myth violates the Ten Commandments by fostering a lie to children.
On the other end are the non-believers, such as myself, who also decry the commerce but are fine with merry-making. We note the solstice which is the shortest day of the year and hence the compensation with lights.
The two poles bend toward a circle. Both recognize the pagan origins of the holiday. In fact the early church did not celebrate Christ's birth. This only came into the church when they appropriated the pagan rite as Catholicism was made the state religion by Constantine in the fourth century. While those who insist on a literal reading cannot accommodate the heathens. I’m just fine with them. In fact, as one myself, I celebrate out of the same impulse as the naturalists. Christmas customs have evolved from times long before the Christian period.
Chanukah comes closer, as a recognition of the solstice, with its festival of lights and accompanying story. The consumer orgy was a late after-thought.
Between the two poles are church-going, carol-singing, bell-ringing Christians who worship baby Jesus. Conservatives among them have noted a so-called war on the Merry Christmas greeting in favor of Happy Holidays. They claim the occasion has been secularized to render it politically correct. This is message from Fox News.
To this I say, of course, the holiday has been secularized because it is just that. Christmas has come to embody all of us for the entire month of December plus Thanksgiving and possibly extending to early November. At least stores, which have been salivating for ten months, take down orange Halloween in favor of red/green Christmas. If gift-giving is the message, I’m for it. My only reservations are: Why set aside generosity for just these few weeks and why not encourage a generous spirit without any material gift?
Instead we have turned a dying of the light into an ode to consumption. It is a celebration of Capitalism. With all the Christmas songs playing in the mall, nothing beats the joyful noise of the cash register ringing for the store owners. Black Friday puts them out of the red.
We just returned from an overnighter at the Riverside Mission Inn; a magical place for the season complete with animated Elves (Santa’s little schlepers), nutcrackers and angels in among 3.5 million lights. I didn’t count but I believe them. Absent was Jesus or any nativity scenes. Present was the Charles Dickens’ version which we have come to embrace, complete with a roving band of Dickensian carolers.
What could be bad? We were transported as if by a drunken Hollywood production crew to a version of the Alhambra….without the jet lag. It’s party-time; excessive and make-believe. All great fun in the spirit of the ancients who lit bonfires, dragged evergreen inside their huts and chanted to the heavens for the sun’s return. I join the revelers,.