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Should Christ be kept out of Christmas?
December 3, 2004 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Christ out of Christmas Have the retailers won the war on Christmas over the religious folks? (WMP)
posted by dov3 (67 comments total)

 
It's more putting Christ into Christmas than keeping him there, though, isn't it?

Christmas is a wonderful bit of syncretism adopted by the Church so they wouldn't have to fight over such solstice feasts as Saturnalia, Yule and the birth of Mithras.

Through the Middle Ages, Christmas was a drinking holiday, to the point where many of the Puritanical stripe banned it. There was an effort under Queen Victoria to launch a massive propaganda campaign to "reform" Christmas as a "family holiday," epitomized in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but until the 1950s it was more literature than reality.

In the post-War period, the economic boom allowed families to indulge their children in Dickens' "family holiday," so that it really went immediately from drinking holiday to consumerist orgy.

So, if they manage to put Christ in Christmas, it'll really be the first time he's ever been there.

For Jesus' actual birth, my money's on September, 7 BCE.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:12 PM on December 3, 2004


There is no war, retailers will gladly sell you nativity pieces and Jesus knicknacks.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:13 PM on December 3, 2004


Isn't consumerism at the point of a religion in America anyway?
posted by xmutex at 12:14 PM on December 3, 2004


I really enjoyed that audio clip. It's an interesting idea even if its unrealistic. To me it's sort of an all or nothing situation, much like Pledge of Allegiance (either it should reference the God of Abraham revealed in Jesus Christ, or God shouldn't be referenced at all). If Christmas isn't going to be centered specifically around Christ, one shouldn't pretend like it is.
posted by aaronshaf at 12:15 PM on December 3, 2004


What I would like very much is taking Christmas out of the calendar. Christmas give me the blues, I can't stand this period of the year.
posted by NewBornHippy at 12:18 PM on December 3, 2004


Well, I'll chip in and note for Christians that Easter is THE significant annual event rather than Christmas. Christ never told his followers to celebrate his birthday, and evidently no one actually thinks he was born on Dec 25 anyway.
posted by scheptech at 12:20 PM on December 3, 2004


It's more putting Christ into Christmas than keeping him there, though, isn't it?

True, but there was always a nice, not materialistic family aspect to Christmas, and I suspect this was true back when it was a pagan solstice festival. The drinking part of Christmas wasn't all bad either; it's a nice thing to be able to sit with your friends and just have a good time. That's why the solstice was kept, I think. Regardless of religion, it was just too popular and too fun a holiday to give up. So, a compromise was made, and Christmas was the result.

What is new in terms of Christmas is the overwhelming desire on the part of commercial interests to crowd out the less mercenary aspects of the holiday. You can see this with many big stores. Not content with selling Christmas products, they now want to push out charities from the malls so that shoppers will spend more on gifts. There is a very real war between those who want Christmas to be about either religion or at least having a good time, and those who want it to be about emptying your wallet.
posted by unreason at 12:22 PM on December 3, 2004


When I was growing up in our Catholic-and-Protestant-parents-reformed-into-Unitarians household, Christmas never had an iota of religious meaning. We were nice to each other, gave nice gifts, visited relatives, had a nice dinner, enjoyed the tree and cats playing in the left over wrapping paper. It was great. No church, no midnight mass, no guilt. We weren't consumer hounds and we still aren't. I enjoy getting gifts for people. I don't feel compelled or resent it. And getting gifts is fun too. Ok, maybe I like that best.

Let people believe whatever they want. If you want Christ (or Buddha, or whomever) in your Christmas, have at it. I'm fine with mine the way it is.
posted by Red58 at 12:25 PM on December 3, 2004


Oh and I'm glad to have the Salvation Army out. They want special permission to discriminate against gay men and women and force homeless into sermons in order to gain assistance.

Not my idea of a real charity.
posted by Red58 at 12:33 PM on December 3, 2004


Isn't consumerism at the point of a religion in America anyway?

consumerism is the official state sanctioned religion.
posted by quonsar at 12:35 PM on December 3, 2004


I don't know, I kind of like it having two syllables. It doesn't seem quite right to just call it 'mas'.
posted by blacklite at 12:35 PM on December 3, 2004


I say the Christians have been naughty this year anyway, crappy gay discrimination and "moral values" legislation. This year they get coal and maybe, just maybe, if they're good, we'll celebrate xmas again next year.
posted by milovoo at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2004


As to the bell ringers, I make a point of NEVER donating to anyone that comes to me asking for a donation. I detest begging, either in person or on the phone (or by postal mail).

Plus, every time I se them I'm reminded me of the prohibitionist roots.
posted by cptnrandy at 12:44 PM on December 3, 2004


Oh and I'm glad to have the Salvation Army out. They want special permission to discriminate against gay men and women and force homeless into sermons in order to gain assistance.

Not my idea of a real charity.


That's a matter of opinion. Regardless, though, that is not the reason retailers are banning them. The banning is due to the simple fact that more money for charity means less for retail. Note that it's not just the Salvation Army that's not allowed; it's pretty much any major charity. Haven't you noticed how few malls have March of Dimes, or any of the other charities?
posted by unreason at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2004


i, for one, am pleased by the general absence of christ from commercial retail outlets.
posted by fake at 1:18 PM on December 3, 2004


Although I haven't seen it as much here as I have in pithy comments elsewhere, I'm disappointed with people's reactions to where Christmas is going. From reactions to the Denver Parade of Lights banning of a church group singing carols and having a Merry Christmas sign to the Salvation Army-Target issue, it seems that some people view this as "just desserts" for their religion's past problems with people. I'm sorry if your religion or beliefs were put down by Christians long before I was born, but that doesn't make it right to "get back at me." I know that Christmas starts WAAAAY too early every year from a retail standpoint (this year it was like.. mid October), but what I take from the season is a time of year where people do try to be a little bit nicer (even if they fail miserably)... I don't see how backhanding another's beliefs helps keep that going.
posted by Drylnn at 1:21 PM on December 3, 2004


Well, you can take the Christ out of Christmas, but you can't take the Christmas out of the Christ! . . . Wait, what?
posted by jenovus at 1:27 PM on December 3, 2004


it seems that some people view this as "just desserts" for their religion's past problems with people. I'm sorry if your religion or beliefs were put down by Christians long before I was born, but that doesn't make it right to "get back at me."

How about you get your extremists back in line and stop trying to influence secular legislation and then we'll see. It wasn't way before you were born, it was last month. And yes, I do mean you specifically, only a grassroots, congregation movement towards kindness and tolerance is going to make Christianity worthy of respect again.

but what I take from the season is a time of year where people do try to be a little bit nicer (even if they fail miserably)

Yeah? Who? Show me. Anecdotally, I know nicer atheists and Jews than Christians. Christians are a selfish and holier-than-thou group who takes too much for granted in their quest for dominance.
posted by milovoo at 1:39 PM on December 3, 2004


Damn it, when are the greeting card companies going to put the Saturn back in Saturnalia?!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:54 PM on December 3, 2004


I'm a Christian, and i would be perfectly happy if Christmas disappeared totally. It bugs.

Easter is the main deal, anyway....
posted by konolia at 2:01 PM on December 3, 2004


I think we should put the quonsar back in Kwanza'a
posted by psmealey at 2:02 PM on December 3, 2004


Christians are a selfish and holier-than-thou group who takes too much for granted in their quest for dominance.

Hold on there, nutsy. Try replacing the word christian with, well, any other group and see how crazy your statement sounds.

I can't believe I have to actually write this to an adult: Christian's are people just like everyone else.
posted by Doug at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2004


btw, some folks put Yeshua's actual birthdate at 1 Tishri, 3759 = September 11, 3 BC. Truly a man born before his time.
posted by psmealey at 2:12 PM on December 3, 2004


I think we just all credit each others bank accounts with the amount of money we were going to spend on gifts.

Think of the advantages, it won't cost anything to have: less traffic and parking problems, no shopping stress, no gift-buying decisions, we can spend more time actually in each others precence, more time eating and napping, no receiving useless waste-of-money gifts. It's almost too beautiful to contemplate.
posted by scheptech at 2:14 PM on December 3, 2004


scheptech, your idea, while genuinely well-intentioned, is subversive to our consumerist culture and therefore dangerous thought-crime. Off the Guatànamo Bay for you, brother.
posted by psmealey at 2:17 PM on December 3, 2004


How about you get your extremists back in line and stop trying to influence secular legislation and then we'll see.

I see. So, I'm suppossed to correct potentially hundreds of thousands of fanatics out of the hundreds of millions of Christians on my own in order to get people to stop dissing my religion for something I didn't do before you'll treat ME with the decency that I've given others. I see how that's entirely fair. There are many parts of Christianity (and I'm sort of a fringe Christian group, being a Deist-Christian conglomerate) that are worthy of respect, however, by some people's tones, it's apparent that some Christian fanatic peed in your cornflakes or something like that, so they've decided to ignore ANY good. I do see people trying to do good during the holiday season. Maybe they should be trying to good all year round, but I'll at least take the good from the holidays that I see. Maybe you don't see it in your community, but I do. And I don't want to see that flicker of goodwill quashed because everyone feels trodden upon in response to people striking back against being trodden upon. And that's what WILL happen.

Some truly believe in diversity, others use diversity as an excuse to forward their agenda. The latter bother me as much as fanatics.
posted by Drylnn at 2:18 PM on December 3, 2004


Christmas is not about exchanging gifts. It is about giving birthday presents to Baby Jesus, and only Baby Jesus. Get hip to your Bible, man.
posted by fleener at 2:26 PM on December 3, 2004


per wiki and personal experience: the japanese version of christmas is basically the north american tradition without the religious holiday... unabashedly, it is a christmas season that has never had anything to do with christ.
posted by RockyChrysler at 2:33 PM on December 3, 2004


There was always a nice, not materialistic family aspect to Christmas

Ah, that nefarious word always. Whenever you see it, watch out.

To get informed on this subject, I recommend reading the well-researched The Battle For Christmas" This book traces the development of the holiday, thus:

1. Pagan solstice festival, into
2. Medieval dinking festival, into
3. Church-co-opted celebration of holiday as Christ's birthday in Europe, meanwhile,
4. Complete absence of holiday in America until 1770s or so. This holiday was European, Catholic, and frivolous -- everything the colonials hated. In fact its observance was outlawed in most US colonies.... into...
5. Gradual reappearance of holiday in US as a midwinter drinking festival. This time it was yoked together with St. Nicholas' Day (formerly Dec. 6th), a Dutch Catholic holiday which involved gift-giving. Americans picked up on a Dutch holiday because they were trying to distance themselves from the English, who they had just been to war with. Twice. Immediately upon the introduction of St. Nick, the holiday and its gift-giving became commercial and materialistic, as evidenced by newspaper advertisments and sales promotions and primary source references to buying mass-manufactured gifts....into...
6. State by state, laws legalizing the celebration were repealed, roughly 1840-70... ang then...
7. With the postwar religious revival of the 1870s and 80s (the same folks who gave us the social justice movement, temperance, and chastity belts), religious expressions of this holiday became trendy. There was no excuse for partying and gift-giving without religious sanction, so Christ showed up again, and US churches, for the first time, began having Christmas services.

Since then, most of us can pretty well trace the developments. What was pretty much always a secular/spiritual midwinter festival had churchly ideas piggybacked on it every so often. As soon as the holiday became associated with gift-giving (18-teens and -20s), it became commercial. So there's nothing to mourn, really.

My question: if consumerism is bothering you so, why doesn't it bother you the other 364 days of the year? Let's do something about that, and then see if Christmas needs fixing.
posted by Miko at 2:44 PM on December 3, 2004


And yes, I do mean you specifically, only a grassroots, congregation movement towards kindness and tolerance is going to make Christianity worthy of respect again.

I see. So, I'm supposed to correct potentially hundreds of thousands of fanatics out of the hundreds of millions of Christians on my own in order to get people to stop dissing my religion for something I didn't do before you'll treat ME with the decency that I've given others.

You got quite a few members who are giving the whole organization a black eye, and yet you aren't doing anything about it. If you are going to defend Christianity (the standard Christianity, not some personal theist thing) then you have to answer to the ugly side as well, that's just how things are, or are you just expecting people to have goodwill for your faith and forgive all it's warts just because it is so popular? If that's the case, then let's have a little talk about the reputation of the NRA, PETA or any political group you care to name, because if the Christians (as a group) are going to influence legislation, then they should be treated the same as any other PAC, not given a free ride because they claim to have goodwill, because like I said, I'm not seeing it.

Some truly believe in diversity, others use diversity as an excuse to forward their agenda. The latter bother me as much as fanatics.

I would be willing to bet that your tolerance of religious diversity has very seldom been put to the test. Also, nice try but no one has specifically peed in my cornflakes, this is a cumulative revulsion at the amount of lies and disinformation spread by members representing the Christian religion (and like I said - if they don't represent you, and you are not speaking out against it, then you are just as guilty)
posted by milovoo at 2:49 PM on December 3, 2004


In Sweden.....its christmas eve that everyone gets together, eats traditional foods and sing traditionaly comical short songs and basically have a good time with small amounts of snaps.

The capitalist god is last on the agenda. I like the swedes. and the swedes like Christmas .

Cheers for the your input Miko, A+++++++ seller, will buy again.
posted by gofojo at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2004


Sigh.... what Drylnn said. "If you're such a nice Christian why can't then get those fuckers under control!" seems to be a sentiment popping up in about every thread about religion these days. It seems to be rooted in some sort of belief that Christianity is a monolithic social presence when it's a totally heterogeneous collection -though I find it hard to believe anyone is that misinformed. Only Catholics stands out with half or so the adherents, and nobody can tell them what to do but the Pope. If anything right wing fundys hate liberal progressive christians as much as anyone, daring to claim the one true faith in the names of sinners and sodomites. I think there's something to be said that we do have a responsibility to make our voices more heard - but I gotta say, a lot of the non-Christians around these parts really don't seem to want to hear about different sorts of Christians they might be allies with on some issues... Observe the pleasant exchanges on the topic of the progressive Christian voice being supressed in this thread... (I'm not, incidentally, claiming to be persecuted, because I'm most emphatically not, and it's no skin off my nose if people think my beliefs are foolish... but it seems counterproductive to attack such a big group so indiscriminately in a political climate where truly every vote counts).
posted by nanojath at 3:01 PM on December 3, 2004


Uh... I uh... I have a special friend and he's the baby Jesus and I love him. And uh... he, uh, he don't give me no shit. And he don't... he don't fuck around and he's just the fucking coolest guy. And I just... I want to say I love the baby Jesus. I can't say that enough.
posted by billysumday at 3:03 PM on December 3, 2004



posted by billysumday at 3:10 PM on December 3, 2004


Oh and milovoo, first off, in many respects I agree with you 100%. The liberal progressive Christian minority needs to stand up and make its voice heard, and not just speak in favor of its understanding of the Gospel but speak out vehemently against messages of hatred and exclusion. On the other hand your perception that there is no liberal progressive Christian voice or activism going on is simply false - I include more than twenty links in this post demonstrating this from a conversation that strayed into the same topic - and I didn't have to look very hard to find them. It would help us increase our profile if people who knew nothing about it didn't keep insisting that we don't exist. Oh, and spare us your assumptions about our experience and tolerance of religious diversity when you don't know anything about us.
posted by nanojath at 3:11 PM on December 3, 2004


Sorry about that -- Bruce McCullough quote above.
posted by billysumday at 3:11 PM on December 3, 2004


I'm sorry if your religion or beliefs were put down by Christians long before I was born, but that doesn't make it right to "get back at me."

Why do Christians feel they have a right to shove their religion in our faces? What is preventing Christians from celebrating their non-consumerist, family-based religious traditions at home and not on the street with their bells and fancy ribbons? Why does it have to be in the mall or the street or wherever else?

Can't they keep it in the closet?
posted by Hildegarde at 3:17 PM on December 3, 2004


You got quite a few members who are giving the whole organization a black eye, and yet you aren't doing anything about it.

milovoo, I totally understand where you are coming from, but this sounds eerily similar to the post-911 complaints that 'mainstream' muslims weren't lining up in the streets to personally apologize for the horrible actions of an insane few. However, were I a progressive Christian right now (which, um, I'm not), I would be extremely unsettled by the co-opting and tarnishing of my religion by a vocal group of extremists.

but it seems counterproductive to attack such a big group so indiscriminately in a political climate where truly every vote counts

nanojath, not picking on you at all, but I've heard a lot of people say the same thing lately and it puzzles me. We're just supposed to keep being nicer and nicer and more and more understanding? I mean, I agree with staying to the high road and all, but it kind of sucks to keep getting smacked down by organizations which, in my opinion, appeal to baser instincts, and then told repeatedly that we just have to be even nicer.
posted by jess at 3:19 PM on December 3, 2004


I see a lot of churches capitalizing on the consumer aspect of Christmas by sponsoring toy drives, etc. But, the Christmas sermons I hear do usually try to put the emphasis on Easter's importance. It is a point of frustration for the faithful, exacerbated by the sudden (but seldom lingering) appearance of the "twice-a-years" in the congregation.

Yet, none of the parishes I've been a part of* have really tried to offer much beyond platitudes - "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" - and typically ignore the influx of warm bodies; they seem resigned to the fact these strangers will never return. I, personally, would be delighted to see Christmas become officially secular.

The significance of a holy day when it is co-opted by other groups (we all know non-Christians who exchange gifts and even put up trees) is further muddied when a lot of Christians themselves see the religious part as an obligation to be just barely tolerated. Midnight mass is always insane and I don't know who is more distracting - the folks who leave early or those who think they can tough out the night. But, that's when happens when religious commitment falls on a spectrum and isn't black and white.

I doubt Christmas will ever become completely secular, but I'm waiting for the day when more folks say without guilt they are Christian by heritage but not by practice. So up goes the tree out of tradition and a sense of fun, but damned if they're going to church. Should make both sides a lot happier. Or me a lot less cranky, at any rate.

* I'm a liturgical musician, but ironically not Christian. I find myself in mass/services at least twice a week and 5-6 times or more over Christmas Eve and Day. I hang out with the Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, and whoever else will give me money. There is some major cognitive dissonance going on some days, I'll admit to that.

Far be it from me to say I'm an expert in church-goers' behaivor, but it is an interesting perspective to be such a regular part of the service yet not a member of the congregation. I do pay attention to the yawners, new faces, and those who habitually ditch service early. And I am impressed by those who take the faith seriously and are compassionate human beings as well.

posted by Sangre Azul at 3:30 PM on December 3, 2004


It hasn't been the same since they took the mushroom-using shaman out of Christmas.
posted by homunculus at 4:00 PM on December 3, 2004


I would be willing to bet that your tolerance of religious diversity has very seldom been put to the test.

BZZZT. Try again. My closest friends are: atheist, atheist, Agnostic, atheist, Islamic, Islamic, atheist, POSSIBLY Christian (he refuses to specify), Buddhist, and then possibly two or three Christians. One of the atheists tries to convince me "I'm wrong" every time I see him. We all have fairly raucous religious debates. I congratulate you on trying to label me, but alas, I'm not going to fit into your cookie cutter.

You got quite a few members who are giving the whole organization a black eye, and yet you aren't doing anything about it.

Again with the labels. You know nothing of me other than two points and because I have tried to defend Christianity as not all evil, you've already decided how I live my life.

are you just expecting people to have goodwill for your faith and forgive all it's warts just because it is so popular?

No. As I stated before, I'm fine for religious tolerance (if I wasn't, I couldn't possibly have the group of close friends I have above...), but some people are taking the bad aspects of Christian fanatics to equal the mainstream of the religion, and I have a real problem with that. As a result, they feel its entirely fair to trample on my beliefs and to an extent, a holiday where I see goodwill. You know, my atheist friends exchange Christmas gifts with me over the holidays and there's no major issue. I just don't see why "tolerance" is equivalent to "You have a bunch of fanatics in your faith, so your religion is evil and is undeserving of respect." This is exactly the same opinion I try to fight with regards to Islam today. No, I don't expect a medal for my service... I just want people to stop trampling on the holiday season and what joy I, friends and family take from it by whitewashing it to a Solstice festival.
posted by Drylnn at 4:02 PM on December 3, 2004


milovoo, I totally understand where you are coming from, but this sounds eerily similar to the post-911 complaints that 'mainstream' muslims weren't lining up in the streets to personally apologize for the horrible actions of an insane few.

This is exactly the same opinion I try to fight with regards to Islam today.

Fair enough, but the difference is that we do not have extremist muslims acting on their faith in high political offices in the US (at least I think we would have heard) I'm not blaming Christians for something like Waco. I'm blaming them for allowing elected leaders acting in their name to promote homophobia and censorship under the guise of "moral legislation".

I ask again, should the NRA, PETA or Nazis get a full pardon of their reputation if it can be shown that every member is not absolutely in agreement with the agenda or that they have accidentally done some good works? If the Christian organization doesn't accurately represent you, then you should find another name, Jesus-ists perhaps, because when ugly laws are crammed down the throats of citizens in the name of Christianity, someone has to answer for it. The fact that there is a small group of people who don't support the full mindset, but still want to be counted among the faithful doesn't really cause me to change my mind, and I still believe that if you want any sort of respect for being Christian today you should be working your ass off to change the actions of the Christian organization.

I just want people to stop trampling on the holiday season and what joy I, friends and family take from it by whitewashing it to a Solstice festival.

You should be able to enjoy whatever holiday you like in the comfort of your own home, when it crosses into our government, I may get pissed off about it. Do you get it?
posted by milovoo at 4:22 PM on December 3, 2004


Christians should be happy that this newfangled name for the winter solstice festival is such good marketing for their faith. I don't begrudge them that. Merry Christmas!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:30 PM on December 3, 2004


I'm going to have a traditional vinterblot. Mead or horse steak, anyone?
posted by spazzm at 4:50 PM on December 3, 2004


Jesus is portrayed as the Son of God, sent to fulfil the role of Messiah or 'Anointed One' - literally, 'one smeared with semen'. As a mushroom, the amanita muscaria does not disseminate seeds as plants do, but ejaculates microscopic spores which create a threadlike fungal network at the base of conifer trees from which thunderstorms elicit more mushrooms. Prior to knowledge of spores, lightning was thought to be the source of mushrooms and lightning was considered the fiery progenitive spears of God, hence the phallic fungi were called 'Sons of God'.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:52 PM on December 3, 2004


There is a big Brouhaha around here (Raleigh) about this very subject. The Church of The Upper Room took out a full page ad in the local paper calling for a boycott of stores that didn't acknowledge Christ as the Reason for the Season. The ad started out "Have you noticed that you never hear religious carols anymore?" Hmmm hadn't noticed that, but I will try to pay more attention. Still I don't think O Little Town of Bethlehem has quite the zing to get shoppers in a buying mood.

The ad went on to say that stores no longer put up signs saying "Merry Christmas" and since Kwanzaa was only celebrated by 2% of the population and a mere 3 % were Jewish, "Happy Holidays" wasn't cutting it.

Of course this was followed by a huge backlash in the Letters to the Editor, calling the church and pastor bigoted racists. Now we are living through a backlash to the backlash.

You gotta love livin' in the Bible Belt.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:09 PM on December 3, 2004



scheptech, your idea, while genuinely well-intentioned, is subversive to our consumerist culture


Why, thank you psmealey, indeed it is.

Actually I get this idea from my mother. She sends me check in the mail every year.

I think maybe she's way ahead of her time and this is going to catch on, seems the logical end-point of it all.
posted by scheptech at 5:11 PM on December 3, 2004


Messiah or 'Anointed One' - literally, 'one smeared with semen'.

I believe that it actually refers to being anointed with oil, if you know otherwise I would love to see some etymology.
Semen doesn't seem to enter in to the definition anywhere.
posted by milovoo at 5:11 PM on December 3, 2004


Christmas is not about exchanging gifts. It is about giving birthday presents to Baby Jesus, and only Baby Jesus.

Jesus can have the presents with my name on them when He comes for them personally.

Speaking as an agnostic married to a Jewish wife...we usually give each other presents for both Hanukah and Christmas, and don't think about Jesus even once. I love living in a secular nation.
posted by jkilg at 5:31 PM on December 3, 2004


The significance of a holy day when it is co-opted by other groups

Sangre Azul, I see where you're coming from, but it's really the other way around. It's religious groups that co-opted this holiday, since it was formerly pagan, then secular, and only became Christian because the Church couldn't compete with it. See history post above.

And I just have to comment on that "Christmas-and-Easter-Christians" thing. The attitude you express has bothered me all my life. My religious upbringing is too complicated to go into here, but suffice it to say that before I became a Quaker I spent time in a number of different churches and was always disturbed when I encountered this sentiment. Here is why the suddenly full churches at Christmas and Easter should never prompt true Christians to cynical coldness and superiority:

1. Remember, we have no idea who a lot of those people are. Consider that they may be out-of-towners who are staying with relatives for the holiday, and went out of their way to find the right church. They may be distant relatives of a kid who's singing in the choir. They may be people who have been away at college all year. Et cetera.

2. Some of those people may be regular attenders and followers of another denomination, but want to go to a special kind of service on the most important holidays. That's me to a T. I go to Friends Meeting, but when I go home to see my family at Christmas and Easter, I'm right there in the Methodist Church. Am I a fair-weather friend? Hell no. It's just that in my own church, we don't have the kind of liturgy that you find in other Protestant denominations. We don't have the songs, the candles, the sermons. Friends Meeting is how I want to worship most of the time, but I am a spiritual seeker and I believe that just about every religion has a little piece of the truth, and that none has the whole truth. So what's wrong with celebrating holidays with a little extra pomp and circumstance by attending a showier service? It doesn't mean I'm a shallow, hypocritical infidel. I'm just getting a second opinion.

3. And most importantly, what you suggest is true: Many of these people probably do not set foot in a church all year round except for these two days. So let me get this straight ... You want to make them feel unwelcome? Hm. And you think that'll make them see the light and want to come back? Hm. Prob'ly not.

People who come to church on holidays are the very ones who are looking for something a little deeper to think about. They may not be 'joiners', or they may have had terrible experiences with organized religion, or they may have spent the last 10 years in the throes of alcoholism, or whatever. We just have no way of knowing. But they are there on that one unusual day, with an open heart. Why would any real Christian want to chastise or look down on them? "Christmas-and-Easter Christians" should be given the welcome of the prodigal son, for heaven's sake. Because that is exactly who they are. Regularly attending Christians would do well to listen to what the father said in the story, if I may: "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." Hm....why might Jesus have thought it important that his followers hear that story?

This is the time of year for denominations that are truly inclusive to be thrilled that they can get a message out to so many new visitors. To hear Christians saying that they hate the influx of new people at holidays is like hearing Broadway actors say they hate opening night.
posted by Miko at 5:39 PM on December 3, 2004


I follow the old ways. It all about the drinking at my house.
posted by sharpener at 5:48 PM on December 3, 2004


I hate organized religion as much as the next ex-Roman Catholic turned atheist supermarxist, but I freely acknowledge the important contributions some true Christians make to our society.

That's right, the fuckers saying God sent planes to hit the WTC as punishment for gays or whatever... those guys don't know shit about their own religion. If you actually study the historiography of Christian writings and what Jesus most likely truly said, you'll discover that he was quite reasonable. He probably didn't mind if you had sex, either. You just have to believe in him and not be a jerk. He's not really demanding.

The real Christians pay attention to Jesus (and not the Old Covenant or falsified Pauline quotations), love everyone far too much, fight for social justice and the underclass, and pop'n'lock at 80s night.

So stop hating on the Christians.

Merry Christmas!
posted by Kleptophoria! at 6:03 PM on December 3, 2004


Miko, Solstice has been co-opted by the Christians and then Christmas has been co-opted by other folks again. It's on both sides.

My point is that I feel Christians upset about the commercialization of Christmas have a bigger issue - and that's what to do with what I see as an increasingly disenfranchised congregation. Is Christmas mass a chore because folks would rather be drinking and opening presents? I'd say to a degree, yes. But it runs deeper.

The flip-side is true for those who feel a need to continue attending mass or identifying with a religion out of a sense of tradition and yet feel wildly different on key tenants of the faith. Unlike some other faith backgrounds, Christianity doesn't have a real recognition of those who have a Christian heritage, and who do not practice beyond Christmas (and maybe Easter). What sort of identity can these people hammer out? What does Christmas mean to them?

I'd like to make it clear that, despite not being Christian and despite being annoyed in a strictly musically professional way about disruptive parishioners, I do everything I can to make people feel welcome and make the service feel as alive as possible. It's my job. I am the pomp and circumstance.

Your discomfort about twice-a-years being poorly received is precisely my point - the newcomers are not being made welcome for whatever reason they have chosen to attend. (Your rant is good for many Christians to read, IMO. I just hope you're not trying to include me. Because, um, I'm not Christian. But I do try to be polite and always keep my snippy comments to myself while in church.)

Me, now - I'm just there to get paid. But I can tell usually the difference between someone new who is there with an "open heart" and someone who is there because they're dragged against their will. And yet I see preacher after preacher lightly admonish the newcomers as one lump group of spiritual delinquents then move on. Ignoring them. And the cycle repeats next year. That's a damned shame for Christians and non-Christians alike.
posted by Sangre Azul at 6:37 PM on December 3, 2004


I would suppose that one of my real questions - and the point I've been dancing around - is what claim on Christmas do people who identify as Christian (be it a shared family history or sharing of some of the tenants of faith), and yet who resist being a part of any specific denomination, have?

When so many denominations can't even agree what it means to be Christian (including the obligations that come with it), it doesn't surprise me that the holiday continues to be celebrated in an increasingly secular and commercial manner.
posted by Sangre Azul at 6:53 PM on December 3, 2004


The key idea, then, is this: it's possible to be Christian without belonging to a denomination, and without accepting the tenets of any denomination. (In my Gospels-based view, perhaps not only possible but actually demanded by Jesus). To be 'Christian' is to be a self-declared follower of Christ. 'Denominations', as we know them, are groups of Christians who agree on some basic ideas (but not necessarily all ideas, since each church has its own dissenting members). Denominations are not created by God (though some of them would say so); they are human constructs, all of which all arose quite some time after the death of Christ. Historically, all of them have shown failings in adhering to the values and ideas that Jesus proposed.

It's not logically necessary for a Christian to accept the dictates of any religious official. There are a lot of us 'freelance' Christians out here, and we're just as free to sit in a church and dissent as we are to sit in the park and dissent.

In other words, no one needs anyone's permission to celebrate Christmas. So there's no need to worry about what 'claim' anyone has. There's just the reality of this thousands-of-years-old celebration. This holiday is much, much older than Christianity -- that's why it's Christianity that has always been doing the 'co-opting.' Historical analysis shows that the secular side (drinking, singing, overeating, misrule, surprises, firelight), which so many decry, is really the most ancient form of the holiday. I think it's great that it has developed additional layers of meaning since Christianity came along, and the 'birth of Jesus' theme fits nicely with the other themes (light, abundance, joy) of any midwinter festival. But there is no central authority that 'owns' Christmas; never has been. Anyone can celebrate it, religious or not. No claim check needed.
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on December 3, 2004


I believe that it actually refers to being anointed with oil, if you know otherwise I would love to see some etymology.
Semen doesn't seem to enter in to the definition anywhere.


I suspect this was a mistake one someone's part, I've heard reference to anointing being covered with "sperm" as in spermaceti -- oil derived from sperm whales.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:27 PM on December 3, 2004


I think we just all credit each others bank accounts with the amount of money we were going to spend on gifts.

scheptech, your idea, while genuinely well-intentioned, is subversive to our consumerist culture and therefore dangerous thought-crime. Off the Guatànamo Bay for you, brother.


are you kidding? That idea is playing directly into the consumer culture thing! It clarifies that the point of giving gifts is not about giving, not about sharing, not about thinking about those you love and choosing things that fit who they are to you, but is simply about money. If we credit each others accounts, we should generally come up even, so we can just avoid having to make contact at all and get back to making more money... or whatever it is that life's about.

Seriously, I don't get why exchanging gifts is being equated with consumer culture in and of itself. Gifts can be small or homemade or made into games... it's sad when christmas or any holiday is considered better or worse depending on how much money was spent, but that doesn't mean all gift exchanges have to be pointless and empty. Exchange some good books or CDs, have some egg nog, play some games, play some guitars, sing some songs - it's not such a bad way to spend a day.

And yes, I don't think the problem is christ/christmas, but just generally speaking a focus on temporary consumer highs in our culture overall. This is a problem in religious and non-religious households, and it is a problem 365 days a year.
posted by mdn at 9:00 PM on December 3, 2004


Was I kidding? No, mdn. I always speak in Orwellian slogans. Why do you ask?
posted by psmealey at 10:05 PM on December 3, 2004


Of course, the whole argument is based on a false premise: that a man named Jesus (Yeshua), some 2000 years ago, was born in a manger on December 25th.

He wants to take the 'Christ' out of Christmas? That's fine, I suppose, because the deity people are really celebrating is Mithras. A deity who was supposedly born in a cave, and who's birth was on December 25th and heralded by signs in the stars. And, who by the way, died, was buried in a tomb and resurrected three days later.

Gee, that sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? Gosh.

To go off on a tangent, that's one of the big problems that I have with so much of Christianity. It was a cult that appropriated so many other religions, and then mercilessly punished those who didn't tow the line. Of course, it's not alone in this, but it's probably the most aggregious of any of the major organized religions out there. And people, wallowing in their typical ignorance, go parading around on days like Christmas and Easter, unaware that they're really celebrating pagan holidays that have absolutely nothing to do with Christ historically.
posted by mstefan at 1:21 AM on December 4, 2004


Isn't it "toe the line" ?
posted by ODiV at 7:33 AM on December 4, 2004


mstefan - I'm pretty certain that the whole Mithras thing is blown out of proportion. I'm certainly no fan of the God-Squad but I seem to recall a few debunkings of the Mithras/Jeebus thing.

Here's one from the Internet Infidels (usually a pretty good source for religious quarrels).
posted by longbaugh at 8:36 AM on December 4, 2004


there is no archaeological or for that matter any other concrete fact that jesus ever existed
posted by halekon at 8:55 AM on December 4, 2004


yeah, you say that halekon but what about the Holy Prepuce?

It may have ascended into the sky to become the rings of Saturn*!!!

* not quite sure what that says about the holy schlong viz. girth.
posted by longbaugh at 9:07 AM on December 4, 2004


From Internet Infidels comment:
Ultimately Xianity doesn't need to borrow from paganism since it is predicated on borrowing the Israelite mythos in toto already.

Actually, that's completely missing the point. The Jewish cult of Christ didn't borrow from pagan religions to make their faith more complete or authentic in any sense; they did it to gain converts.
posted by mstefan at 1:52 PM on December 4, 2004


there is no archaeological or for that matter any other concrete fact that jesus ever existed

There's a fair amount of documentary evidence that he did -- about as much as any other person living in that time, barring emperors and such.

That said, there is a tremendous amount of non-fact about his life out there, as well.
posted by Miko at 5:44 PM on December 4, 2004


mrgrimm's post reminded me of this xmas expose
posted by telstar at 2:36 PM on December 5, 2004


Was I kidding? No, mdn. I always speak in Orwellian slogans. Why do you ask?

no, I meant, are you kidding that sending checks rather than buying presents is a way to undermine consumer culture. (Read the rest of my comment.)

I don't think we need mithras to explain christmas. It's the darkest time of year, but also the time that we get over the hump - it's obvious that decorating evergreens with warm bright colors and lights, drinking, singing, gathering & exchanging gifts, is in essence a pagan celebration (ie, earth-based - a response to nature being cold & dark).

Ultimately Xianity doesn't need to borrow from paganism since it is predicated on borrowing the Israelite mythos in toto already.

I agree with mstefan here - these guys are missing the point. xtianity clearly borrows elements from both traditions. It claims to complete judaism. It adopts many earth-based holidays (just look at easter - named for the norse goddess of fertility and focused on rabbits and eggs? It looks pretty blatantly like a pagan spring fertility festival to me).
posted by mdn at 8:11 AM on December 6, 2004


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