This is a remarkable holiday.
I am a secular humanist both by rearing and by my own choice as a grownup. And yet, I get to celebrate Christmas.
This is the remarkable nature of Christmas, its awesome universality. And, in fact, if you look a little into the history of Christmas, you discover that this universal message is what saved the holiday’s life.
People didn’t always cherish Christmas, you know. Oliver Cromwell’s England tried to outlaw it. They called it “Catholic” and worse. It was restored with the rest of the “restoration,” but English clergy were still fishy about the whole thing. By the 1800s, the English were again weary of the holiday.
Then this guy wrote this book. Something about these three spirits coming to visit this mean dude, and the visits really stopped him from being such an asshole. The story doesn’t center on the Jesus Toddler, but it does emphasize Christ-like values, no? Generosity? Neighborliness? Good will? Spirit? All that crap?
A Christmas Carol was the realization of the universality of Christmas, the first expression of the idea that it was about more than the Toddler Jesus, and that it can be for anyone.
It was in this spirit that Christmas came to these shores as well.
As much as your reason-for-the-season pals might like you to believe otherwise, Christmas is not an intrinsically American event, at least, from the historical perspective. Some states would fine you for celebrating it. By revolutionary times, Christmas just seemed so damned English and was not generally celebrated here. George Washington in fact used the Germans’ love of the holiday as a tactical advantage to kick ass at Trenton. You can bet that Washington never asked anyone for some goddamn figgy pudding.
Then this guy wrote this book.
A collection of stories, actually, called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, by a fellow named Washington Irving. Some of these stories describe old traditions around the holiday, and their publication revived American interest and, again, put forward the more universal theme.
There are some things humans seem to arrive at universally. We all need to eat. We all seem to gravitate toward belief in a higher power. And societies as well seem to need to recognize and celebrate the winter solstice. It makes sense, especially in a formerly agrarian society. When there is no planting and no harvesting, it is a good time to spill your cornucopia and rejoice. The ancient Romans had Saturnalia. Pagans have Yule. America, it seems, has nearly universally gravitated toward Christmas.
I am fortunate personally to celebrate Christmas with family, specifically, with PB and clan. We have a bespangled Christmas tree. An enormous turkey is in the oven. PB says this one has a nice fat back on it, so it should be quite delicious. PB and I were up until 3 in the wood-shop putting the finishing touches on one mighty amazing gift. Later, he and I will cook an outstanding Christmas dinner, and we will cast a resplendent table.
Not much mention of the Jesus toddler, you’ll notice. Our approach to Christmas is as a generally secular event. This is as it has been in my family since as long as I can remember. Tree. Presents. Santa. No Jesus.
This isn’t weird. Check out this here poll numbers here:
More than nine in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas — even if they’re atheists, agnostics or believers in non-Christian faiths such as Judaism and Islam, according to two new surveys.
But the surveys also indicate that while most call Christmas a holy day that’s primarily religious, their actions speak volumes to the contrary.
Many skip church, omit Jesus and zero in on the egg nog, according to the polls done by LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based Christian research organization, and USA Today / Gallup Poll.
So. No matter how many exaltations go out about the over-commercialization of it and the complaint that every year we allow Baby Jesus to languish in his crib, guess what? We’re still a bunch of fucking idolators anyway.
Lifeway President Ed Stetzer, who is on the record that Christmas is an excellent time to prosthelytize, considers the poll results to be “alarming.”
And yet, as we’ve discussed: It is the very secular and broadly inclusive nature of Christmas that once saved its life and in fact that brought this holiday to us. And, as I’ve argued here before, it’s not actually we seculars who kick up the dust about an alleged “war” on “Christmas.” I for one like Christmas just fine and would gladly have all Americans comfortable with “Merry Christmas” as a solstice greeting.
Look. When somebody sneezes I say “God bless you.” I don’t do so because I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will then appear from the vapors and will magically seal your pie hole so that demons won’t enter your bronchial system and cause you to shit mustard. I say it because I speak English. Because I’m an American. Because that’s what you say when a person sneezes.
So it is, or so it should be, with Christmas. But then you have these folks who insist on wringing hands in the public square about the Jesus Toddler, and that makes everyone act weird. I’m telling you, this national awkwardness about Christmas is the fault of the reason-for-the-season folks. Not us. We’re pretty much a live and let live crowd around here.
One more thought, and I couldn’t help it. I just couldn’t help but have this cross my mind this morning. I couldn’t help but wonder: I wonder if these fellas are having a nice Christmas today…