It’s that time of year. Lights are getting strung up all over town, stores are offering longer and longer hours and ridiculous sales. It means more traffic (and more accidents, naturally), more dollars draining from your account, and more and more of those mall weirdos who spend more time arguing with sales clerks and taking up spots in lines than actually buying things.
It also means more strife between those politically correct folks who insist on “Happy Holidays” (the word “holiday” itself originating as “holy-day”, referring to a religious festival day, from as far back as 950AD [OED]), and those who insist on “Merry Christmas” (or, if you’re a weirdo, “Happy Christmas”), with the Christmas camp often getting as far divided as to argue that “Merry Xmas” is inappropriate (despite “X” being the Greek abbreviation for “Christ” and often appearing in Latin and Greek depictions of Christ).
Myself, as a bit of an agnostic, and am ambivalent about the whole thing. On the one hand, the holiday I am celebrating is Christmas; on the other, I’m also celebrating the New Year, too.
Christmas is, ostensibly, more a cultural celebration than a religious one, especially in certain regions of Canada and the US. Myself, I haven’t stepped foot in a church all year or prayed once, so for me, it’s even further removed from Christianity. For me, Christmastime is spending time with your loved ones, buying them presents, and putting up a tree. Christ never really enters into it. The argument can be made that given the origins of America and Canada, Christmas is an integral part of our history and that is reflected today; that while it is a “religious” celebration, given its cultural importance it is ok for us to get the day off like at Eastertime (even though the state shouldn’t be designating which holy days we get off of work). I mean, the act of buying a tree and giving out presents and cards and so on is hardly mandated in the bible. One only needs to compare Christmas in one part of the world with Christmas in another to see that the way people feel Christmas should be celebrated varies from place to place, making it a distinctly cultural celebration with an obviously strong religious background.
But I do think that is where everything breaks down. Christmas is a non-religious celebration until Christ becomes a central figure in it. When you call for people to “Keep Christ in Christmas”, you are asking them to recognize the birth of the saviour of mankind in your religion.
It is hilarious, then, when people declare that there is a “war on Christmas”. especially when December 25 is a statutory holiday. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, for example, there is a large Hindu population. Yet (no shock), Diwali is not a statuatory holiday. Neither is Hanukkah, Eid Al-Adha, or Festivus. Holidays in Canada vary, but any holidays that do correspond with religious holidays correspond with Christian ones. I mean, we commemorate the birth and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for crying out loud, and we typically get the day off (or we get paid extra).
So here are the only reasonable courses of action:
- Commemorate other holidays: get a better, more even distribution of religious holidays in the mix.
- Get rid of paid holy days: that’s it.
- Acknowledge that Christmas/Easter/whatever are days that are culturally significant: and allow people to celebrate their day of culture off in whatever fashion they please, even if that means not buying a Christmas tree or presents or going to church.
- Keep Christ in Christmas: and argue that even though it is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the government does have the right to establish a national religion.
Celebrate Christmas however you want… just try not to be a grinch. If you want to go to Church, do it. If you want to buy a tree and put tinsel on it, whatever. If you want to go to work and get extra pay, whatever. But don’t try to press your religion on others by insisting that they celebrate your holiday your way. That’s just not in the spirit of Christmas.
bryanbr’s thesis is straightforward. As a nearly-militant Christian organization (in case the name SALVATION ARMY didn’t tip you off), the SA believes strongly against homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia.
The first is the hardest to come to terms with. It’s backwards at best to think homosexuality is abhorrent and gays should be stoned. Let’s leave that there.
The second, which is interestingly titled “Women’s Rights” in the original article, is itself a bit iffy. I’m not a religious dude (though fairly agnostic), and while I haven’t taken a stance on abortion completely, I think we can all agree it’s an incredibly touchy issue. Namely, the question is, at what point does conception begin? This is a question I’ve yet to see answered well, and when you have many first-world jurisdictions across the planet that legalise the abortion of a fetus up to nine months of age, well, it becomes iffy. When you split hairs that fine, one has to wonder when “women’s rights” end and murder begins and we start playing with semantics more than anything (remember Macduff, “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripp’d”) . Conceptualize, if you will, a pregnant woman who is due in exactly one day. She decides she doesn’t want the child. Is it murder? Certainly not. Now, when a pregnant woman is abused or attacked in such a way so as to cause the death of a fetus, the crime is treated more severely. Sure, there are very good reasons for that and such a crime is abhorrent, but the difference to our reaction to such a crime and our reaction to a nine-month pregnancy culminating in an abortion is cause for thought, I think.
Obviously there are circumstances where abortion is definitely warranted and definitely acceptable (to myself, of course). In cases of rape or where the mother will not be able to care for the child (or doesn’t want to, I guess), early into the pregnancy, abortion simply makes sense. But that’s just me, and I can easily understand opposition to abortion (though the complete and blanket opposition that the SA and various religious groups have strikes me as nuts).
The third point that bryanbr makes is the one I take the most exception to and that is the topic of euthanasia. I think the SA’s opposition to assisted-suicide is very fair, if only because of the three oppositions bryanbr has to the SA, this one seems the most justified. Euthanasia, while legal in some jurisdictions, is illegal in many, many others. Euthanasia is typically an option when one is going through pain and their quality of life has diminished significantly as a result of a (most often) incurable illness or ailment. The reasoning can be the ailment itself or a side-effect such as depression. Personally, I could never take the life of another individual, even if they asked me to (though, I guess in a life or death situation, I could, but that’s not germane). Asking doctors then to commit murder (and that’s what ending another human life is, murder), and in some cases, expecting them to when pressed, seems like a pretty extreme step. Personally, I’m very divided on the topic of euthanasia — above all, I believe that people who are in a rational state of mind and not mentally ill have a right to their own body and if they choose to end their own lives, that should be their decision. I think the SA’s right to oppose euthanasia is warranted.
I think that bryanbr’s boycott of the Salvation Army is maybe a step too far. The SA does do some good work for the homeless and single mothers and so on. They are, of course, a Christian organization and to expect them to endorse things that are antithetical with the Bible seems a little silly, though. Any society has to pick its battles and decide what it supports; I mean, if you believe all drugs should be legal or seatbelts are bullshit or the drinking age should be lowered or whatever, would you donate to a rehabilitation charity or MADD or whatever? Probably not.
But bryanbr’s argument is great in that it’s a lesson: don’t just give people money in order to feel like a good person. Know what the charity does before you decide to support them.
Local group complains parade is “not for them”
All is well. It’s a cool, crisp, early-December morning. The streets are crowded. Every other passerby greets me, waving or extending their hands for a handshake or high-five or fist-pound. “Merry Christmas!”, “Happy Holidays!”. I can’t go ten feet without someone wishing me the best this time of year. It’s the annual Santa Claus parade: hundreds of thousands of people are out in full force, each excited to see the Big Guy. So you’d think.
My attention turns to Sean Berkowitz (not his real name, he confides). He’s a young guy, in his mid-twenties. He’s wearing a suit jacket, a wrinkled pink dress shirt, jeans, and one of those fashionable fedoras. He’s one of the few people I see without a smile on his face, and he’s the guy I’ve come out to meet.
“That time of year again,” he says with a sigh. For most, Christmas is a great time of year. For others, it’s just a reminder of the fact that you don’t fit in.
“I hate it… I hate this,” he gestures towards the big man himself — Santa Claus — waving to the crowds from atop a float going down the street. “My taxpayer dollars go towards this.” Sean’s beating around the bush so I prod him.
“I just — I don’t believe in Santa Claus. Once a year I’m reminded that, unlike everyone else, I’m not a believer. I don’t fit in. Every year my coworkers say after the holidays, ‘oh, did Santa get you something nice?’ and what do I say? I have to smile and nod so I don’t seem like a freak. Just the other day my youngest started telling me how excited he was, how he wanted to go to the mall and meet Santa Claus. Believe me, we go to church every week and I never would have thought my son would become… you know, one of them. I tried to raise my kids right and well, they believe in jolly ol’ St. Nick.”
“I respect people who believe in him, don’t get me wrong. I mean, both of my sons believe in him, my wife, well, she’s kind of agnostic to the whole thing. All these people here believe in him and me? I’m ostracized; I’m the outcast.”
Berkowitz isn’t alone, of course. There’s a group of them and they make an appearance every year. “Christmastians”, they call themselves. Believers fittingly call them “Grinches”. While Berkowtiz remains in the closet about his views for fear of reprisal, the Grinches don’t care.
“It’s a lie these people are living,” Amanda Clark says, gesticulating wildly and almost spilling her Starbucks Caramel Candy Cane Latte. “It’s sickening, you know, seeing these… these sheeple, walking around, waving at that fraud. You know that there are no birth records for ‘Santa Claus’? No baptismal certificate, no governmental records, no newspaper birth announcements, nothing. Yet here these people are, believing a lie. I go to church once a week like most people. I’m a good person. But this? It’s absurdity.”
Clark’s standing with a group of about twenty others, all waving various signs. ‘Keep Claus out of Christmas’, says one. ‘Elf Labour is Slave Labour!’, says another. “COAL is NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT and BAD FOR SELF ESTEEM” espouses another, the letters getting smaller and smaller.
“Did you know that Christmastians have received more systematic prejudice than just about any other group in the last fifty years alone? Home Alone, The Santa Clause, Christmas with the Kranks, Home Alone 2, Jingle All The Way, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, starring the legendary Martin Short as Jack Frost, Elf, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi… the list goes on. Every single Christmas movie does one of two things: they either argue that we are wrong and that despite evidence to the contrary, some fat guy in a suit flies around the world in a single night (she scoffs at this point), or that it doesn’t matter if he exists, all that matters is we spend time with those we love.
“Have you ever seen ‘The Truth About Santa’? No, probably not. It was scheduled for a wide release last year, but at the last minute it was canned and went straight to DVD. And why? Because Santa is the biggest commercial draw in the world. They’re trying to make us into little obedient playthings and Santa is the linchpin to the whole effort.”
When I propose the theory to passerby and local man-about-town Glen Allen, he laughs.
“Every year they try and, ya know, that group’s just been getting smaller. Of course Santa is real. [Clark] wants to know how he flies around the world in a single night? It’s magic. And I saw ‘The Truth About Santa’ and, let me tell you, there are dozens of debunk videos out there that take that ‘movie’ to task. Listen, let me tell you how it is. He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, and he’s going to find out who’s naughty and who’s nice. I mean, these guys, out there shouting and crying and pouting? They better not, and I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town. And let me tell you, these grinches? They’re getting on the naughty list. And that’s fine with me. The message of Kris Kringle is out there for anyone who wants it. I’m not going to force my beliefs down anyone’s throat and if you don’t want presents on Christmas, hey, that’s your own business. They can do what they want, I can do what I want, doesn’t that make sense to you?”
It’s become pretty vogue to say “remember when the Simpsons was good?”, so I’m not going to bother with that (in this post). Even though this is from 2006 — decidedly after the Simpsons exited the period most people would call “good” — this is classic.