Have you been tracking the latest assaults on the War on Christmas? You have to know all about it if you spend any time on Fox News. Just this month, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have devoted considerable air-time to stories like the parody of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that, although clearly intended as a joke, was made to sound like a thrashing of a beloved Christmas figure on Fox. And if you want to see people going ballistic over Breaking News, you need to find the Fox coverage of the efforts by some elements of the #Me Too movement to declare “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a bad holiday song because of lyrics that suggest (to some) a case of sexual abuse.
War or no war, Christmas has always been one of my very favorite holy holidays. I grew up in a home where Christmas was recognized as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ, who, we were taught, was the literal son of God, conceived (the biology of the event was never explained) in an “immaculate conception” by Mary (Jesus’ mother) after she was “blessed” by the visits of angels (followed by a presumably more substantial visit by the great one Himself to “seal the deal,” as it were). As a youngster, I never thought to question the physical absurdity of the virgin birth or the even more absurd dogma that states that Jesus was God in the flesh. It was only when I began to study for the ministry that I started to lose my faith. (For most of my adulthood, I have been a committed agnostic, the kind who has no belief in God, but is open to other possibilities.)
But even now, many decades later, I still regard the Christmas that I loved as a child with respect, if not reverence. Because, even though I no longer believe the whole litany of myths surrounding the birth of the child, or even that he was anything other than a regular guy for most of his life (and certainly not the Son of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost trinity), I still like the trappings of the holy day. I like the music (Handel’s “Messiah,” Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” and the many great hymns and anthems such as “Joy to the World” and “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful”). I like the sentiment (“Peace on Earth,” “Good Will to Men”). And, most of all, I like the opportunity it provides to feel just a little better about those we otherwise tend to take for granted, and to be just a little more friendly, a little less grouchy, for at least one month every year.
I’m also very open to a spiritualism that seems to permeate humanity. There is, innately, in all of us, an ability to conceive of something beyond the materialism that drives our survival instinct. Just as the need to breathe and eat and drink cannot be denied, so must the need for the mind to contemplate the metaphysics of our existence be acknowledged. That latter need is as much a part of our species essence as the former. I know of no one who denies that duality of our existence (other, perhaps, than the psychologically or intellectually impaired amongst us).
We look at the skies and contemplate the enormity of the universe and of the seeming irrelevance of our planet’s part in it. We consider the passing of another year and wonder at the seeming infinity of new years that have been realized by our little planet and then wonder even more at the unending number of years that existed even before “years” would have been a meaningful measurement. We see death and disease and war and famine and cataclysmic floods and life-destroying fires all around us and wonder how we are meant to even matter for the short time we live. Even the most casual reflection on these imponderables is enough to make us cry out, collectively, for something to be truly joyous about, or, at least, for an explanation.
Contemplating those questions is most likely what led the earliest of our species to envision the existence of gods and then, later in our development, a single God. The idea of a loving God was the main contribution Jesus (and, more specifically, Paul and the early developers of the faith) added to the “explanation.” The teachings of Jesus, boiled down to their essence, emphasize the power and necessity of love. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31); “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39); “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
So how does a committed non-believing agnostic regard the War on Christmas? First of all, I reject it as it is intended to be understood by the Fox News gang. They use the phrase, and the idea behind it, to attack liberal political ideology, trying thereby to link atheism to liberalism, as if no true economic conservative would ever be an atheist. The goal of the Fox News “war” is to create the thought that if you are a liberal, you are an atheist of the Marx-Lenin mold with a principal goal to prohibit all religion. The phony Fox “War on Christmas” is just a way to rally evangelicals and other social conservatives to the alt-right perspective that is part of the Trump base.
But the Christmas that I cherish is under attack. It’s under attack by the corporate-industrial complex that controls much of our culture and economy. This war is waged through the marketplace and in the media, where ads for gadgets and toys permeate the things we view and read from early October through the end of the year. Buying and getting special “things” is now more associated with Christmas than any sense of the message we associate with Christ. Typically, these ads feature some variant on Santa Claus (elves are also popular, reindeer less frequently; even the Grinch appears in some of them), offering a sense of how important gift-buying is.
This concept of Christmas is a fairly transparent play on the Biblical account (Matthew 2:11) of the wise men who, having heard of the birth, visited Mary and her child and presented gifts to herald the child’s birth. From that single verse (the account does not appear in the parallel books of Mark and Luke or anywhere else in scripture), the idea was promoted by more recent interpretations of the text that gift-giving is the main idea behind the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Of course, nothing in the life of Jesus, or in his message as promulgated by Paul and the other early proponents of his teachings, is intended to promote Christmas as a boon to corporate capitalism. But that view is what it has become, most especially in the America that is represented by Donald J. Trump, where thoughts of charity and empathy, peace and love, are pushed aside in favor of self-aggrandizement and greed.
The Christmas I cherish is best represented in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which is not a tale of how to get more “stuff” but of how to honor the essence of Christ’s message.
So, how do we, those of us who seek peace on earth and good will for all humanity, fight this war on Christmas? We can start by telling family and friends that we love them and that they are special to us. We can seek fellowship with those whose political views differ with ours. We can be open to dialogue with those who have different perspectives and different beliefs. We can shop a little less and self-reflect/worship (each in our own way) a little more.
And we can find ways to rediscover the true spirit of Christmas. Here are ten completely painless suggestions:
-Watch “Scrooge,” the 1951, best film version of the Dickens’ story, starring Alastair Sim.
-See “Green Book” (currently in theaters), the wonderful telling of a true story of interracial friendship and respect.
-Listen to a recording (or attend a concert) of Handel’s “Messiah” and feel the miracle of the music.
-Take a colleague with whom you’ve had personal difficulty out for a meal.
-Spend a day (maybe even Christmas day) with loved ones and just enjoy each other’s company.
-Show compassion to people who are struggling with demons or are down on their luck.
-Seek to be a loving person by considering first the other person’s perspective.
-Attend a performance of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” (at Capital Stage here in Sacramento).
-Offer a toast to the Scrooge in your life, and commit yourself to not being the Scrooge in someone else’s.
-Open your heart and feel the joys of the season.
In sum, find ways to spread love and, in so doing, to honor the true spirit of Christmas.
Happy holidays, everyone. Merry Christmas.