Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Evil Impulse Behind Christmas Warriors

I try hard to understand people with whom I disagree. When I hear something batshit crazy, I feel an irresistible compulsion to ferret out some kernel of reasonability. But I can't fathom who, exactly, the "Christmas Wars" zealots (the folks enraged by any description of a decoratively lit winter tree without specific reference to the guy they worship) are speaking to.

I do completely understand when Christians remind each other to "keep the Christ in Christmas". That makes perfect sense to me: we oughtn't be so distracted by commercialism that we forget to celebrate and reinforce what we already believe. Who could find fault with that? I feel similarly urging distracted table mates to take deeper notice of their garlic knots or tacos. Hey, people, let's not forget what we're really here for!

But the Christmas warriors aren't kindly reminding kindred spirits. They're at war. But with whom? What's the aim? Do Jews, for example, need to worship Christ on Christmas? I happen not to, but I don't perceive myself as a warrior against Christ or Christmas or really anything else (except maybe Panera). Why would my disbelief constitute a threat? Must every one of us keep Christ devoutly in mind when uttering the "C" word? Is anything less than that intolerable?

I'd imagine their reply would be that their issue isn't with non-believers, per se, but with general secularization of their holiday. As a mass culture thing, Christmas seems less religious "out there". They don't just want to worship; they want a worshipful environment. And, strangely, their freedom to worship is threatened by all the external unworshipfulness. It's like someone with a preference not to marry a gay person feeling threatened unless the external environment reflects that preference. "My household may not be gay, but the world's my larger household, and it feels increasingly gay out there...and, as I just said, my preference is for not "gay"!" Get it?

But I still don't understand who, exactly, they're fighting against. Who's responsible for this secularization, if not non-believers and other-believers? Hey, I'm one of them! So what, exactly, do I need to do differently? How am I spoiling their Christmas? I honestly don't want to!!

Setting that important question aside, the externalization of preference is disturbing in its own right. I'm missing that gene; I hardly expect anyone to listen to me, much less agree with me, much less hew to my values on a mass basis. So it's difficult for me to relate. But it goes a scary step further when difference is perceived as threat. My differing values, however mildly held (e.g. sending "holiday cards") feel like an attack on theirs.

It's one of those strange shifts of perspective I've previously noted. And I believe I have, indeed, found the kernel, but there's nothing reasonable about it. In fact, it's the root of evil throughout history: "By not reflecting me, you threaten me."

It's the dynamic that's gotten my ancestors (in terms of religion as well as overall creative contrarianism) slaughtered and spat upon for countless generations. Though the Christmas warriors make their point from a defensive posture, a close examination of their perspective reveals the true impulse behind their paranoia, and it pushes ancient buttons.

That impulse is, quite obviously, the most unchristian of impulses. So let me be the first to sincerely, reverently, wish the Christmas warriors a far more spiritual Christmas than they're demanding of you and I.


Anonymous said...

An oversimplifed way to look at it might be like this:
You grow up in a small, beautiful town. There are only a couple of restaurants, the druggist knows everyone by name, the summer festival is truly a community event and you know everyone there. Then, for whatever reason, your little town becomes a popular tourist destination. The restaurants serve "regional" favorites to appease the tourists, and their awesome coffee that you used to enjoy has been replaced by a cheaper, less flavorful mass-market brand. The druggist now sells postcards and novelty sunglasses. Part of the fairgrounds where the summer festival is held is paved so it's easier for popular bands to set up their equipment. In the meantime, that old tree your parents carved their initials in as teenagers is cut down just to make room for the tourists. They've ruined everything.

I think that's how the Christmas Warriors (in the O'Reilly sense) think they feel. But it's actually more like they were born in Key West in 1990. It was a tourist destination long, long, long before they came along. So really it's just a bunch of complaining from people who are trying to reclaim an authenticity that never really existed--particularly since the holiday we know as "Christmas" is mostly a rebranded pagan holiday anyway (

Apologies to Christians. And I respect the right of everyone to make the holiday as holy as they want it to be, but I also don't see how crass commercialism impinges on anyone's right to celebrate as they see fit. And I hate crass commercialism. The thing is: I've learned to ignore it. You can, too.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, and did you notice how I didn't use the obvious analogy of Chowhound? You're welcome.

Jim Leff said...

I've written about that same perspective before (not with respect to Christmas). And I think there's more to it than you do. It's more than just nostalgia (much less false nostalgia).

I don't think they should stop complaining about crass commercialism. I don't think their nostalgia is necessarily so false. And I don't think they should stop reminding kindred spirits to remember the spiritual aspects of the holiday.

My question is simple, and nothing you've said has answered it: Who, precisely, are O'Reilly and the rest warring against here?

Listen, I'm not interested in Judaism (theologically or culturally) and I don't tribalize myself via my bloodline. I rarely take offense at perceived anti-semitism. But in this dynamic, I feel like Woody Allen at Annie Hall's parent's house.....bearded in a black coat, with an enormo shnozz. Christmas Warriors: what do you want/need me, specifically, to do? How am I, personally, threatening your beliefs?

Same for atheists, Buddhists, Moslems, nonbelieving Christians, and everyone else who leaves the Christ out of Christmas. What, quite specifically, would you have us do? And if you're not speaking to us, that means you're speaking to kindred spirits. But if you're preaching to the choir, why so extraordinarily angry and combative? If there's a "war", as you call it, you're certainly not waging it on yourselves. So it's got to be me, no? And if it's me, then, hey, waddayaknow, my bloodline just throbbed a little....

It's a question worth asking, but no one else is asking it.

vhliv said...

I think anonymous is right, but there is I think real confusion between the anti-commercialism tack many Christians are sympathetic with and the "War on Christmas" among the supporters of the latter. What seems to upset these people most is not the commercialism or the exploitation of a Christmas holiday, which the folks at Fox News in particular indulge in, but what they see as the unwillingness to acknowledge that what is driving the annual festiveness is Christmas. They really want more explicit commercialization of Christmas not less, like they imagine it was back in the 1960s or the 1940s.

Jim Leff said...


That's pretty much the distinction I've attempted to draw, both in my article and in my response to the first comment.

O'Reilly, et al, aren't offering spiritual reminders to fellow religionists. They're shrieking about how "forces" out there are literally "at war" with Christmas, attacking their religious freedom and destroying the holiday. That's not about "commercialism". It's a different thing. I don't see any equivalency at all between that stance and a gentle reminder ala, "Hey, let's not forget, if we happen to be Christian, what we're celebrating here amid all the commercialism!"

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