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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christians Against Christmas

Christmas is such a well established tradition/shopping season in the United States that it's difficult for many people to imagine that it was once a controversial holiday, rejected by many Christian denominations, even today.

"People don't think of it this way, but it's really a secular holiday," said Foster, a Princeton-based pastor in the United Church of God. He last celebrated Christmas when he was 8.

His church's objection to Christmas is rare among U.S. Christians. Gallup polls from 1994 to 2005 consistently show that more than 90 percent of adults say they celebrate Christmas, including 84 percent of non-Christians. That's a huge change from an earlier era, when many Protestants ignored or actively opposed the holiday. But as it gradually became popular as a family celebration, churches followed their members in making peace with Christmas.

But think about it. Remember these lines from A Christmas Carol:

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

"God bless Christmas"? Didn't that strike you as odd? It always did me. Did Christmas sneeze? Well, Christmas was not a universal holiday in England back then, either, and seen in this light, those words make more sense.

Christmas wasn't embraced by Americans until the 19th century - and even then, it was not embraced by all. But the idealistic writings of Washington Irving popularized the image of Christmas as a family-centered, egalitarian holiday dedicated to charity and peace.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving's mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving's fictitious celebrants enjoyed "ancient customs," including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving's book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended – in fact, many historians say that Irving's account actually "invented" tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.

The United Church of God and Jehovah's Witnesses and other conservative Protestants do not celebrate Christmas. Wiccans and Pagans celebrate Yule, while many atheist/agnostics and non-practicing Jews prefer to celebrate the Winter Solstice, although some (like Richard Dawkins) celebrate Christmas - which gets some Bible-believing folks into a lather - a humorous lather, or in the case of Albert Mohler, a weird, Scrooge-like, fribbitiginny-conniption-fit.

On the other hand, the Klingons love Christmas! Who’d’uv thunk?

(I hope that I don't have to remind anyone that Hanukkah is not "how the Jewish people celebrate Christmas," as one woman griped in an interview on NPR in the 1980s, after she had just given a talk on Hanukkah to a bunch of Christians. I never forgot that one! A perfect example of projection.)

Presenting both sides:
and mine:

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I have not believed the mythology underlying Christmas for nearly forty-five years, and I have no memory of ever placing creedence in Santa Claus, I enjoy the holiday. It's a time for togetherness, and I like the music. I have no trouble singing the words. After all, I read fairy tales to my nieces and nephews. I don't believe them either.

December 21, 2007 4:16 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Right. I likewise don't believe in Romeo and Juliet, but their story gets played out again and out by real people throughout history.

That's the tragedy of taking stories literally - people miss the meaning of the stories. We human think in patterns, but ironically, the only screenwriters who really understand the "30 pieces of silver/betrayed by a kiss" idea are the writers of gangster films!

December 21, 2007 8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last Christmas I celebrated as a believing Christian was forty-five years ago. Come Religious Emphasis Week the following March at good ol' KSTC(now Emporia State University in Kansas), my roommate and I were discussing the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, and we came to realize that our own Methodist tenets were just as baseless as the hogwash Holy Mother Church would have us believe. Thus, we became agnostics. We were, and still are, limited human beings. There are those things we cannot know merely because we lack the means to comprehend them.
Nevertheless, I continued to enjoy Christmas for the reasons I've mentioned above. Nevermore so than in 1981: my niece Lauraine was bamboozled by her mother-in-law to embrace the tenets of the Watchtower Society. She in turn flimflammed her mother(my sister) and her brother into conversion. So they dropped the celebration of Christmas. About the same time, I had discovered a Unitarian-Universalist Church in the KC metroplex where I was living at the time. The group celebrated the holiday; I redoubled my efforts to enjoy the season. I even joined the church choir.

In the years since, Lauraine has been enlightened. She took a course in Egyptian history at a university near her town to discover that the notion of resurrection predated Jesus by several thousand years. My sister and my nephew are still encumbered by their beliefs. Of course, it is my opinion that the tenets of the JW's are just goddam silly, but then that's what I think of the creeds of almost all religions. I don't tell them that, however. Hurt feelings, ya know.

December 21, 2007 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although neither you nor I believe the mythology associated with this time of year, I still wish you
Merry Christmas,
Happy New Year.

December 22, 2007 11:24 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Thank you, friend. A merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too!

December 23, 2007 11:07 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

And a fine merry Christmas, too, from this here Jewish atheist.

Our Christmas dinner will feature ten people, eight of which are Jewish.

December 24, 2007 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Dan had a Hannukah ham.

December 26, 2007 5:24 PM  

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