This is written by a Jew.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on to this weeks foray into the world of blogging. I don’t hate Christmas, for what it’s worth. I don’t celebrate it, and I wander between stages of antipathy and dread concerning Christmas, but I certainly don’t hate it. Mostly, I just don’t want to have to deal with it, because I don’t understand it.
Before you start emailing me about this, let me explain. I’ve celebrated Christmas, a few times. Mostly when Dad was still married to the second-ex-wife, since she was a Christian (Scottish something, I think, I’ve already forgotten). My little brother is a Christian (though he professed to me and Ipstenit that he’s more interested in Buddhism). He and I spent a wonderful 2 hours on a plane gabbing about philosophy and proving that there was a God. He’s a great kid.
I’ve had a ‘traditional’ Christmas in Boston. I stayed in the Louisa May Alcott house (I had Jo’s room!), which is owed by some family friends who happen to be on the Druid side of things. I’m not sure if Druid’s the right term for them, but they’re not the Santa sort. They have a Yule log and they write down their aspirations and hopes for the coming year, and on Solstice they burn the log with their notes, and each give a speech. Very neat people, even if one of them is convinced Kevin Costner is Lee Harvey Oswald’s son. We went to the in-laws and had dinner with cookies and nog and Santa visited.
The movie White Christmas is so beloved of me that I own the DVD. I know all the words and I love watching Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen dance to Irving Berlin’s music. When Rosemary Clooney (aka Cloonhead) sings ‘Love (You didn’t do right by me)’ I get tingly.
But the thing of it is, today when I look out my window and see the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and giving and preaching, I get confused. What is it all about? If I ask people, most say it’s a time of goodwill towards man. Gee, shouldn’t we be doing that all the time? Others will say it’s remembering the birth of Jesus. Okay, but what’s up with Santa?
This year, the History Channel helped me out. Apparently Christmas was celebrated as Christ’s birthday, though the date was fabricated by Roman Emperor Constantine I. Every winter, Romans honored the pagan god Saturn, the god of agriculture, with a festival that began on December 17 and usually ended on or around December 25 with a winter-solstice celebration in honor of the beginning of the new solar cycle. Later, they rationalized celebrating Jesus’ birthday on the 25 since the world was (allegedly) created on the spring equinox (March), then it was only right that Mary got knocked up on the world’s birthday. Nine months from March is, shockingly enough, the winter solstice.
Christmas as we know it is relatively new. The early celebrations were in the Middle Ages. After England’s Reformation, the observance became a point of contention between Anglicans and other Protestants, and the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in some of England’s territory until the 19th century. In the mid 19th century, Christmas began to acquire its associations with an increasingly secularized holiday of gift-giving and good cheer. In fact, the USA didn’t take the day off for years. There was a whole thing about how the USA, being a non-religious nation, shouldn’t take specific religious holidays off. Something I think makes sense.
The Catholics’ and their Midnight Mass thing didn’t pick up till many years after. The Pope actually said it was a bad thing to celebrate on Christmas like that and it wasn’t a religious holiday. Obviously they’ve changed their minds. Santa? Did not deliver gifts to the Baby Jesus on the 25th. Santa didn’t even exist until the 400s, and he wasn’t canonized (St. Nick is actually a Saint!) until much later (all I can remember about that stuff is you have to perform a certain number of miracles). His Day is December 6th. Around the 16th century, Nick was transmuted into the various forms we know of today, but most notable the Dutch Sinter Klaus (Santa Claus, say it out loud a couple times).
The problem I ran into, at the end, is that I still don’t get the why of it? What’s the point? If everyone has a different concept, then how can you have the Spirit of Christmas? Until the Christians can successfully marry the concepts of Santa and Jesus, I suspect I’ll be forever perplexed on this meaning of Christmas. Hanukkah makes sense to me, especially since I know the gift giving is because the Jewish kids were jealous of the Christians. Our eight crazy nights are more around celebrating the proof that G-d exists and does ‘things’ for us.
Basically, I don’t understand why people insist on blasting Christmas music, shopping like fiends, bitching about having to shop, and pretending to love one another when they don’t. It’s an assault my patience, having to deal with this every year. The malls are crowded, and all I want to do it get new gloves. The streets are packed with idiots who forgot that it snows in Chicago. Every half step, someone wants to wish me Merry Christmas, and ask me for money. I’m toyed with the idea of making a pin that says ‘Why not wish me a Happy Hanukkah? I’d appreciate it.’ Everyone seems to forget that there are at least four other major celebrations going on. No, no, it’s all Christmas, all the time.
And they start the day after Halloween these days. Used to be that Thanksgiving (Macy’s Parade) was the kick off of the Christmas season. Now they just put the leftover Halloween candy into red and green boxes and move on. *sigh* And the thing of it is I do resent the tiny corner of Hanukah foo. We’re a second thought. And what about the Kwanzaa paraphernalia? And Ramadan? And Winter Solstice? No, sorry. We don’t count.
It’s enough to make me hate Christmas. Instead, I crank up my music and listen to anything but. I may watch White Christmas or A Christmas Story (you’ll shoot your eye out! Hee!), a nice dose of History Channel or TLC’s Trading Spaces-a-thon is nice as well. Oh, and a pie. I made a pie. But the rest of it? Fie. I don’t care. I don’t partake, and today is the first day all month where the cafeteria at work hasn’t been playing Paul McCartney’s Christmas album.
Don’t get me started on the Easter Bunny. As near as I can figure out, Easter’s the spring ritual and bunnies represent fertility. Eggs, ditto. The chocolate is the color of the wood on the cross … what? Have you got a better explanation?
PS: I feel like a shit, tacking this on at the end, but on 12/26/1974, my all-time comedic hero Jack Benny (aka Benjamin Kubelsky) died of cancer. Despite the stingy skinflint image he cultivated on the air, Benny was known for his generosity and modesty in real life. Jack, where ever you are, you will always have me for a fan. Any man that could make you see a double take on a radio show deserves honor.