19th December 2009

In the trenches for the War on Christmas!

I’ll admit, I’m not sure exactly which trench I’m lying in, here. I’m a bit of a wanderer, and I suspect I’ve been tunneling back and forth across the battlefield haphazardly, crossing over my own ditch more than once*. Nevertheless, people are certainly throwing up a fog of war and running around brandishing their rhetoric at each other, so I feel like I should take a position in this War on Xmas arrangement.

In brief: I’m a big fan of Christmas. I’m not in any way a Christian, though I do have a more than usual fascination for it. I’m probably better read in certain parts of the Bible than many nominal Christians (though I’m certainly no expert), and I’m more opinionated than I have a right to be on certain hermeneutic questions. But I’m definitely a dabbler; and I have no interest whatsoever in being Saved.

As kids, despite our serious Hindu upbringing, we celebrated Christmas for many years in the secular fashion – decorating the tree, waiting for Santa, opening presents – until, eventually, even that splash of taint became too much for my increasingly orthodox parents. Nevertheless, we got our fair dose, and I still have fond feelings for the holiday as a result. Christmas is fun.

I feel I am in a privileged position here, compared to many other groaning Christians, who have fidgeted uncomfortably through dozens of Christmas masses and other generally odious lectures about the merits of Christ, barked at them by priests and vicars who make lackluster storytellers at best. I, on the other hand, get to enjoy the stuff almost unadulterated, comfortably shielded by secular society. That, of course, is what I enjoy most about Christianity: it’s an abundant store of mythology, rich (if occasionally incoherent) storytelling. The Nativity story is an excellent example: the birth of a golden child, a heroic figure destined to liberate a downtrodden people from bondage. His parents, poor folk, are hunted by a diabolic king determined to snuff out his life in the cradle, before he can grow to manhood and threaten the power of the oppressive empire. Crackerjack stuff, if you get to hear it divorced from any sanctimonious posturing.

Then there’s all the ancillary characters – Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Black Peter, the Krampus, Rudolph, elves at the North Pole, or even later additions like Scrooge and Frosty the Snowman. In a culture that I fear suffers from an appalling lack of mythology, Christmas is chock full of it.

This is probably a depressing perspective for those who feel that what we should actually glean from Christmas is the glory of Christ and nothing else. I’m uninterested in worshiping Jesus; I like him, and I think he’s a compelling hero. But I also think Luke Skywalker is a compelling hero (and in a similar vein), and I’m not about to light candles for him.

I’ve always been a merciless syncretist; if we’re free to pick and choose the best bits from here and there (and leave behind the dross), we can assemble quite a bouquet. My interest in maintaining Christmas – in maintaining any body of stories – is to preserve the health of the field, to keep it vibrant and diverse. Stories thrive as living things – when they are shared among us, and warmed by repetition, by passage through thousands of lips. They form bright cords that knit us together, bring us close. More, please.

* This allows for the horrifying possibility that I might sneak up on myself and shoot me in the back.
While I’m aware that the proper etymological origin of the X in Xmas is from the Greek Χριστός, its resemblance to the Cross always strikes me as a little weird. Jesus must get a wicked head-rush from being tilted up at a forty-five degree angle all season.

posted by saurabh in Magic, Religion | 0 Comments

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