That time of year

If you’ve been anticipating the holiday season, then chances are you may have been following coverage of what’s referred to as the “war on Christmas”. Every year someone does something that isn’t “festive” enough or too secular for the conservative Christian crowd, and all of a sudden it’s declared a war on traditional values and a war on Christmas. This year is no different. Most famously (or infamously if you will), last month we saw Starbucks unveil their festive holiday cups to signify the approach of the holiday season, but instead of having the cups being decorated with festive imagery, this year’s cups were a simplistic design featuring simply an ombre or red color. The company stated that its intent was to allow its customers to write their own story on the cups in contrast to previous cups telling stories of their own, which I think is somewhat noble but kind of pointless because there is a better way for people to tell their own stories than just write on a coffee cup (then again, this is the same company behind that disastrous Race Together campaign). Anyways, this is all something that nobody made a big deal out of until some guy named Joshua Feuerstein decided to whip up a frenzy about it, claiming that Starbucks wants to ban Christmas from their stores, ban employees from saying Merry Christmas, and hates Jesus.

But of course, Starbucks was not the only example of this madness. Apparently, there was one person on Fox News who tried to suggest that the San Bernandino killings could be a literal war on Christmas, and I think some people are thinking that the killings were a hoax . Then there’s the Nevada lawmaker Michele Fiore (who is also a member of the NRA) releasing her own Christmas card, featuring most of her family facing the camera and carrying guns (which people in the UK probably find chilling but in America not so much) and with a caption saying “It’s up to Americans to protect America. We’re just your ordinary American family”. And then there’s the University of Tennessee being accused of placing a “ban” on celebrating Christmas, or at least referring to the holiday season as Christmas (even apparently going as far as banning Secret Santa). And America isn’t the only one participating. In Italy, the headmaster of a comprehensive school in the town of Rozzano was accused of cancelling Christmas celebrations for fear of offending non-Christian schoolchildren and parents, particularly those of the Islamic faith, provoking outrage from mostly the right-wing.

Clearly, the same old “war on Christmas” malarkey has persisted to this day. But then there’s the other side of it: when I find people commenting on the “war on Christmas”, and the foolishness of asserting that the holiday season should be the exclusive domain of the Christians, I often see the same old malarkey from the pagan point of view. You know, stuff like this:

Putting aside the narrative that all conversion was forced and happened over a short time as opposed to over a thousand years, last time I checked Christmas as we know didn’t come about as a result of violent conversion. In fact, the modern Christmas isn’t one pagan holiday (like Saturnalia for instance), but rather an amalgamation of winter solstice festivals and traditions, among various of customs even including modern commercial traditions. In the case of the Christian holiday, the winter celebration of Saturnalia was assimilated in the Roman Empire when it became Christian, but ultimately the Christian Christmas that people bicker over nowadays emerged as a result of a mingling of folk, Christian, and what were then modern inventions.

The only historical equivalent I can think of for any “war on Christmas” was when the Puritans tried to stamp out the Christmas holiday in the 17th century in England and in the early American colonies. In other words, when Christian fanatics were trying to get rid of a tradition they thought was pagan, whereas other Christians assimilated it instead.

For me the Christmas we celebrate today doesn’t exclusively belong to Christians or to pagans. And even if this was formerly the case, it isn’t anymore. In fact, Christmas is just the Christian name (derived from an Old English phrase literally meaning “Christ’s Mass”) for what we now recognize as a more universal, or secular, winter celebration that some can choose to celebrate and others can choose not to. I even know some people in LHP circles, circles where people can be against anything perceived as having anything to do with Christianity, who plan on celebrating the holidays in their own way. The Christian way is not the only way to celebrate Xmas, and neither is the old pagan way. For that matter, which old pagan way exactly? Anyone who knows about the pre-monotheistic world knows there were many ways to celebrate the winter solstice. Or are we referring to some new, more universal modern “pagan” tradition, aimed at celebrating a purely “pagan” holiday?

My point is, Xmas/Christmas/Yule is not a Christian holiday, but it stopped being a pagan holiday a long time ago, thanks to the mingling of various traditions and cultural forces and the march of cultural evolution into the modern world, and I’m willing to argue the same for all the holidays I’ve previously heralded as pagan holidays (well, maybe except Easter). And because of this, I think no religious group has the right to claim the holiday season for themselves. Shame on those who try to turn the holiday season into a conflict of traditional values versus modernity, or of monotheism versus polytheism.

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