Now that Christmas 2013 is here and finally gone, I feel that I can finally rant to you, dear reader, about what particularly bothers me so much about the entire bloody month of December. And it’s not just because of my tempestuous history with Christianity.
Well, okay, it does have some to do with my history with Christianity.
This year, I dunno, I felt crankier than in previous years, particularly with the seeming predominance of Christmas music in places like shopping malls and on the radio. And perhaps it was because Thanksgiving came so late this year, it seemed like the Christmas music started earlier. But it also seemed so… aggressively Christian in tone. Perhaps I’m just noticing more.
I was grocery shopping a few weeks ago and heard Go Tell It On the Mountain over the PA system, and the line “that Jesus Christ is Lord.” I was at World Market two weeks ago and heard Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with the line “if the Lord allows.” If there’d been a line in a song about how “Allah is One” or “All hail the Mother Goddess,” a bevy of angry Christians would be storming the manager’s office.
Now, I’m not trying to single out Christians here. And I’m really not trying to be one of those atheists (or, according to Sarah Palin, Joe McScrooge) who is trying to destroy people’s favorite holiday. For all intents and purposes, I enjoy this holiday season. I like the lights, the greenery, the sense of community and gathering. What I object to the blatant promotion of Christianity during the entire month of December, as if the Church didn’t already get Easter and the forty days before of Lent.
I probably wouldn’t get so cranky if we just included other religions in the cultural melange that is Christmas: if we included Pagan carols and rituals for Yule; Buddhist traditions for Bodhi day; the sharing of Jewish food and music for Chanukah; Yalda, from Persian culture, celebrating the passing of the winter solstice; and Pancha Ganapati, a 5-day festival in honor of Lord Ganesha.
Point is, why couldn’t we make Christmas a human festival, wherein we celebrate the different ways we have developed over the centuries to get through the long winter months by gathering together around fires to tell each other stories and sing songs?
… well, for the same reason that many Christians drum on about freedom of religion, but fly into a rage the moment someone else attempts to freely practice (or not practice) theirs. I don’t believe in the Goddess, or the Buddha, or any other deity we’ve invented over the millennia, but I can’t deny that belief in those things has given people hope and comfort in dark times.
On Tuesday evening, I listened to the rebroadcasting of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College in Cambridge, London. After the opening carol, Once in Royal David’s City, the dean of the college read this:
Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this Chapel, dedicated to Mary, his most blessèd Mother, glad with our carols of praise…
… because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.
When I first heard this service a number of years ago, this sort of statement wouldn’t have phased me at all. But now it smacks of the most supreme in of arrogance: the assumption that because you belong to a dominant world religion that everyone agrees with your narrative and interpretation of events.
There are people who believe in, as Bill Maher quotes more liberal defenders of Christianity, the “central story” of Christmas—that is, that an all-powerful God impregnated a very young girl without the aid of intercourse in order to set right events that he himself put in motion after he had a temper tantrum after two humans he created and imbued with curiosity and intelligence went and behaved exactly how he’d expected them to. That “central story”?
So how is this a positive story, exactly? Because you can’t accept the Christmas story without accepting everything that goes along with it. Jesus shed his godhood to become human because of what went down in the (mythical) Garden of Eden? And just so he could grow up to be tortured and killed in order to atone for a crime that was an arbitrary offense in the first place. Forget the shepherds and the wise men—that’s the real meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.
It’s a story that was the beginning of religious wars, inquisitions, genocide, mass murder, torture, witch burnings, child sexual abuse (covered up and allowed to continue as the Church and its leaders, including the rapist priest, are infallible and above reproach because religion), the abuse and subjugation of women and minorities, including the LGBT community, and a host of other crimes against humanity.
This is what comes to mind when I hear a line in a song like, “let’s give thanks to the Lord above.” I hear a huge part of human experience being whitewashed to preserve monotheism.
And damn—passing a horn of mead around a circle of friends sounds like a helluva lot of fun.