Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The War for Christmas: Jesus versus Santa

The idea of a "War on Christmas" is silly. Sure, Target doesn't let their employees wish customers a "Merry Christmas" and you can't put a nativity scene in front of the city hall. Yet, the religious aspects of Christmas have been less diminished by any conspiracy than by people changing how they themselves choose to observe Christmas. Rather than a war between Christmas and secular Grinches, it's more appropriate to think of a war between two Christmases, one about celebrating the birth of Jesus, the other about Santa and presents. The second Christmas is winning, easily.

Christian Christmas is no fun and entirely inappropriate for children. The story of the birth of Jesus is lurid, involving teen pregnancy, homelessness, and a bizarre intrusion by big government, mandating a meaningless mass migration to everyone's home town so that they can be counted. Near the end of Matthew's story, all of the baby boys in Bethlehem are butchered; this is absent from your classic Joseph-in-a-bathrobe Christmas pageants. The story is supposed to tell how God was born in human form, but all we see is a silent baby in a creche. For the Christmas story to have a grander meaning, it needs extra context, how this God-child is supposed to be sacrificed as a propitiation for our sins. I would rather wait until Seasonal Affective Disorder has completely overtaken me, say, in February, to contemplate my sins and mortality; in the mean time, I'll enjoy the fun Christmas.

My Uncle Bart says that Jesus came to bring us Christmas cookies. He died so that we could be saved, but that's what Easter is about; Christmas is for Christmas cookies. I like the song about Rudolph who wasn't allowed to join in the other reindeer's games; as the kid in first grade who was kicked out of the Bat Club for having cooties, I find Rudolph to be a relatable character. The story of how he saved Christmas by being himself is inspiring. I like egg nog and I'm glad that we, as a society, have restricted its use to one month out of the year, for the sake of our own health.

It's obvious to everyone that the true meaning of Christmas is presents. I got fossils of a trilobite and a fern, and lots of comic books, and a mandoline. I gave microscope slides to one brother and to another, a steering wheel for his Playstation. Both were delighted, and I like it when my brothers are happy.

Religion loses ground with people less from being proven wrong and more from being proven dreary, irrelevant, or boring. I suppose that I stopped believing in God for rational reasons, this was a result of a careful thought process. What was more difficult for me was coming to a happy acceptance of my non-belief. I became a happy non-believer when I saw ways in which beliefs in God and heaven and spirits didn't give me as much fulfillment and orientation as reason, literature, science, my job, my friends, my family, and good coffee. People aren't, on the whole, going to consider atheism unless they think that it will make them happier and healthier. Secularists succeed when they promote non-belief in ways that are less like arguments and more like fun Christmas.

Some inspiration from "If This Sleigh is A-Rockin', Don't Come A-Knockin'" by Sarah Vowell, act two of The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Suit on This American Life.