Friday, November 23, 2007

No, Virginia, There Is No Sanity Clause

OK, now that Thanksgiving’s over, we’re entering loony time.

Each year during the Christmas season, I have to face my atheistic conscience. The truth is: I think Christmas is a huge hoot. I love shopping in crowds for presents, singing and listening to carols, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the lights, boozing it up with good company, and gorging on excessive sweets. If you take Jesus out of the mix, the rest of it is fun.

Philosophically, I find the idea of Santa Claus revolting; it’s like adding training wheels to the broken-down bicycle of Christianity. But, honestly? I can’t resist smiling when I overhear little kids talking about what they hope he’ll bring them. They’ll soon grow out of that belief, at least, so what’s the harm, really? Children – as opposed to adults – are supposed to have a little fantasy in their lives.

I adore Dickens, and I take great pleasure in rereading A Christmas Carol every year. It’s not a religious story; it’s a parable about greed and mean-spiritedness. No one accuses Scrooge of being a miserable person because he doesn’t go to church; they accuse him of being a miserable person because he doesn’t know how to enjoy the life that he has, doesn’t understand that it takes very little to enhance the lives of those around him. It’s a good, if sappy, lesson for all of us. Yes, the very last line is Tiny Tim’s “God bless Us, Every One,” but so what? The author doesn’t claim that a heavenly miracle is going to cure the kid’s lameness; Scrooge’s money and trained doctors will take care of that.

I don’t even mind if salespeople wish me “Merry Christmas.” It’s how they do it that does or doesn’t piss me off. If it’s said in an offhand manner, just a pleasant kind of mantra, I might even say it right back. But if there’s a meaningful something slogging home the word “Christmas,” I always reply, as condescendingly as I can, “Well, I’m not Christian, myself, but do enjoy your little holiday.”

On the other hand ...

I don’t want to be forced to pay for a public nativity scene or decorated tree. I don’t want to have to detour around the main street in my town during its holiday parade funded by taxpayer dollars. I don’t want the baby Jesus rammed down my throat by proselytizing strangers when I go to buy my groceries. I don’t want United States postage stamps to be emblazoned with religious iconography. I don’t want casual acquaintances and distant relatives sending me biblical verses through the mail. I don’t want my hypocritical elected officials talking about “Christ’s message of peace.” I don’t want to be reminded every damn time I turn on the TV or open a newspaper or read a magazine or surf the Internet of what a petty, materialistic, greedy society we are. I don't want to hear theocrats spouting off about "the real meaning of Christmas" while they obliterate the real meaning of the Constitution. I don’t want to watch my fellow Americans substituting ersatz holiday cheer for the profound joy of freedom that we’re slowly being robbed of.

And most of all, I don’t want to be bopped on the head with Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas every waking hour of every fucking day between now and December 25.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Santa Claus. There is a sort of parallel with the ancient Riddle of the Sphinx (four egs in the morning, two at noon three in the evening: I, myself am at the three leg stage)which could be: what believes in Santa, doesn't believe in Santa, BECOMES Santa...? whether he will or no... and the answer, of course would be man. Western man, anyway.

My oldest son, when he was in the navy, got to draw straws to see who would be Santa for the kids at the unit xmas party one year and he "won". At that time he stood over six feet tall and weighed 125 pounds so it caused a bit of a problem. Nil desperandum, that was the year the Nightmare Before Christmas came out, so someone made him a costume and he became Jack Skellington. Some traditionalists bridled a bit, but the kids LOVED it.

My birthday gives me a special set of problems, it is 25 December. Some of my xian associates find this a bit, well, presumptious or... much. I enjoy the irony. Actually, my father was also born xmas day, 7 January, "old" christmas.

This is a cultural thing, they spout the words like saying "gesundheit" which can give the health it wishes as much as the xmas wish can make one 'merry'. I can't say I ever really felt, well, "merry". Manger scenes don't give me a headache, and I certainly play enough for xmas programs, and right now I'm playing hooky from arranging a couple of carols for a brass choir. It's just something that comes with the cold wind to me.

And yet...

There is some small case fundy outfit near here that doesn't celebrate with presents, trees or the traditional hiliday bric a brac. Last year I saw a woman I know and one of her grandchildren (involved in this outfit) at the mall, and another acquaintance of hers stopped to talk. This person asked the child (not knowing about the celebratory ban) what he wanted for christmas. The kids face brightened, he was about to answer, and the grandmother, face full of thunder shouted, "You know we're not ALLOWED!"

Given the choice, I much prefer the traditional greeting, no matter how jaded, to the angry "not ALLOWED" since this seems to be more and more the choice in this area.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Well, Bah fuckin' Humbug! Who shoved the Grinch up your ass? Let's see, what other negative Xmas clichés can I paint you with? ;) (And why doesn't Blogger allow smilies?)

What irritates me the most about Xmas is the pure, crass commercialization of the holiday, though even that I have mixed emotions about. Taking the Christ out of Christmas can bring such joy, but do they have to do it in such a tasteless way? How many times must we hear that grandma got run over by a reindeer, or that dogs can actually bark out Jingle Bells?

I actually don't mind the religious aspects of the holiday. I passed a church on the way to work this AM that already had their manger scene up (behind glass now, presumably to discourage vandalism) and while my initial reaction is "balderdash!", since it's not really directed at me, I could care less how they decorate their church grounds. I don't tithe there.

I do tithe (in a manner of coerced speaking) to my government, so while spending paltry sums of money on public Xmas displays bothers me in principal, I can't summon up all that much outrage when the same government is spending $5000 for a Craftsmen wrench, or a toilet, or a billion dollars a day ensuring the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and Americans. Somehow, in comparison, protesting baby jesus indoctrination with tax funds pales.

I have no problem wishing "Merry Christmas" to anyone, and meaning it. Christmas is simply a day, December 25, and I sure hope it's merry for everyone.

BTW, I just bought a pack of Xmas cards that say:


If Life begins at conception...


The why do we celebrate Christmas in December?

If any of you wants to share your name and address with me via my contact page, I'll be happy to send one to you.


Anonymous said...

I also have mixed feelings about Xmas. I love spending time with the family. I don't give a rat's ass about the gifts. I'm glad we can do most of our shopping on the Internet (already done - just awaiting delivery now) because the malls drive me crazy. And I'm not big on parties. I'm pretty introverted, so I prefer a small, intimate gathering with a few close friends and family members to a mad crush with people I barely know.

I anticipate that I will be listening to the Advent sermons with great interest, bemusement and amusement. Last year, I heard two sermons about the Virgin Mary. Both times, even though I was still a Xian, I thought, "You can't seriously believe she was impregnated via some magic holy spirit process." I found those sermons amusing. This year, it will probably be all I can do to keep from laughing out loud and pointing them to the real story behind Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew's mistranslation and misapplication of that verse.

All that said, I love much of the music. I agree with SI that if I never hear about Grandma's reindeer and the barking dogs again, it will be too soon. But the good stuff truly is beautiful. I guess I can enjoy it as mythology, in the same way that I enjoy Wagner's operas.

PhillyChief said...

Well Merry Sargemas!

Look at it this way, it's come full circle. This Jesus cat seems to have not been born on 12/25 anyway according to most theologians (of course I doubt if he was ever born or existed at all, but that's another thing). The christians moved the holiday to take advantage of the pre-existing celebrations of this time. So they usurped the season. Now, at least here in the US, the holiday is purely a celebration of capitalism and silliness like Santa, Frosty, Rudolph and the "warm glow of electric sex in the window". In a sense, the season has been taken back from the usurpers. Let's all revel in that fact. :)

Lynet said...

I'll see you all of the above with regard to the music they play in shopping centres and raise you the ludicrousness of listening to "Frosty the Snowman" and "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" when it's thirty Celsius outside. According to Google, that's 86 Fahrenheit.

On the other hand, one of the things I like best about Christmas is shelling new peas and eating half of them while you do it. So Christmas in summer does have some things going for it.

John Evo said...

I agree with most of the thoughts offered by Exterminator and the rest of you. I think (as Exterminator put so eloquently) that the whole spirit and idea of Christmas, minus Jesus, is a great thing. Don't you wish all of these Christians (and the rest of us as well) could be as nice the rest of the year?

Peace on Earth. Goodwill to (hu)Man(s).

I know when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, they are wishing me well. I appreciate the spirit of that, even if I don't appreciate needing a fantasy to make it all possible.

It's too bad that such a wonderful idea has to be tied in so closely to an imaginary being. That said, I know a lot of us feel the same way and there is comfort in that.

Merry Sargemas to all.

The Exterminator said...

Philly said: Well Merry Sargemas! Have you ever thought about spreading the rumor that your mother was a virgin when you were born?

I'm not a big fan of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" or "Jingle Dogs," but I have about eight hours worth of homemade CDs that contain dozens and dozens of Christmas novelty songs and jazz interpretations of standards and carols, quite a few of which I actually do like. Among my favorite novelties: "Cross-Dressing for Christmas," "We Burned the Christmas Tree," "Christmas Is Coming Twice This Year (Once with Mom and then again with Dad)," and "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus."

Each year, much to my wife's chagrin, I pull out the electronic keyboard. Then I play and sing the most serious Christmas carols set to inappropriate electro-rhythms and tempi. A good time is had by all (well, maybe just me).

Comparing Christmas carols to Wagner's music is a very good analogy for me. When I was growing up in a Jewish neighborhood, both Christmas carols and Wagner were verboten. Christmas songs were all over the place; there was nothing anyone could do to make them go away, even if you wanted to -- which I didn't. Wagner was a no-no in my house; my father held him partially responsible for World War II. I don't know where I first saw that great Bugs Bunny cartoon, "What's Opera, Doc?" but it started me on a lifelong devotion to the Ring Cycle. Still, when I would find myself whistling the "Ride of the Valkyries" (or "Kill de Wabbit" as I knew it), Dad would not be pleased. "That son-of-a-bitch Wagner," he would say, pronouncing the name the way we pronounced our mayor's last name, with the first syllable sounding like something a dog might do with its tail. "He helped killed the Jews, did you know that? And you're whistling that garbage!? I coulda had my head blown off in Europe because of him, so don't be enjoying that crap around me."

On the other hand, one of the things I like best about Christmas is shelling new peas and eating half of them while you do it.
Just like the baby Jesus used to do -- when he wasn't running around with snowmen, reindeer, and elves.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Ah, Yule! Pretty soon and it'll be ours again. I like telling grumpy Fundies to take their god's birthday and put it back in the spring where it belongs and leave the Solstice alone. They're never quite sure what to say. :-)

Also, as long as they keep on having Eid stamps and snow stamps, I don't mind the Xtian ones. Watching them fume that some other religion dares to have a holiday around theirs can be funny, especially if you point out to them how recent Xmas is as a Xtian thing - not to mention that most American Xmas customs were popularized by people like Irving Berlin, trying to get religion right out of it.

I love the whole Yule season. That Xtians want to piggy back on it is understandable. We just can't let them think they own it.

Reason's Whore said...

Did you know Santa Claus may actually have pagan origins? Some religious historians think Norse myths about Odin were conflated with or hijacked by Christian mythologists in the 9th century.

Pretty freaking funny if true.

Also interesting to me are the fundamentalists who object to teaching children the Santa myth because of the obvious clear parallels with their God mythology. They're afraid the children might actually get the idea if the Santa myth is just a myth, what about the Christian myth?

Here in Nor Cal, Santa has been banned in public offices as being "too religious". Can you imagine the teeny tempest that's breaking loose over that? LOL

Oh and for the record, I love the secular aspects of Christmas as well. I'm even pretty okay with the Christian mythology thing, taken purely as an archetypal story. And I love Christmas carols.

Anonymous said...

SARGEmas??!! Jesus Christ!

Well, honestly, I came along in the sixth year of my parents marriage so I doubt any 'virgin' birth allegations would fly, although I think my mother would have preferred the process. The cabbage leaf would have been even more to her taste.

My wife used to think she was adopted or perhaps the virgin birth thesis had some validity in her case when she was a small girl. Her mother was forty five and her father was fifty four when she was born. A friend in school who WAS adopted said her parents would have been too old to adopt, and being a smart and skeptical girl by that time, she wasn't buying into ANYONE being the result of an 'immaculate' conception.

I think that there is an amalgam of stories about Saint Nicholas. The actual bishop of Myra is said to have put sacks of coins through windows into the drying stockings of poor girls...the girls not wearing them, hopefully. Supposedly, this was to perhaps keep them from being sold into prostitution.

I am in correspondence with person in Finnland, and there is, indeed a Norse tie-in. Also, some figure of early christianity is supposed to have helped poor people by dropping goodies of some sort down their chimney holes. My correspondent is a Lapp (Sammi?) and tells me that the dwellings used to have a hole in the roof by which you exited and entered in winter, and they have reindeer which were once used as beasts of burden.

the blogger formerly known as yinyang said...

Aside from the inevitable "war" that happens around this time of year (and they've really come out swinging where I live), Christmas is fine. I think the mystery of the presents is more important than the presents themselves, or at least that's why it's fun for me. And, considering that my family is made up of extremely talented procrastinators, I don't think we could ever be rabid consumerists (which also allows us to avoid the "Merry Christmas" issue almost entirely).

We still do Santa Claus (even though I've known since I was five and my sister's long grown out of it), because it gives us an excuse to talk about our parents in the third person. Plus, my dad has fun with it - he sets up a little toy train track around the tree and has special wrapping paper for gifts from Santa.

Babs Gladhand said...

I agree with everything you said, Ex. I was asked once why, being a hell-bound atheist, I put up a Christmas tree. My answer was, because they're pretty.

Yes, sometimes it really is that simple.

The Exterminator said...

Irving Berlin, a skeptic of Jewish background, wrote "White Christmas," not primarily as a song about the holiday, but as a lament about being in Hollywood instead of New York.

The original opening verse (the tune to which would be totally unrecognizable to most people as the lead-in to the overperformed standard) is sung by hardly anyone nowadays:

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December, the twenty-fourth
And I'm longing to be up north.

I agree that there are parallels between the Santa myth and the Jesus myth. Last year, I wrote about some similarities and differences. If you don't feel like reading through the entire post, I'll quote a few sentences:

To be fair to Santa, though, he actually seems to enjoy his job; god’s not having any fun at all. Santa would dig into a Krissmuhs feast with raucous good cheer; Jesus, his homemade wine notwithstanding, would be a drag to have as a holiday guest. Santa asks no quid pro quo for his gifts; god insists that you worship him or you get zip.

You said, SARGEmas??!! Jesus Christ!
Jesus Christ has nothing to do with it. Unless you've been keeping a big secret.

Does your dad have the train carrying the presents as it goes around the tree? That would really be cool.

Yes, I agree. Trees are pretty, and they smell so gooood. Many years ago, though, I had two cats who decided that the pine odor seemed like a nice "low note" to play against the enticing aroma of pee. All our presents reeked of ammonia.

PhillyChief said...

Hey Sarge, your Finn buddy tell you about the special christmas hunt in Lapland? ;)

Also, I've heard somewhere the Santa story is a cautionary tale, where if you're good you don't have him come visit. If you're bad, he'll either put coal in your stockings or take you away, perhaps to throw you in his stew.

Anonymous said...

In Germany and Holland they have Knecht Ruprecht and/or Schwarz Peter (Oder, vieleicht, Schwarz Tomas?) who are the ones who bring coal or take away the bad kids for a future meal. A bundle of switches is sometimes proffered. When I was a kid living in Mannheim we went down to the xmas market to see Heilige Nikolaus and entourage arrive. He came with assorted henchmen including "Black Tom", and there was a kid about four down from us who was very nervous. It was noticed that Nikolaus had a full sack, but Tom had an empty one, and my parents told me that he was looking to FILL it...with a kid like me. A boy about my age, four down the street, looked awful nervous, and sure as shit, Black Tom zero'd in on him and came with the sack, knowing wicked children when he saw them...and I was one of about twenty who fled shreiking, being wicked children who knew they'd been seen! A German friend told me when I was stationed there as an adult that a lump of coal or ANYTHING burnable would have been welcome in post-war Germany.

My Finnbuddy is a woman in her eighties, and she hasn't told me.

My sons remember this like yesterday. They were hunting for presents, snooping about, and I caught them. They, of course, denied doing anything, but I said that if they wanted to sneak a look at the presents they were hidden in the hall closet, and walked away. My oldest just sighed and opined that no one could ruin ruining christmas like Dad. No, they didn't peek, what would be the fun in that? They both told me it was the meanest thing I ever did to them.

1967 I was in Viet Nam, spent xmas eve on a sniper post. Miserable time, I got down about 0200 xmas morning (I was at an airfield) and was advised to wait for the "Santa-boo". Glad I did.

Ute said...

When my husband and I celebrated our first "christmas" together he was ready to go out and buy a tree the day after Thanksgiving. I asked him if he was out of his mind. In Germany you don't put up your tree until the 24th (and then leave it up until January 7th, which is when the three holy kings come knocking your door with incense and sing songs until you give them money).
So we agreed to put it up on the 15th.

I never really thought anything of saying Merry Christmas. I just said it because what else would I say. I learned about Happy Holidays later. I don't really care what they say to me. I like the spirit of the season, and I will not let something like Merry Christmas or Jesus or whatever ruin it for me. ;)

But, I am ever so glad when it's finally over.

Ute said...

Oh yes, Knecht Ruprecht. I do remember vividly my parents inviting St. Nick to come to our house one December when I was about 8. I didn't believe in St. Nick anymore, but when he marched into our house with his black dress companion Knecht Ruprecht I swallowed pretty hard. He threatened a couple of times with the broom that he brought along... but when St. Nick reached into his sack to give me some goodies, Knecht Ruprecht just put away his broom disappointed.

When they left I saw St. Nicks cowboy boots. :)

Unknown said...

Philosophically, I find the idea of Santa Claus revolting; it’s like adding training wheels to the broken-down bicycle of Christianity.

Brilliant, I love that one.

PhillyChief said...

Well it can also be training wheels for atheists. Eventually every kid sees through the myth. It's certainly logical that a child, once dispelling this fraud, could turn his attention on dispelling other myths. In that respect, Santa rocks! Something to cut your skeptical teeth on.

Anonymous said...

Ute, we used to put out our shoes on 6 Dec. Heilige Nikolaus Tag. My father guessed that I would get a bundle of switches. For some reason I thought that these would be like the track switches for our model railroad. Couldn't figure out why you got such things for being bad. Didn't make a lot of sense.

My youngest son went to German school when we were in Nurnberg, and he got to march in the "Lichtzug". I actually got to be Knecht Ruprecht for when Nikolaus came to his school. The scars on my face helped, but all the kids in his class knew me. The others didn't, though. I confess myself to have felt a guilty pleasure.

In this area (central Pencil Yuckey)they used to do what was called "Bellschnickel"ing. Most German named families trace back to the Rheinland, so I'm guessing it might have come from there. It's like English "Soaling", a mixture of caroling and trick or treating. I've heard it's still done in the Bedford area.

Anonymous said...

The people who ran the bakery on the corner HATED xmas with a passion. Miss Ute might remember such things, but German stoves and ovens not being particularly large as a rule the people in our neighborhood would take their geese to the bakery to be cooked for dinner. That was just the start of the extra work, they had to cool the ovens and then clean them and have a city inspector certify them before they could start baking bread and other commestables. I was told it only took a spoonful of rancid grease to ruin a whole day's baking.

They would spend all of the 25th scrubbing the ovens and kitchen area. Frau Dietl (lady who owned the place) slipped in front of me once. I was the only one in the place at that moment about a week before xmas, and she smiled, said "Frohe Weinacht, Herr Feldwebel...(and added quietly)scheise." I was somewhat shocked, but she apologised, told me it wasn't ME, and what her problem was. Helping them clean got us all kinds of neat stuff.

Anonymous said...

If anyone wishes me Merry Christmas this year, I'll have to kill them.

Just give me the present, shut up, and go away.

And take the music with you.

Aaaarrrgggghhhhhhh! And bah!

John Evo said...

Ric said: "Aaaarrrgggghhhhhhh! And bah!"

Spoken like a Grumpy Lion...

The Ridger, FCD said...

"White Christmas" ain't the only Christmas song Irving Berlin & Co ever wrote, and every last one of them is secular.