Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Seven Stupids of Christmas

It’s that time of year again when everyone goes crazy about Christmas. The economic forecast is good. The environmental forecast is devastating. Women are expected to be working extra shifts. We celebrate as if it is the middle of winter. The biggest loser is logic itself.

            1. December 25 is not Jesus’ birthday

Christians will say that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that celebrating him is the ‘true meaning of Christmas’. This doesn’t hold up to examination. There is no historical evidence to support much of the story of the birth of Jesus, which is fine because the story was not supposed to be interpreted literally. Myth is often based on some fact but then moves on. There is nothing in the gospels about Jesus being born in December. In the early Christian communities the birth of Jesus was not celebrated because the story of Jesus’ birth hadn’t started yet. Emperor Constantine, who declared Christianity the official religion for the Roman Empire, declared in 336 AD that December 25 would be celebrated as the birth of Jesus. This was reinforced by Pope Julius I a few years later. If you don’t believe that a Jewish man of Iron Age Judea is your personal saviour, then it doesn’t matter when he was born, or when his birth is celebrated. The first recorded use of the word Christmas was in Old English in 1038 CE. The words ‘true meaning of Christmas’ were first used on the blurb for Dickens’ book ‘A Christmas Carol’.

2. The celebration has pagan roots, and is about winter

We know that Christmas replaced a winter solstice celebration in the Northern Hemisphere. It makes sense to have a festival when winters are cold and long and people are prone to depression. Bringing the branches of evergreen trees inside and having a special meal would help people through the winter. The early Puritan settlers of America banned the celebration of Christmas because of its pagan roots. Why are we decorating everything in fake snow, eating plum pudding and singing about Jingle Bells? Why do we sing carols by candlelight in a heatwave during daylight savings? Celebrating a winter wonderland doesn’t make sense in Australia, where it is hot and we all go swimming.

3. Santa isn’t real

The conspiracy about Santa is deep and broad. Adults behave as if he exists. They talk to children as if Santa really does know if they have been naughty or nice, and that he will sneak into their house at night and leave presents. Shopping malls and the post office are complicit with the lie.

St Nicholas was a priest, and then Bishop, who lived in Asia Minor about 300 CE. He was kind and generous. In the 17th Century Dutch immigrants brought the story of St Nicholas to America. In 1822 the story ‘The Night Before Christmas’ was written. In the 1920s the image of Santa became a jolly fat man wearing a red suit with a white trim. Coca Cola owns the rights to the image of Santa created for their advertising 1931-1964.

The practice of exchanging gifts began in the late 1800s. Christmas became a national holiday in the US in 1870.

4. Santa is bad for parents

Parents have the power to reward and punish children if they choose. They could accept that power rather than defer it to a fictional middle man. It would be honest and transparent and grow trust. Children would know they are dealing with their parents directly.

5. Christmas is bad for women

Christmas is run by women; they do all the work to keep it going. Women put toys on layby mid-year and keep track of gifts the children might like. They organise the food and do the cooking. They organise the relatives and try to make sure everyone is happy for the big day. Expectations are high. This brings into question the unpaid work women do. This is work women could just stop doing. We could give the work of Christmas to men and be happy with receiving gift cards and having a BBQ for lunch. Or we could scale it all down and eliminate the pressures. We could kill off Santa, let children know that their mothers hold the power, and women could accept the credit for the work they do. It makes no sense for women to do the work of gathering gifts and giving the credit to a fictional fat man. Holding on to the idea of Santa and the expectations on women for Christmas works against the goal of gender equality.

6. Christmas is an economic hoax

In Australia we celebrate Christmas as a festival of excess and shopping. Prices are inflated before 25 December and reduced the next day. If the date is not tied to any specific event, why can’t we celebrate when we please?

7. Christmas is bad for the environment

The way we celebrate Christmas has an enormous environmental impact. We spend time shopping, buying gifts packaged in plastic, then wrap them in paper that is bought especially and used once. We buy gifts for people who need nothing new. We buy gifts for people whose houses are filled with clutter. We wrap the biggest thing we have, our houses, in Christmas lights.

It makes no sense to save energy, to reduce, reuse and recycle for eleven months of the year, and then create enormous amounts of waste in celebrating Christmas. If an evil villain wanted to trick us into destroying the planet, slowly but surely, he would invent Christmas the way we celebrate it now.

We can celebrate when we like and how we like

Christmas today can bee seen as a celebration of friends and family. It can be valued as a time of economic upturn. It can be seen as a festival of excess and waste.

The broader question might be whether Christmas should be a public holiday. To accommodate people of all religious beliefs and none, perhaps we should no longer assume that everyone celebrates Christmas in the traditional way. We could be more flexible in choosing our holidays.
Now that we have critical thinking as a general capability in the National Curriculum, we should expect that our traditions will be challenged. They should be challenged. Is doing something on the basis of tradition a good enough reason? In a hundred years how will people look back on us today and regard our celebration of Christmas? Is our celebration of Christmas something you could explain to an alien and hope to be considered an intelligent being? Christmas does not have one true meaning. The meaning is constructed, contested, and shifting. We should be challenging ourselves to celebrate according to our values, the values we claim to be protecting from terrorists.