American Consequences - December 2018

can ever suggest, no matter how awesome the Black Friday bargains are. "Anything that distracts us from the deeper and richer truth," says the pious objector, "probably isn’t worth celebrating." And yet, and yet... surely this isn’t the whole story. Think of the attempts that have been made to banish the celebration of Christmas since it became so central to the liturgical calendar a millennium ago. One of the first official acts of Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans, having seized power from English royalty, was to make the celebration of Christmas illegal. A Puritan pamphleteer called it “the Profane Man’s Ranting Day, the Superstitious Man’s Idol Day, the Multitudes’ Idle Day, Satan’s Working Day, the True Christian Man’s Fasting Day.” The Christian way to mark Christmas was to assume a gloomy countenance and wait for the terrible day to pass like a winter squall. “No one thing more hinderest the Gospel work all the year long, than doth the observation of that Idol Day once in a year.” A century later, the rigid, leftist Jacobins of the French Revolution again tried to dismantle Christmas. They were working from the other end of the religious spectrum, obviously. Still, they disliked Christmas for the same reason the Puritans did: people were having too much fun with it. In its essence, Christmas celebrates a very particular event, situated strictly in time and place. The Christmas baby was born in an identifiable year to flesh-and-blood parents in an actual village ruled by a named official of the Roman empire. It was the particularities that frightened the Jacobins, who much preferred

entertainment channels on TV and online (Rudolph, Charlie Brown, the Grinch), and overwhelming the car radio with all- Christmas – or all-Exmas – stations that nowadays commence their programming to coincide with Halloween. Secularized and commercialized, Exmas is what inspires someone to say “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Exmas has given us joyless “holiday parties” at the workplace and “winter festivals” instead of the grade school Christmas pageants of mid-twentieth century America. The enemies of Christmas, historically, have always been utterly humorless in this way – completely lacking in levity, mistrustful of human spontaneity and liveliness. There are good arguments against the commercialization of Christmas, of course. Exmas is a knockoff – a simulacrum of the real thing. An Exmas card showing a group of carolers or cozy cottages draped in snow or a family clustered ‘round the Christmas tree are two or three times removed from Christmas. They are celebrating the celebration. The cause for celebration is itself far offstage. You can forgive Christians for thinking their understanding of Christmas as a religious observance – an observance, moreover, resting on the dazzling paradox that the Creator of the universe came to Earth as a baby born in a barn – is richer and deeper than mere Exmas


December 2018

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