Christmas: Whose Tradition Is it?
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
“This is not what Christmas is all about,” a faithful man lamented over a cup of spiked eggnog, surrounded by holiday-inspired revelers. “It’s not about Santa Claus and gaudy trees and Ultimate Wall-Es. It’s about God’s son, his precious baby boy and the joy he brought into the world.” And the man absolutely knows this to be true.
Interesting, though, there is nowhere in the Bible — certainly nothing attributed to the Christ child, nothing offered up secondhand or even thirdhand — that indicates Jesus said, “Yo, folks, in years to come I think it appropriate that you celebrate my birthday. December of the forthcoming Gregorian calendar feels like a good month; 25 was always one of my favorite numbers. So, so be it — and have at it. Just don’t forget why you’re getting all those swell gifts; they’re to remind you of me. That little lace number from the paramour? Think of my dear virginal mother who bore me. Those CDs? Don’t forget the heavenly host singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ that Luke will report after my passing. Keys to a shiny new car with a big bow around it? Remember the three magi hiking a beeline for Bethlehem.”
Nope, it didn’t happen that way. Indeed, as far as reportedly divine inspiration indicates, Jesus Christ never said a word about recognizing his DOB. What messiah would? Surely they have bigger and better messages to purvey and more humble concerns — the hungry and persecuted for instance — than to be proposing future celebrity roasts for themselves.
In fact, Christmas’ roots are entangled more in a bureaucratic reaction of the medieval Christian church to those nasty pagan celebrations of the winter solstice than in any Judaic tradition. And, before Charles Dickens did his bit to promote the concept of giving at Christmas, such celebrations were actually shunned by the pre-industrial age Christian elite.
It took Dickens’ social justice novella, “A Christmas Carol” — a treatise that remains one of the best bits of political propaganda in recorded history — to rock the egocentric foundations of burgeoning capitalism in the mid-19th century to the point that its movers and shakers tripped over each other in the slums of London to find recipients of their newly invigorated sense of benevolent generosity.
In an interesting 21st century spin on the joy of giving, the Bush administration is now wrapping up a $17.4 billion gift for the derelict U.S. auto industry, and President-elect Barack Obama’s economic team has a bright red sack filled with $850 billion worth of packages for other needy and ailing institutions.
Well, it is the season of generosity and those tax dollars are surely given with a great deal of faith in their being put to good use. But it doesn’t take an economic disaster or a revolutionary fairytale or a born-again epiphany to awaken that giving spirit. Indeed, even nonbelievers enjoy the pleasures of sharing the goodies they have, for it is the warmth of tokens of tender affection, it is giving to people with less, pausing to remember those you adore that lend Christmas its poignance for many who witness the celebration, regardless of faith. This holiday now belongs to anyone who would claim it. And, were Christ still walking the earth, I imagine he’d be giving and receiving right along with the rest of us heathens, although it’s unlikely Ultimate Wall-E would be on his gift list.
So, as is my wont on Christmas, I will sit before the fireplace, sipping something surely of the Devil, and I’ll shed a tear for those no longer in reach of my embrace; I will revel in the joy of my lovely daughter and husband, my precious family and the intimates who grant such unexpected pleasures to my existence; and I will thank the Goddess that, despite the god-awful economy, I still have a few bucks left to put in the Salvation Army pot and buy those I love some heartfelt baubles.
©2008 Kit-Bacon Gressitt
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.)