The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Ho-ho, Ho

December 4th, 2003 · No Comments · culture, media, ritual

Every year around this time, you can count on more than a few self-righteous individuals to start complaining that the ‘real meaning of Christmas (TM)’ has been subverted in our rush to consumerism, hedonism, gluttony, and general frivolity. Cal Thomas penned just such a rant a few days ago. [My apologies for the link, it may only be good for a week or two.] I’m sure he won’t be alone.

I understand the feeling that there should be more spirituality in the world in general, and that if more people expressed love and generosity rather than selfishness and greed, that this world would probably be a better place. But I really start to squick when folks start harping that the “original meaning” of Christmas has been lost because the Christian nativity myth is ignored, or worse — when elements from the Passion mythos are used in Christmas decoration. Ho, ho, ho: holiday and cheer around this festively lit instrument of torture and death! Ha, ha, ha; hee, hee, hee: let’s celebrate the birth of someone we’ll symbolically kill in four months! Squick.

Of course, the “original meaning” of Christmas is the feasting, the gifts, the revelry! Of course, it wasn’t called “Christmas” then, but “Saturnalia”, but it was a winter solstice party that lasted for a week and everyone would try to be nice to everyone else. It was only later, when the Church figured out that it couldn’t prevent this ancient celebration, that the Church co-opted it! They gave it a new name and a mythic rationale, and scheduled a special midnight mass so the revelry wouldn’t go all night. (Among biblical scholars, it’s widely recognized that the nativity tale described in the Bible would had to have occurred in the Spring, not the Winter, making the celebration of the nativity at the start of Winter an obvious sham.)

It’s my running thesis that the reason the Church has lost its relevance in modern society is because it fails to provide practical instruction for life in its headlong rush to salvage the piety of its timeworn symbology. This insistence that the “real meaning” of Christmas is somehow tied to an officially sanctioned myth or an officially provided ceremony when the life affirming activities of celebration, feasting, and exchanging gifts are condemned sends a clear message that the institution is more important than the people. In one sense, going to a church to find spirituality is a lot like going to a 7-Eleven for a good meal: you can get something to eat, but it’ll cost a lot more than it’s worth, and you’d be better off just making something yourself at home.