Hm, okay. Here’s a thought I’ve been having. Even though it’s January now, a lot of people still have Christmas decorations up, right, and the other day while driving through an unfamiliar part of town I passed a church(?) with a big ol’ “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner, and that reminded me of my whole… perspective, on… that.
Which is: “Keep Christ in Christmas” advocacy is a lot like certain conservatives’ mistrust of the government, in that it’s got maybe a kernel of something fair/good/justified being overwhelmingly warped and manipulated toward bad-to-worse ends.
I know the audience of this blog, so I don’t feel the need to dive into why “Keep Christ in Christmas” rhetoric is silly. It’s silly. And with that being said (that it is silly), there is something interesting about the different ways that the meaning of Christmas is culturally contested in my part of the world. So I’m going to talk about this part of that for a bit.
“Keep Christ in Christmas” is reacting to something, and the way it frames that “something” is in terms of “secularism” and “materialism” and “consumerism” taking over, just painting it as a matter of individual human selfishness, which–
This is actually one of my big breaks in recent years with the kind of Christian thought I was raised in, which generally approaches mass societal problems as just a big bundle of individual petty shortcomings, issues that can only be approached on an individual basis. And its outlook on how to do that is by encouraging people to become Christian or behave more Christian-ly, where being Christian here is defined mostly just by like… obeying the ten commandments, and going to church service on Sundays, and verbally praising God.
What I’m tempted to say, here, is that the “consumerism” criticism of the American Christmas ritual doesn’t go “far enough,” which… actually, would be me putting this all into far too linear of terms. Mapping this all onto a single-axis straight line isn’t necessarily appropriate or accurate. Rather, what I mean is… When I’ve sat in on sermons about “consumerism” and selfish superficiality and the elevation of getting “stuff” (above and beyond what is needed) as a priority, it feels like something is missing from the whole conversation, a question being neglected. Which would be: yes, and why? The traditional Christian answer here I think is “sin,” which, sure, but why? Why these sins, in these particular ways? What factors in to the specifics of why people sin in the way that they do? What are we doing to create and contribute to creating those circumstances for each other? What motivates people? “Sin” is not an elucidating answer to that.
For instance, to boil this down into something excessively simple, for illustrative purposes: What are some of the reasons people buy stuff they don’t need? The persuasion of advertising. Why do people make advertisements? Because they’re hired to. Why do people hire them to? To sell more stuff. Why do people try to sell more stuff? For profit. So why doesn’t everyone else (not directly profiting as shareholders or heads of the company) simply quit in moral protest? Because they need jobs. Why do people need jobs? Because they need money. Why do people need money? Because money buys food and shelter. And on and on, until you’ve mapped a picture of an entire economic incentive structure, a bigger picture of a big ol’ sin machine that creates a driving force behind a lot of what’s wrong with society. Then you can really get at something substantial.
If someone wants to object to how my culture handles the whole Christmas thing, I say: fair. And if part of their objection is on Christian religious grounds, I say: fair. And if that objection is that we’re not keeping “Christ” in Christmas, then… that’s one way of putting it — while another way of putting it is a difference of perspective on what “Christ” and “Christmas” even mean.
For one thing, Christmas is not an originally Christian holiday — its name is Christian, but the whole idea of celebrating sometime around the winter solstice and decorating a tree or whatever, that ain’t started with Christianity. But my thoughts here aren’t just a historical argument about how “keeping” Christ in Christmas has actually been a centuries-old project of introducing Christ into Christmas. Whatever. Put that on the shelf a sec. [edit: I’m stealing Rowan’s post and linking it here]. More importantly, in my thoughts here, I think there’s a lot of different ways you can interpret putting “Christ” in Christmas because there’s a lot of different ways (right or wrong) that you can interpret Christ. And as long as attention is being directed specifically to the implications of Christ with regards to materialism, economic behavior, selfishness, and greed, i.e. putting love of “stuff” over relational “love” for thy neighbor, there is cowardice in any criticism that stops short of pointing to capitalism as the ultimate manifestation of that.