Belated Christmas-rhetoric post: Keep [?] in Christmas

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.


5 responses to “Belated Christmas-rhetoric post: Keep [?] in Christmas

  • Siggy

    I remember some years ago I was researching consumerism for a post (link), and I was surprised how many people arguing from an anti-consumerist perspective were coming from an explicitly Christian perspective. I guess it’s kind of a buzzword among Christians. Most of the arguments they come up with aren’t persuasive from a secular perspective–like, I don’t think it’s bad at all if people put more focus on material goods rather than on God. But there are plenty of secular arguments against consumerism that they could have used instead. Like status goods, they are a waste of resources and clearly don’t benefit society at all.

    • Coyote

      Oh. Yeah, it’s… a thing. You were raised among churchy folk iirc so I’m surprised you were surprised. The parts in your linked post cover some of it, but another part of it (in my experience) feeds into the more general Christian criticism of selfishness, which is more what I had in mind when writing here.

      • Siggy

        They weren’t that churchy, but yeah I just thought everyone talked about materialism and consumerism, the same way that people talk about putting facebook down and talking to the person in front of you.

        IMO status goods are a quintessential form of selfishness, since status can only be gained relative to other people. Then there are other kinds of consumer goods like chocolate, which is pleasurable even if everyone has an equal amount of chocolate. Since buying chocolate can bring yourself pleasure maybe some Christians would consider it selfish. But I feel like we really need to distinguish different types of selfishness.

        Status goods are also a good argument for society-wide intervention. If wealthy people are wasting their extra money on status goods then they should be happy about everyone being taxed, since that doesn’t really affect their positional status in society.

  • Zoaea

    Hum, I’m a bit tired so forgive me if I read you wrong (I also have language processing issues which worsen with exhaustion) /end disclaimer

    My bent on it was similar but also different. It’s not so much that spending money on yourself or family is a sin, so much as, do you stop and think about things you can do or buy for others you don’t even know.

    I’m guilty of this this year. I spent about 1k on my child, husband and I this year and by the time I was done I hadden’t spent a single dollar on charity. =[ Mind you it had been my goal to do so, I just failed.

    Additionally, I grew up as one of 6 children to a mother that went from 100k career to blind and on wellfare. I remember both Christmas with piles of toys I begged for, and getting a 20$ gift from the community toy drive and some clothes bought by those little cards posted on trees (you know what I mean, like it will say “13yr, girl, size 14”). And Christmas dinner was from a basket handed out from the food drive. When I was poor, those gifts of generosity meant more to me than the huge pile of toys I used to get. :X so next year I’m determined to spend 700$ on other family and then get each of us one nice gift we’ve been hoping on.

    Oh and I always thought it was wierd how we take pagan holidays and just re name then, but still keep the fairy light, bunnies, trees and ECT to them all.

    • Coyote

      “My bent on it was similar but also different. It’s not so much that spending money on yourself or family is a sin, so much as, do you stop and think about things you can do or buy for others you don’t even know.”

      That’s the much more individual approach again which is worthwhile but not what I’m on about.

      While we’re here, though, it occurs to me that you seem to be using “others you don’t even know” as (possibly?) a stand-in for “people with less access to material resources than yourself,” in which case, it’s worth questioning why your life (and many of our lives) are stratified that way.

      “I’m guilty of this this year. I spent about 1k on my child, husband and I this year”

      That’s almost a month’s wages for me.

      Not really sure what the point of this confessional was tbh. I’m not going to comfort you, it’s not comforting to me, and it’s not like I needed an example to explain to me that sometimes people spend a lot of money on people w/in their intimate circle without giving as much to charity, so… if you need to vent about that kind of thing, I’d prefer you didn’t do that here specifically.

      “Oh and I always thought it was wierd how we take pagan holidays and just re name then, but still keep the fairy light, bunnies, trees and ECT to them all.”

      It’s for forcing the assimilation process.

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