Don’t Bogart Christmas

Go Away, Sourpuss Religious Zealots

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
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Most Californians don’t know from snow. We have no idea what it’s like to shovel a driveway, or awake to white-blanketed landscapes, or bundle up and stroll through frosty flurries (See? Frosty flurries — are those even a thing?). But we sing about it all just the same. Come December, we croon about sleigh bells and winter wonderlands and glistening treetops with all the enthusiasm of people who know what the flake they’re warbling about.

Starshine Roshell

What I love best about this lyrical-geographical incongruity is that no one seems to care. People in nippy climes don’t ask us West Coasters to pipe down and stop singing about something we don’t — and frankly can’t — fully appreciate.

“Hey!” they don’t say. “Quit your convivial yodeling, and do some personal precipitation research!” It matters not to folks in icy Buffalo, New York, or glacial Grand Rapids, Michigan, whether our musical merriment is based in experience or willful ignorance. Whatever jingles your bells, man!

Why then — and you knew I was going somewhere with this, right? — should sourpuss religious zealots give a holly heck how the rest of us celebrate Christmas?

There’s a small, churlish contingent of Christians who spend the holiday season writing letters to newspapers insisting that the only legitimate cause for celebration this time of year is the miracle in the manger — and boycotting businesses who dare to offer customers an inclusive “happy holidays” rather than a decisive “merry Christmas.”

The Liberty Counsel legal organization spurs some of this. Flinging catchy slogans like “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the group warns of a “war on Christmas,” runs a “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” sells a set of bumper stickers called the “Help Save Chrismas pack” (their spelling, not mine; how about we put the T back in Christmas first, guys?), and urges Yuletide crusaders to contact big, mean, scary retailers like Mrs. Fields cookies “to encourage more promotion of ‘Christmas’ and less use of the words holiday and winter.”

All of which really rattles my antlers. By all accounts, Jesus was a very cool dude. And who doesn’t love a birthday bash with lots of … you know … myrrh? But there are as many bona fide reasons for year-end revelry as there are needles on a Christmas tree.

In fact, let’s start with that. Many of the symbols we associate with Christmas are actually pagan traditions that predate Christianity. Thousands of years ago, Babylonians, Romans, and Northern Europeans whooped it up at December’s end by feasting, giving gifts, caroling, kissing under mistletoe, and even — stop me if you’ve heard this one — bringing evergreen trees indoors. (Easter is also pagan in origin, named for the goddess Eostre; how come we don’t see “Put Eostre back in Easter” bumper stickers?)

It’s no coincidence that all this cross-cultural, multi-millennial merrymaking takes place at year’s end, in the dark of winter. No matter what our faith, we crave the deep breath that the holiday season permits: The stock-taking, the work-stopping, the reconnecting. The indulgence in food, in sparkle, in silence. The acts of kindness. The honoring of traditions — yours, theirs, mine, every weird one of them.

The holiday season is an interpretive dance. Watch as every sort of person takes their leap of faith and alights upon Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or Humanlight, a secular new festival honoring reason, compassion, and hope. And hallelujah to those, huh?

There’s still much I don’t understand about this time of year. I don’t know what bells on bobtails are. Or herald angels. Or figgy pudding. But I like to sing about ’em all. To me, the best thing about the season is how everyone wants to be a part of it, and finds their own reasons to support it. That’s the miracle.

Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

A very merry Christmas to all. Forgive me for not chiming in with "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" but I'm trapped in midwest hell and miss SB passionately.

winddancer1562 (anonymous profile)
December 19, 2012 at 5:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Pew study shows:
'No Religion' Is World's Third-Largest Religious Group After Christians, Muslims

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
December 19, 2012 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

To devote such energy to an what you admit are a small group of people makes we wonder if the phrase "the lady doth protesteth much" doesn't apply here.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
December 19, 2012 at 6:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I relate to your sentiment regarding the end of December holidays 100%. I was raised Catholic and my family celebrated a good old fashioned American/German/Irish Christmas every year. I carried those traditions over to my family and melded them into the traditions of my wife's family. We raised our children without religion but put on a full Christmas celebration (and and Easter one) every year. We could call it Solstice or Saturnalia, but why do so when Christmas seems to serve just as well. Merry Christmas everyone. Thanks Starshine for the insightful and concise article.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
December 19, 2012 at 8:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Eckermann, I too was raised Roman Catholic from a Polish, English and Irish background. We had mangers, celebrate the wise-guys showing up called little christmas but as I have ventured toward the East Coast and shocked my nieghbors by sweeping powder snow off the porch in shorts,hawaiian camp shirt, and flip-flops, I have lessened the practices and feel ill about the exclusiviness of Christmas not acknowledging hanukkah. So I have dropped off the map so to speak when celebrating Christmas, its more of a personal and intimate celebration of my religion and faith, not to be over done in advertisements and shopping sales, money on expensive toys and gadgets which in a months time will break or be replaced by the I-something. I still play old-time christmas music, wear a festive tie and drink my sugar-free eggnog but I don't even attend church anymore cause that's when the True Catholics come out (and Easter too), once or twice a year to show everyone how full of themselves they are and rightous they are, so a little pray at bed time, a card to my honey and a long sleep in on the christmas; then back to work for, "The Man" the next day.
Thanks Starshine for the Insight!

dou4now (anonymous profile)
December 20, 2012 at 11:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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