Friday, January 06, 2006

What does Bill O'Reilly and the Bald Mary Have in Common?

I'd like to begin by calling Bill O'Reilly a huge fool.

Having said that, it turns out that O'Reilly and I independently observed the same cultural phenomena and kind of..., sort's hha..hard for me to say this…*some water please* agree.

I went to this poetry reading in 2005, and the host wished us a hearty "Merry X'mas!" before laughing and saying, "oh wait, sorry..I mean Happy Holidays!" I laughed, everyone did. It snuck up on me. This new rule. And it helped me put my finger on exactly what has been irritating me this season with the santa and elf symbolism plastered all over the place. Along with being a wonderfully effective marketing conduit, Santa also works to dilute the religiousity inherent in Christmas. Christmas is about family, santa, gifts, lights, trees, red and green. Which is all good and fine, but what happened to Jesus, and Mother Mary and the manger with the three wise men? Isn't there something insincere about bleaching out Christianity from Christmas in the name of inclusion, and then going ahead and making it this huge national holiday that effects everyone regardless of whether you celebrate it or not? Or is it because it makes people uncomfortable to talk about Jesus on Christmas? Are these people aware that we are celebrating his birthday and not some guy climbing down our chimney?

It also serves as a classic example of how uneasy America continues to be about cultural and religious diversity. It continues to operate on an old model that calls for mixing everything together, so that whatever comes out is cute and acceptable and everyone can claim as their own since it belongs to no one. Diversity can be upsetting, it can feel intrusive and can make you feel excluded. But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing, or that you can't learn from it. God forbid we have the same level of enthusiasm and pride for Ramzan Id or Diwali or Kwanzaa, those are ethnic holidays, celebrated by ethnic people. For all of its rich cultural diversity, America still hasn't quite gotten the hang of celebrating differences. Of allowing for uncomfortable contradictions in its cultural landscape. Maybe I can blame capitalism for this too. What if you were Sears or Kmart and were trying to boost your sales during Christmas. Why would you want to limit it to just the Christians? Sure makes sense to try and sell it to the Muslims, the Jews, and those Hindus. Or maybe there's a less cynical explanation. Maybe people are genuinely trying to include everyone during the holidays, and it doesn't feel like inclusion if you wish someone Merry Xmas and that someone don't Xmas. Perhaps.


Blogger munkey t. cat said...

Capitalistic forces drive much of what is collectively referred to as the "holiday spirit" and furthermore, whats really noteworthy is that I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurace by switching to geico! ;) Happy New Year!

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:43 PM  
Anonymous Wyatt said...

O'Reilly would not stand, though, for making Christmas a purely ethnic holiday. O'Reilly would have everybody celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday--he wants businesses to be mandated to wish Merry Christmas not only to Christians but also to Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and most of all to secularists. On that I assume you disagree with him? Also, don't forget the secularists, the millions of cultural Christians to whom Christmas equally belongs, but who may not want its religious imagery constantly force-fed down their throats--they deserve consideration too. I don't believe that diluting the religiosity of Christmas represented any kind of awkward attempt to nationalize an ethnic holiday upon a diverse country. Rather, Christmas existed as a national holiday here long before diversity was even a consideration. And if we accept that Christmas will maintain its position as the centerpiece of all American holidays, I think diluting its religious tone by secularizing it with Santa and Rudolph is a natural, reasonable, and palatable way of dealing with America's increasing diversity.

2:30 AM  
Blogger Sony Pony said...

Wyatt: I have a few questions. What is a cultural Christian, exactly? What does "making something an ethnic holiday" mean? While I am unsure about the former, I am guessing "ethnic holiday" to you means anything that isn't white, European and within the Judeo-Christian tradition. I understand that Christianity has been a national holiday long before diversity was a consideration. What I meant is that our culture mandates us to be politically correct about Christmas by wishing everyone "happy holidays", which is somehow supposed to stand in for equality. We, "ethnic people",are supposed to be grateful to this inherently hollow statement on representation. Christmas isn't about Santa, it's overtly and explicitly about Jesus. If there are "cultural christians" or anyone else that have problems with this, then they shouldn't be celebrating Christmas. It would be like celebrating Diwali, but keeping out the Ramayana out of it. Or Ramzan Id, but let's not mention Muhammed. If they find it unpalatable, it is because it remains sadly unimaginable in this country to celebrate religions and holidays that we ourselves don't subscribe to. That is what I mean by this uneasy quesiness that America still handles diversity with.

While I don't think anyone should be mandated to say or do anthing, I do beleive this cultural phenomena of wishing people "happy holidays" isnteand of merry x'mas is ridiculous, small-minded, and ultimately reduces real dialogure to semantics and rhetoric.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Wyatt said...

By cultural Christian I was referring to anyone raised in the tradition of Christianity who doesn't hold its religious beliefs. People who may or may not have been raised going to church, but who celebrate Christmas and Easter, are familiar with the Bible, and feel that their history is rooted in Christianity, even though they may not believe that Christ is the son of God or that he was crucified to save humanity from its sins. For this kind of cultural Christian, and I am one, Christmas is still a cherished holiday, not because it celebrates the birth of Christ, but because it celebrates family; community; giving and receiving—that is, altruism, charity, and thankfulness; artistic expression; the delightful traditions of caroling, decorating, baking, candle lighting, storytelling. I would not deny or change that Christ’s birth is the central myth of Christmas, in fact I celebrate that as well, but I also enjoy the myths/stories of Santa and Rudolph, of elves, of the Nutcracker, and many more. It’s not that I want to remove the religious imagery from Christmas; I just resent when that imagery is displayed in a righteous way, as if to say that my interpretation and experience of Christmas is less valid than the purely religious one.

By ethnic holiday, I simply meant a holiday for a particular ethnic/religious group—Christians in this case—as opposed to a national holiday, celebrated by everyone in the country. That’s how I thought you were using it in your post. My point was that O’Reilly does not wish Christmas to be a Christian holiday only—he wishes it to be a national holiday celebrated by all and sponsored by the government. O’Reilly’s “Merry Christmas” insinuates: I don’t know or care if you are Christian, but this is America g********, Christianity is our religion and Christmas is our biggest holiday, so you will humor me in recognizing it. Of course, it is only when you wish somebody Merry Christmas in protest of Happy Holidays that this malignant tone emerges. When most people wish others Merry Christmas they simply wish to share the joy of the holiday, and except when uttered on Christmas Day itself, more generally the joy of the holiday season. Happy Holidays accomplishes the same objective, less specifically, but carrying an added message of consideration: since I don’t know whether you are Christian and celebrate Christmas, Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah, East Asian and celebrate New Year’s, or belong to some other group that celebrates something else, I will well-wish in a general way so as to convey that I want you to be happy these holidays however you find that meaningful. (It also acknowledges that for most Americans the winter holiday season consists of both Christmas and New Year’s, and in that sense it has existed as a perfectly benign greeting for years before the current concerns.) In this spirit of consideration and unassumingness, the greeting is not ridiculous or small-minded at all. The recipient of “Happy Holidays” is not supposed to feel grateful—the gesture was not inconvenient to the speaker—he or she is simply supposed to understand that the wisher recognizes he or she may not be Christian. Of course, a danger also exists with Happy Holidays—choosing it pointedly over Merry Christmas adds an ultimately condescending air of self-conscious magnanimity. Alas, perhaps both greetings are ruined, and our cultural war has claimed more casualties.

Ideally people should use whichever phrase feels most natural to them, or suits their meaning best at the time. Happy Holidays evolved naturally and spontaneously in our language to meet a particular need, not through a forced movement of political correctness, and we certainly do not need O’Reilly to rip it from our vocabularies. As for me, I may be coming around to you in agreeing that the most generous expression of holiday joy is one of invitation and inclusion. Where Happy Holidays apologetically seeks to avoid imposition, Merry Christmas shares the joy, wrapping its subject in a great big warm bear-hug. That’s probably worth a little bit of risk. :)

10:14 PM  

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