December 20, 2008

Holiday Xenophilia

The thing I don't get about the War on Christmas hoopty doo--

Let me start by saying that there are plenty of things I do get about it. I get the place it plays in distracting people from their real problems and who created them. I get the formation of group identity (the "persecuted majority") and consolidation of power in the hands of a few people who created the issue they promise to solve. I get that fear = attention = advertising dollars. I get all that.

What I don't get is why anyone is willing to play along when it means narrowing the definition of the holidays.

Much of the richness of the winter holidays is in the variety of traditions one can experience. Just within Christian religious traditions, one finds extended observations such as Advent and brief Christmas Day services. One finds Latin masses at midnight and parents leaving work early to see their kids play stagestruck camels and sheep. Music is provided by pipe organs and massive choirs and folk singers with acoustic guitars.

But it is outside the Christian observances that one finds the wealth of experience that keeps the cold, dark days from being bleak. Lights abound, of course, but they may be faerie lights, plastic figurines, bonfires, candles, oil lamps or even volcanoes. And noise, the joyful noise of fireworks, crackers, ratchets, whistles, horns, drums and blowouts is everywhere.

We must have food and feasting to keep us warm, of course. Will we have goose or lutefisk? Brisket or prime rib? Turkey or curry or spaghetti? Drink wine or cider, mulled or straight? Maybe eggnog? Finish with plum pudding, krumkake, potica, doughnuts, panettone, jalebi, stuffed dates or frosted sugar cookies?

Many of us give gifts. Are they large or small, and how does giving follow patterns of social obligation? Do adults receive presents at all, or are gifts only for the children? And who gives them to the children? Is it only family or some fantastic figure? An overgrown elf, a pagan god or a saint? Male or female, adult or child?

As I was growing up, Santa meant the extra-cool presents in stockings on Christmas Day, after all the family presents were opened. In my husband's stepfamily, Santa comes on Christmas Eve. The children bundle up after dinner and take a walk, watching the sky for Rudolph's nose. Once enough energy has been run off, one of the older children, in on the joke but happy to get out of the house for a bit, points to the red blinking light on an airplane overhead and declares Santa to have been spotted. Back at the house, all the adults have miraculously fallen asleep, and Santa has left oranges and candy in the shoes on the hearth. The fire may now be lit and the big presents opened.

Some people fill their holidays with a mad whirl of concerts and parties. Some spend weeks hardly leaving their kitchens. Some people bring family together to nest, and others take advantage of empty exotic vacation spots. Some shoulder the responsibilities of making tradition for all, and some grasp the opportunity to be children again. Some simply continue about their everyday lives as though the rest of the world weren't going a little mad.

In short, there are as many ways to observe the winter holidays as there are people to do the observing. Why would anyone look at this big, messy time of noise and cheer and decide that only some tiny part of it is real and valid? Why would they use this occasion to separate themselves from their neighbors when they could come together over something as simple as a piece of sweet bread?

No matter who is calling for them to do it, why would anyone turn their backs on a million traditions meant to bring warmth and light and community? Why embrace the dark and the cold?

Why spend your holiday--ultimately--alone?


JLK said...

Awesome post, Stephanie Z. Such great points. And I wish you and yours the happiest HOLIDAYS ever!

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, JLK. Enjoy yours too, to spite Dr. X if nothing else. But please, for your own sake too. :)

Anonymous said...

What I don't get is why anyone is willing to play along when it means narrowing the definition of the holidays.


By the way, I keep asking for Lutefisk but all I ever get is turkey.

Stephanie Zvan said...

"I'd rather own a crumb than share a loaf."


Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

exhibit A.

There is money in anything that people feel strongly about.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Rick, yes, tons of money and tons of authority that can carry over to other "issues."