Here is an excerpt from a short piece I wrote for the now defunct Culture 11 last December and that has been generously reprinted by our friends over at The New Atlantis.
It’s impossible to ignore all the characteristic signposts of the Christmas season—wherever you go the familiar sights and sounds are unmistakably evocative of the winter holiday. Our malls, shops, houses, television stations and radio airwaves are all transformed into vehicles of celebration making the eagerly anticipated holiday easy to embrace but impossible to escape. The inclusiveness and secularism of our nation is challenged by the ubiquity of Christmas—it’s hard to suppress the central facts that Christmas is about Christ and that not all Americans are Christians. This means that the resistance of Christmas to any secular interpretation that de-privileges the claim Christians have on it is evidence of a fundamental weakness in the modern liberalism that underwrites our foundational premises. Christmas is everywhere in America but it is not simply American—it can’t really be for everyone unless we’re all Christians or being American has something to do with the essential teachings of Christianity.
The third option, of course, is that we attempt to reduce Christmas to a generic seasonal holiday—essentially taking the Christ out of Christmas—so that it manages to avoid giving offense to those who might feel excluded or otherwise pressured to conform to a religious tradition that is not their own. This typically involves strictly policing the language we use to discuss the holiday—children in grade school are often told to refer to a Christmas tree as a holiday tree, or are forbidden to sing or play songs that explicitly refer to Christ, or encounter prohibitions against any decorative display that unambiguously qualifies as religious imagery. The strange, motivating pedagogical insight here seems to be that even the most entrenched conceptual paradigm can be washed away with the judicious exchange of euphemisms—we can replace Christ with Santa just as we can replace pious worship with frenetic shopping. After all, we got class prayer out of public schools. In fact, is often remarked at this time of the year that the mass commercialization of Christmas seems nearly complete and the true meaning of the holiday is irrevocably lost even for those who most vehemently object to its secular incarnation.
Read more over at The New Atlantis….
Merry Christmas everyone!