Monday, December 22, 2008

Holidays vs Holy Days

Every year we hear the same thing. Christians lamenting the fact that Christ is being left out of Christmas, and even secular people complaining that Christmas has become too commercial. In thinking about this, I've concluded that the problem they are trying to solve is that Christmas is a celebration. It is no longer a holy day, it is a holiday.

Think about it. Holy days should not be celebrated, they should be observed. There is a total contradiction between the notion of celebrating and being holy. Holy men do not party. They don't revel. Not Christian holy men, anyway. Maybe the old pagan ones. To be truly holy in the Christian sense, one's focus must be towards Heaven, and away from all worldly things. Gifts, decorations, and feasts are decidedly worldly. So the reason Christmas has become worldly is because it has become a celebration, a holiday rather than a holy day.

How can we undo that?

The first thing we have to stop is all this gift giving. Giving would be okay, except with so many people giving, there's waaaay too much getting going on: the children, who become selfish little monsters talking about all the presents they're going to get; the merchants who balance up the year's accounts with Christmas sales; and even the adults with their Amazon wish lists. The whole thing is driven by that filthy, evil thing called money. If we can stop the gift giving, the popularity of Christmas would plummet--I mean the celebrating would plummet, not the popularity. It would still be popular. Like Lent.

But before we can achieve that level of purity, we have to get rid of some other things too. We need to stop decking the halls with boughs of holly, putting up mistletoe, and decorating that "Christmas" tree. Those are just leftovers from old pagan celebrations and are not really in keeping with the true meaning of Christmas. They're like those rabbits and eggs at Easter--but that's another post.

That just leaves the Christmas feast. That notorious exercise in gluttony: "Praise the Lord and pass the gravy." Is this a way to observe the birth of a man who commanded us to give our money to the poor and follow him? I would suggest giving our hams to the poor, but that would just start up that whole giving and getting thing again. We don't want the poor to become greedy, or enrich the pig-farmers. Nope, let's play it safe and just give the whole thing up. Have a piece of toast and a glass of water.

All these reforms will really help us get back to the true Christian spirit of Christmas, but I can't help but feel like there's something missing. It could end up being just like any other day, or, if people go to church, then just like any other Sunday. It requires something special to mark it.

Now the Romans, they knew how to keep their holy days. They certainly kept Saturn in the Saturnalia. He was the god famous for swallowing his children as they were born so that they couldn't rise up against him. His wife finally tricked him, feeding him a rock in a blanket so that she could hide Jupiter away on the island of Crete. When Jupiter grew up, he went back home in disguise, gave his father an emetic, and caused him to vomit up all those children. To mark that holy event, the Romans would eat a baby's weight of food, drink a bunch of alcohol, and then stick their finger down their throat and throw it all up. Christians need something like that for Christmas. Not that exact same ritual, of course, which is already reserved for Thanksgiving, but something more Christ-like.

My suggestion would be to remember the holiest of Christian holies--the crucifixion of Jesus--by being crucified. Now, I know that some people already do this for Easter. But many people also do it in a metaphorical way at Christmas, so this would make the connection much stronger for them. As a special thing for Christmas, we could even get the kids involved. We're going to have to do away with those nativity plays, which send a not-so-subtle message about the fun of gift getting, so we can replace them with little crucifixion rituals for the kids.

By universally adopting all these reforms, I believe we can end, once and for all, the greed and crass commercialism that mar the observance of Christmas. We can achieve the day when people no longer wish one another a "merry" Christmas, but a Christmas full of humility, self-abnegation, and martyrdom. Amen.

PS. For those with deficient sarcasm detectors, the above post was written with tongue firmly in cheek.