Christmas season is making me tired.
Every year, I get tired of hearing jaunty, NutriSweet-y jingles that sound like they’re sung by Hello Kitty touted as “Chrismas Carols” and played earlier and earlier in the fall. “Here Comes Santa Claus” on November 11 — it’s a revolting enough song if you have to hear it once. But do we really need to endure this particular brand of nausea for a full six or seven weeks?
And I’m just as tired of hearing Fox News announcers sound more and more shrill each year as they hammer on a War on Christmas allegedly waged by militant secularists, atheists and other non-real-American types. Fox’s usual targets are schools, city halls or shopping malls that decide not to put up a manger scene this year or even just ordinary people who dare to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
For years I tried to ignore this tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
But this year, after pondering the role of consumerism in climate change and energy depletion, I’m starting to get a bit frothy myself about the way America does Christmas.
A war on the values of Jesus
If you care about the environment, you don’t have to be a Christian to admire the lessons and example of Christ in simple living that is equally compassionate towards humans as to animals and all the rest of creation. For my part, I’ve long been disgusted by the whole mad dash to buy and consume in the name of Jesus — using Him as an excuse to do pretty much the opposite of what He stood for.
So it’s easy to agree with Christian progressive Jim Wallis that, if there really is a war on Christmas, the aggressor is and always has been an unholy trinity of commercialism, bigotry and jingoism. And further, that these days, Fox News itself is leading the attack:
The real Christmas announces the birth of Jesus to a world of poverty, pain, and sin, and offers the hope of salvation and justice.
The Fox News Christmas heralds the steady promotion of consumerism, the defense of wealth and power, the adulation of money and markets, and the regular belittling or attacking of efforts to overcome poverty.
The real Christmas offers the joyful promise of peace and the hope of reconciliation with God and between humankind.
The Fox News Christmas proffers the constant drumbeat of war, the reliance on military solutions to every conflict, the demonizing of our enemies, and the gospel of American dominance.
The real Christmas lifts up the Virgin Mary’s song of praise for her baby boy: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”
The Fox News Christmas would label Mary’s Magnificat as “class warfare.”
Do it for the kids
The worst part of turning the man who upended the tables of the moneylenders into an excuse to get 35% off of all housewares now through Sunday and enjoy 90 days same as cash is that parents so often overspend at Christmas to show their love for their children.
Even if you’re one of those militant secularists so reviled on “Fox and Friends,” if you worry about the future of civilization in an economy that’s stopped growing and will never grow again, you should also worry about the effect of the real war on Christmas on our kids.
As today’s Great Recession likely extends into what James Howard Kunstler has dubbed The Long Emergency, young people will be tried and tested as has no generation in hundreds of years. Raised in a world of material excess rising to a Caligulan-level of bread-and-circuses, too many kids now text their way through the day in a multi-player virtual world of mobile devices and WiFi good times.
We’ve prepared our young people very poorly for a downsized and hardscrabble economy where they will have to create their own livelihoods by starting businesses, inventing their own jobs and generally chopping their own wood and carrying their own water.
Yet, soon, the brittle and frivolous dreams about their futures that we’ve encouraged kids to cherish will be shattered on the hard rock of economic distress.
College grads are already hearing the wake-up call, with 53% jobless or underemployed. Disappointment will set in as the prestigious careers those grads expected in investment banking, software design and in the perennial TV favorites of trial law and surgical medicine, dry up. Meanwhile, next month they’ll need to start paying off $35,000 in student loans from the $350 a week they make delivering pizzas for Papa John’s.
This isn’t how things were in Gray’s Anatomy or Law and Order SVU. And BTW, where are all the presents that used to be under the tree on Christmas morning?
Merry freakin’ Christmas.
Just imagine the impact on social order of millions of disappointed young people who are angry that the life they were promised has been snatched away from them and that all the toys their parents had encouraged them to long for every year starting on October 15 are now out of reach on December 25 or any other day.
If the rest of us are lucky, pissed off and underemployed young people will satisfied by Occupying Everything and will learn that happiness doesn’t come from stuff.
If we’re not so lucky, today’s cocktail craze could go retro as it’s already done with riots in Greece — Molotov style.
You can take back Christmas
Unfortunately, a totally debauched, commercialized Christmas has become the main feast of America’s secular religion in the Door-Buster Era. Its pernicious influence on ourselves and our kids won’t be easily dislodged.
But fortunately, no matter how perverted America’s secular religion has become, the real message of Christmas is still part of our religion-religion. And whether you’re a Bible Belter or a Wiccan, as an American, Judeo-Christianity is also part of your cultural heritage. You don’t need to worship God to see the raw power in the Christmas story when it’s wrenched back from the greedy mitts of Walmart.
So, let me make an immodest proposal that Bill O’Reilly is bound to hate.
I propose that all people of good will take back Christmas — a holiday that’s going to happen anyway whether you like it or not — for its original purpose: to affirm the highest values of our civilization, values from which we so often fall short but values that remain nonetheless, worthwhile.
Let’s not throw out the baby Jesus with the bathwater of the moneylenders. In effect, that would just be ceding a powerful cultural symbol to marketers, advertisers and big retailers whose moneygrubbing is destroying our country, heating the world’s climate and selling, for a mess of pottage, the birthright of our precious oil and other resources.
Instead, let’s do Christmas right, and use the example of Jesus to teach our kids faith, hope and charity:
- Bill McKibben’s eco-friendly $100 Christmas is a good start, and the Zero Dollar Christmas is even better, but do it in a way to let the kids down easy and still give them something, by making presents at home from recycled materials. You can be a model of resilience and self reliance, while offering the little ones gifts of true beauty that don’t waste resources or create more trash and pollution.
- Jim Wallis likes to build compassion in his kids by making donations in their names on Christmas Day of goats, chickens and other needed gifts to poor families in other countries through the World Vision website.
- As someone who supports your local economy and community, you may prefer to give closer to home. To relieve immediate suffering, try your local Food Bank or homeless shelter. To feed a man by teaching him to fish, support an innovative self-help program like the DC Central Kitchen, which tackles long-term solutions to the interconnected problems of poverty, hunger, and homelessness through job training, meal distribution, and local farm partnerships.
America desperately needs at least one day a year when we raise our gaze from getting and spending to higher values. That’s what Christmas used to be for. We can make it so again. And on a finite planet facing climate chaos and peak everything, a real Christmas may just help redeem us all.
I wonder if “Fox and Friends” would be on board for that?
– Erik Curren, Transition Voice