Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

War on Christmas: 2nd Sunday of Advent Reflection

Last week, we said that historical blame for the 'War on Christmas' should be and is ultimately laid at the foot of American Protestantism and more directly certain aspects society that developed from the heritage of our forefathers - mainly the same industriousness and exceptionalism that we also hold so dear as 'values' in our modern society.

It seems like every year department stores and marketing firms solicit Christmas sales earlier and earlier putting trees out first not just on black Friday - but now even before thanksgiving you see stores slashing prices and marketeers playing seasonal songs well before the snow falls in snowy locales.

And as America has prospered and her population boom she's come to embrace the pluralism she proclaimed in her founding documents even at the expense and definitely the chagrin of Christian (Protestant) majority. To reap the benefits and leave no market segment, no focus group out - department stores, greeting card companies, marketeers began slowly to shift the focus from Christmas, which in the protestant tradition is only one day, to the whole gambit of holidays which fall under their bloated schedule aimed at making up for slagging sales by inducing desire and guilt but not just on the Christian majority - ah the joys of capitalism. The question then becomes, why does the majority allow for this? Why do most Christians stand by and allow themselves to be hoodwinked into the "holiday season" and decorate their trees earlier and earlier as well as shop and shop. The answer?

Well who can blame them? Have you lived the stress filled lives that most of us do? We work harder and get paid less and less, we have a multiplicity of experiences a majority of them generating a sense of brokenness. Who can blame us for buying into the notion of a Holiday Season? It's a chance to escape or at least balm the murk and mire and believe, even if briefly that there is a little bit of joy in the world, a little bit of happiness.

And because of this and our embrace of the pluralism that we have a vague notion of we'll say happy holidays and send holiday cards as we have friends who may celebrate Hanukkah and when the lunar calendar calls for it, yes even our Muslim friends who celebrate Ramadan. And then two what about the Hispanic family down the street that observes Dia de la Guadalupe? What about the Greeks and Russians who celebrate the festival of St. Nicholas? And then there are the secular holidays - like Thanksgiving and Pearl Harbor day. Where did it go wrong?

It went wrong when the busyness that we were trying to avoid, infected our time of escape - the joy of buying gifts and sending cards became the same competition that we exhibit and live through during the rest of the year, and it intensified. The focus is changed and the comercializers driven to make the bottom line have no problem exploiting it. But it's not just that zealous competition and commercialization - though that's problematic, it's also the pluralism. Or at least that's what certain Christian Fundamentalist want us to believe.

It's one thing to embrace the pluralism ethos that our country was founded upon and to be friends with persons of other (if any faith) or belong to mixed households on the micro level which Christianists don't pay attention to - it's the macro that get's their goat, and nothing says macro like the government. These conservative elites dislike the trickle up acceptance of pluralism and try and stir the masses into anger over it.

The public religion which for years has been an innocuous Christmas Tree with presents are no longer called Christmas Trees but 'holiday trees.' And in certain corners where nativity scenes were used (especially in small towns around the country where the population has boomed and shifted) these communities have been forced to shift the emphasis from their closed community beliefs to be inclusive of new residents of differing views. Perhaps this is even more problematic than the 'holiday tree' - this has become the crux of concern because now the nativity scenes are being taken down from government property or even worse they're being accompanied by symbols and representations from other faith traditions who also celebrate a holiday around the 25 of December (or in some cases statements of disbelief from the local atheist).

Perhaps people will take a moment and relax, or better yet - as the Gospel lesson this week implored - prepare a way for the Lord, prepare for his coming at Christmas and realize that it doesn't matter if town hall calls it a holiday tree - and perhaps it's better off city hall doesn't have a nativity scene up - so long as the church does and you do in your house. But even more important than that flash point issue, perhaps people will take the time to breathe and relax and not go so commercially crazy during the holiday season.

After all -- it is advent - not yet Christmas, and at least according to my tradition there's no need to get hopped up and anxious over one day when you have at least 12 days to celebrate.

And do you know who's leading the charge on the more problematic aspects of the 'holiday season'? Well not the commentariat class or the conservative elites -- they're focused to much on who's got a nativity scene up and where - it's the young engaged protestants. Yes how many generations after their forefathers sent that first shot against 'popery' it's protestants who now recognize the hallmark of popery, Advent, as an appropriate interval between the festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas - who are attempting to open up and share the splendor of quiet yearning and preparation (most of my Catholic co-religionsits take Advent for granted if they don't get swept up with the AEP in the commercial hype of the season).

One of the best campaigns for recognizing Advent is adventconspiracy.org -- check out this effective bit of counter-marketing on their part and take it to heart.

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