I thought of this the other day, but I didn’t want to harsh anyone’s mellow this holiday season, since there are lots of folks I know who genuinely love the holidays, especially Christmas, and I respect that.
But it occurred to me how the mythology surrounding Christmas, at least the American conception of it, kind of encapsulates us as a nation in a less-than-entirely flattering way.
Think about it. The Christmas myth is, essentially, that if you behave yourself and do as you’re told by authority while being surreptitiously surveilled by an invisible judge given to binary distinctions (you’re either on the nice list, or the naughty list), you’ll be rewarded with material goods. If you don’t behave, bam! Coal in your stocking (which does at least beat having Krampus). Or fewer presents. Or none.
The worst thing is that the kids who actually receive this punishment aren’t necessarily misbehavers: they’re just poor. The mythology connects material prosperity with virtue and obedience to authority. I don’t mean to take too jaundiced a view of the whole thing, but it’s a hell of a thing to teach little kids, never mind that it sets them up for the inevitable disappointment of learning that Santa Claus is actually just their parents, and that the volume of material love under the Christmas tree has more to do with their parents’ wealth than anyone’s virtue or behavior.
Every year there’s noise made about a War on Christmas, and as far as I can tell, the folks making the noise think the war is on the Christ part. Maybe for some folks it is. For my own part, I’m pretty down with JC. But if we wanted to declare war on the crass materialism that we’ve come to celebrate alongside his birthday party, I’d be inclined to join up.