Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lessons Learned in 2009 - Third in a Series

That's What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown

Here are some things you may not know about Christmas, or that you may know but tend to forget around this time of year when you're full of cookie dough and tired of hunting for the last leopard-print Snuggie in the state:

1. Believe it or not, Christmas is a religious holiday. Specifically, it is how Christians celebrate the day the Son of God was born unto the Virgin Mary and became Man. If you believe that God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son to live and die among us, then you celebrate Jesus' birth on December 25. And guess what? It's neither politically incorrect nor culturally insensitive to do so. If you want to buy presents and sing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and indulge in generic feelings of kindness and festivity, but leave out the whole baby-in-the-manger schtick, hey, there are worse ways to spend December. Just don't pretend to be celebrating Christmas. Stick to "Happy Holidays" so the rest of us know you're just borrowing our vibe.

2. Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. The eight-day celebration tends to take place as Christians are gearing up for Christmas - actually, it falls on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which can occur anywhere from late November to late December - but as a religious holiday it doesn't hold a candle (no pun intended) to Christmas in the way that, say, Passover and Easter (which also fall at roughly the same time of year) hold a similar position of importance in their respective faiths. It's a time of lovely traditions and ceremonies, but it's not The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Judaically speaking. Both secular Jews and lazy Christians have elevated the Festival of Lights to downplay the monopolization of December by "our" God. To quote Wikipedia:
In North America especially, Hanukkah gained increased importance with many Jewish families in the latter half of the twentieth century, including large numbers of secular Jews, who wanted a Jewish alternative to the Christmas celebrations that often overlap with Hanukkah. Though it was traditional among Ashkenazi Jews to give 'gelt' or money coins to children during Hanukkah, in many families this has changed into gifts in order to prevent Jewish children from feeling left out of the Christmas gift giving. (Read the entire Wikipedia article on Hanukkah here.)
Nothing wrong with that. But let's not pretend that Hanukkah is the "Jewish Christmas," any more than Columbus Day is the Italian-American Christmas or the 4th of July is the Republican Christmas (although I know some Republicans who do just that, come to think of it...)

3. The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day. I don't care what the Macy's ads say, they don't start on December 13th and end on the 25th. There's already a name for the days leading up to Christmas: Advent. You know, the little paper calendars with the pieces of chocolate behind each day? Starts on December 1st and continues until the Big Day? The 12 Days of Christmas - seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, etc. - represent the days between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany, aka Three Kings Day, aka January 6th. That's when Christmas is over. That's when you take down the Nativity scene (oh, you don't have one of those? Happy Holidays to you.) So those of you who throw out your tree and take down your lights on December 26th are - how to say it tactfully? - just plain doing it wrong.

4. "Jinge Bells" is not a Christmas song. Just listen to the damn words. It's about snow. In most of this country we don't even get a lot of snow until January and February. So why does it appear on the radio before Christmas and disappear immediately afterwards? Same for "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty the Snowman." Mind you, I'm not saying I want any of these songs to be played 24/7 for the entire winter. But Jesus was born in the desert. Who decided that His birth must be intimately identified with freezing precipitation?

5. Santa Claus is real. Because Christmas wouldn't be much fun if he weren't. And Santa loves crabby Christians, grumpy Jews, angry Muslims, and pissed-off atheists equally. No dogma required - all you have to do is believe in him, and Santa believes in you. He's like the open-source God.

Merry Christmas to all (it's Day 5, if you're counting). And God bless us, everyone.

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