Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why Can't These People Say "Christmas"?

 I was startled to notice this morning that I first posted this five years ago --- five years ago yesterday, to be exact.  Startled because the Food Network is still doing the kind of weird crap I describe here, and because I can republish it with minimal revision.  I have changed the style a little to elevate the tone of moral disgust, also to add a new item at the end.



Watching the Food Network a couple of days after Thanksgiving, I noticed something that gave me the creeps. None of the regulars seemed to be able to say "Christmas." (No, this is not some Bill O'Reilly war-against-Christmas BS! At least I hope not. Please read on!) Tyler Florence pours red and green sauces on on enchilada and Guy Fieri says, "Boy those are some holiday colors!" Sandra Lee is wearing a red sweater and making evergreen-tree-shaped cookies, and she keeps calling the "holiday cookies."

Right away I got this weird feeling. These people are not free. Someone off-camera is pointing a gun at them. The evil gnomes who run the Food Network Corporate Borg are compelling them to speak this weird jargon, probably just to degrade and humiliate them. (This could also explain those creepy claymation figures -- see the picture above.) Is this going on at other channels? Has the whole world gone insane while I was paying attention to other things? I really don't know, as Food Network is almost the only channel I can stand to watch (and it sucks, but I won't go into that now).

What could possibly be the problem with saying the word "Christmas" in public? Below are some more or less random observations on this baffling question. Most of what I am about to say is pretty obvious and far from original, but I think it is worth saying anyway.  Apparently, it is not obvious to some people.

Yes, not everyone celebrates Christmas. And it might, conceivably, just barely conceivably, be unpleasant to be wished "Merry Christmas" when you do not. As a university professor, I sometimes find myself in a room full of people who are talking about how bad conservatives, Republicans, or libertarians are, as if they assume I am a Democrat like themselves. So I have some sympathy for people in that situation. But not very much. After all, the people in my roomful of Democrats are saying that people like me are morally or intellectually inferior to people like them. They are insulting me. The person who wishes you Merry Christmas is not. In fact, he or she is wishing you well. They are trying to be nice.

My Golden Rule is: Never, ever make someone sorry that they were nice to you.  Centuries ago, Thomas Hobbes said that this is one of the most basic rules of civil society.  He was right  Violating it is one of the most ignoble and stupid things you can do.

The problem is not that there are other holidays at this time of the year. You can celebrate more than one. In our house, we always celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. Holidays don't exclude on another, religions do. By wishing somebody a Merry Christmas, or using the word to describe a cookie, you are not excluding anybody from anything.

Admittedly it is true that Kwanzaa was invented by the Marxist Prof. Ron Karenga as an "alternative" -- his word -- to Christmas. He did intend his holiday to be exclusionist. But apparently, the African-Americans who celebrate it today do not see it that way. (As often happens, the hearts of "ordinary" people have proved sounder than those of the supposedly wise men who seek to lead them for their own good.)

Nor is the problem that not everyone is a Christian. Even atheists love Christmas. As I have said, the problem, so far as there is one, is merely that not everyone celebrates Christmas. So try avoid wishing Merry Christmas to someone who does not celebrate it.

Often, banning the C-word is simply hypocrisy. None of the FN "holiday" specials that I saw contained a single reference to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or anything but Christmas. By banning the C-word, they are pretending to an inclusiveness that they do not practice. To the minor sin of non-inclusiveness they add the major one of lying about it.

If you are talking about a holiday, and the holiday in question is indeed Christmas, there is no possible harm in calling it that. There is no excuse for saying "holiday cookie." None. If it is shaped like a dredl, call it a Hanukkah cookie. If it is shaped like one of those trees, call it a Christmas cookie. If you don't, you'll just sound like an idiot.

Please join me this "holiday" season in trying to avoid this canting hypocrisy.

Update:  And now, here is fellow atheist Penn Jillette, with a different take.  Notice that he is not answering the sort of argument I am giving here.  He is answering the O'Reilly notion that this is an "attack on Christianity."  That of course is not what I am saying.  On the other hand, he does seem to be saying one thing that I have been arguing against:  that refraining from "Christmas" is being inclusive.
 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your points are valid. But the fundamental issue, I think, is that the culture-shapers in this country are doing their best to change it from the historical nation it has been (culturally confident white majority, male-led, heterosexual and culturally Christian) into a multicultural, multiracial, universalist nation in which no source of the traditional identity of the country - ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, or religion - is considered to be any more "American" than any other. Which means they will enforce a norm that means bending over backwards to never appear to be endorsing white, straight, male, or Christian cultural artifacts. And which further means that the only "safe" aspects of the new culture for them are the ones that are non-white, non-heterosexual, non-male, and non-Christian. Consequently, for example, advertisers increasingly use blacks - especially black men - and white women in ads, all out of proportion to their actual representation in the population. They are a safe bet - the advertiser can't be accused of being out of step with the prevailing trend.

I'm being long-winded, but my essential point is this: if we're going to be turned into a transnational progressive "universalist" geographic entity, it will mean that any expression of our culture that smacks of traditional America - white people and Christianity in particular - will be scorned as reactionary. If those food programs you watch were to explicitly celebrate Christmas, they would be open to accusations of being reactionary, backwards-looking cultural dinosaurs. The fact is that most of their watchers still do celebrate Christmas, so they want to meet that need with Christmas-oriented programs. But they can't call them that without potentially raising howls of protest from CAIR.

Besides this "holiday" doublespeak nonsense, we'll increasingly see the highly visible leadership positions occupied by non-whites and women. And once a non-white or a woman holds those positions, they have a funny way of becoming the "property" of those groups. For instance, the Secretary of State has not been a white male since 1998. Since then we've had a black man, a white woman, and a black woman. I would bet we won't see another white male Sec'y for a very long time, if ever - just as you rarely see white men as superintendents of school systems in major cities anymore regardless of whether they are most qualified. Public school systems have become the "property" of minorities anywhere the minorities have become a significant presence, with the claim that only a minority can be "sensitive" to the needs of minorities. The same argument will be made eventually for pretty much every kind of leadership position.

I don't think you can mix a bunch of different nations into one universalist "nation", telling them that no one of them should be dominant, and expect the cultural breathing space to continue to be friendly to the traditional culture and people of the country. These kinds of hypocrisies you note in your post are the natural, inevitable consequence of moving our nation towards the left's vision for the future. Just be glad they show anything that smacks of Christmas at all. In a decade or two, that probably won't be done, period.

Anonymous said...

I'm 54 years old and from a fairly religious catholic family and can remember as a child, my mom always refering to "the holidays". For decades religious groups like the Knights of Columbus have noted the materialism of the season with the "Keep Christ In Christmas" campaign. The religious are partly responsible with separating the religious aspect from the secular aspect from the season. Likewise many Christians were offended that before Kwanzaa, the Jewish people "invented" Chanakuh, even though it's theological significance of a miracle of lights parallels the miracle of the enlightenment of Christ's birth and life into the world.

The FOX News folks use the "debate" to inense their audience and increase viewership etc. Along with Christas/Holiday Lights, Greeting Cards and fruitcake; the "debate" has become a yearly tradition.

Lester Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lester Hunt said...

Anonymous #1,

You certainly paint a frightening picture! I have to admit that the way I was thinking about the phenomenon is excessively individualistic: I was thinking that people who talk in this strange way are responding to an actual problem that individuals confront in relating to other individuals: how to celebrate your own holiday when not everyone shares it and you don't want to show any disrespect for then. You are pointing out that there are other problems, ones that face people who aren't relating to individuals at all, but trying to bring about a certain sort of world. Which the rest of us will then have to live in.

Anonymous #2,

Yes, the "debate" has become an annual ritual, almost as comforting as mulled wine and caroling. Maybe its becoming a way for people to come out and avow what they are: "I'm a universalist!" "I'm a paleo-Christian." Etc. Maybe I should post on this.

Drake said...

Seriously. I don't believe in goblins, and so don't celebrate Halloween. Is there anyone in my position who would could possibly be offended by the exhortation to have a "Happy Halloween"? Those who claim to be offended by a similarly generic Christmas greeting have got to get over it.

On the other hand, we have anonymous 1, who in his (or her?[!]) list of "historical" characteristics of the U.S. conveniently left out other, less savory properties, such as "racist." Perhaps the assimilation of non-whites into the broader culture would have proceeded with a little less artifice and caprice if Whitey hadn't been dragged kicking and screaming toward virtue. But then arbitrariness seems a small price to pay, given the magnitude of the sin.

In any case, it is very surprising to witness such frank pining for the old days of "white, straight, male, Christian" hegemony. By now I would have thought such sentiments survived only in the urban myths of postmodernist feminism and critical race theory. Boy do I stand corrected.

Lester Hunt said...

Drake, The reason I didn't jump on Anonymous #1, as you have, is that I assumed that he/she wasn't expressing nostalgia for white male hegemony as opposing a certain alternative to it. (Obviously, this assumption could be wrong.)

Ruchira Paul said...

Anonymous 1 is nostalgic about more than just the celebration of Christmas.

I agree with Drake. I am a non-believer but I am perfectly comfortable greeting others and being greeted during religious celebrations.

I probably used to say "Merry Christmas" with less trepidation in India than I do here - what with all the unexpected thin skinned reaction to a perfectly friendly universal salutation. I suspect that the Christmas war is largely invented by the media.

I love the Christmas time although we don't celebrate it with any formal piety. I love the gift giving, good food and generally enjoy the kindness and enthusiasm of friends and neighbors. When our children were young, we used to take them to Midnight Masses in Catholic churches. Hey, a baby was born - what's not to like?

For my family though, another baby was born. My son's birthday on the 24th of December provides us with an extra joyous "reason for the season."

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings to all.

Shawn said...

Interesting post! I am not a Christian and don't celebrate Christmas. I don't get offended when wished a "merry Christmas." I appreciate it for what it is: well-wishing and benevolence.

That said, I do sometimes get annoyed with the assumption that I celebrate Christmas. It's one thing to wish me Merry Christmas, it's another to start asking all kinds of questions about what I'm doing for Christmas and did I get all my Christmas shopping done. This starts to get a little personal and puts me in an awkward position. I either have to evade the question or share some personal information about myself.

Nonetheless, it is more annoying for TV networks and the like to wish Happy Holidays when they clearly only mean Christmas.

One last comment on Anonymous #2's claim that Jews invented Hanukkah as a response to Christmas. Now this is offensive! Hanukkah evolved out of an ancient Hebrew winter solstice festival called Nayrot.(See my post: Happy Nayrot) It began to change into Hanukkah during the reign of the Hasmonean kings several decades before Jesus Christ is born.

It is true, nonetheless, that Hanukkah was traditionally a minor festival and gained in contemporary popularity due to its proximity to Christmas.

phlash said...

I think its very very sad. There is an element out there who are doing everything they can to destroy Christmas and anything to do with Christ. If you chose not to believe, thats your right, but isn't it a little ridiculous to go out of your way not to even mention Christmas. Its ironic that some major retailers who make a fortune this time of year due to Christmas make it a point that their employees not say merry Christmas to people nor mention it in their TV ads? I know why the Jewish community invented Chanakuh, and it was simply a way to allow Jewish kids to get presents like Christian kids. Kwanzaa on the other hand was invented by ultra liberals as a way to spit in the face of tradition, but to be honest of all the black folks I know not 1 person celebrates this. This whole thing is just a way to tear down anything that might be good and descent. I used to love this country, but as of late, certain elements have done everything they can to crush our traditions. It would seem most are spoiled brats who want to get their way or else. As a whole, its sad and sickening. We're allowing the minority to rule the majority, thats "not" the way things are supposed to be. Sad!

Lester Hunt said...

Phlash, As Shawn pointed out, it's not true that the Jews invented Hanukkah as a response to Christmas, but, as you evidently agree, it would make no difference if they did. As to Kwanzaa (which begins today as I write) it apparently is true that Prof. Karenga invented it in part because as a Marxist he dislikes Christmas as a capitalist holiday and wanted to undermine it. But I believe that most people who celebrate it today do not do so in that spirit at all. Most African-Americans are not Marxists but, as everyone knows, Christians. They have no reason to drop Christmas for something else, and haven't done so, and aren't about to do so.

steparv said...

I really really enjoyed reading your comments above everyone -- This year I have been wishing those who I know Merry Christmas and fortunately for me I work with many african americans who wish me a "blessed day" or may I be "blessed" I am very thankful for these folks whereas, I can relax and wish people "Merry Christmas." Lester as you point out above most African Americans are Christian I have found this to be true and am so happy to be able to wish someone a "Merry Christmas"