Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas in Danger

Church window in RomeWhen I was little, I loved Christmas carols. I sang them year round. We had an old player piano, and I'd put the rolls for “Silent Night” or “Little Drummer Boy” on and pump away, singing along whether it was Christmas or my July birthday. I don't know what exactly I liked, since Christianity was pretty far from my experience, so my actual awareness of what I was singing was pretty minimal. I liked the lyrics, and I enjoyed the tune, but I think a lot of the emotion behind a great carol carries through even the coarse resolution of the player piano.

I visited a friend's church today to help celebrate Christmas and to experience a different angle of the holiday.

This church seats at least 1500. The other Catholic church I've visited, was a little parish chuch in Columbus, OH, seating maybe 300. This one has a band with several guitars, an electric bass, and who knows what else. While I like the idea of churches reaching out and presenting a less formal face to the world, I think there is an important place for solemnity, and acoustic guitars don't do that.

Catholics are interesting. Where some protestant groups seem strongly influenced by the Pauline parts of the Gospels, this church at least was very much about John and the Word Made Flesh. That's fine and I'm pondering what if any deep meaning that has, but, since I've never made much headway on the New Testament, I'll make slow headway on that problem.

Fortunately, there are easier questions to address. The priest, after much ceremony and singing of carols (a.k.a. hymns), delivered a sermon beginning by noting that “Christmas is under attack.” He cited the usual stupid suspects, like the idiot story about candy canes being banned.

The story, so we're clear, is not that candy canes were banned, though that's what the priest said. The story is really that children were asked to stop distributing candy canes perpetuating the retarded claim that candy canes are painted like Jesus's blood. These were rightly viewed as offensive and they made people uncomfortable.

I adored candy canes as a child, and would hoard them around Christmas. My parents still make a point of hooking me up with some cane, because they know that withdrawal wouldn't be pretty. I promise that if someone gave me a cane with a note about how they were made from blood, I'd throw the whole thing in their face, and I would have done that when I was in first grade.

As for “Happy Holidays,” I wished everyone a Merry Christmas this morning, just the same way I wished everyone Happy Holidays throughout the holiday season. That way I can be lazy and not wish people a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Grow up.

Let's just zoom out a bit. David Neiwert has talked about transmitters, public personalities who bring fringe ideas from one fringe group to another, and I think this meme is a perfect example of this. Religious zealots who want to turn this into a Christian theocracy came up with the idea that Christmas – the only religious holiday recognized by the federal government – is being diminished in importance. They got the message out to a few radical clerics and soon a few of their followers made the right calls to Bill O'Reilly and pretty soon it was a national phenomenon.

Politeness kept me from getting into a tiff with my friends' priest, but just barely.

Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam ” by Nirvana from the album MTV Unplugged in New York (1994, 4:37). Or the original version from The Vaselines, All the Stuff & More . Jesus Was a Terrorist ” by Jello Biafra With Nomeansno from the album The Sky Is Falling, And I Want My Mommy (1991, 2:33).