Why I Hate Christmas

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In the Saturday Night Jukebox this past week, I created a I Hate Christmas playlist. I mentioned I would use my Tuesday slot here to fill out why precisely I hate Christmas so much. I realize ranting is usually Br. Andrew's department, but I'd like to let loose a little bit here.

Herewith, a list of why I hate Christmas:

theotokos

1. It's Advent not The Christmas Season.

This is the central bane of my existence this time of year. As a Christian, Christmas is for me a religious festival. It's about The Incarnation.  It's not a secular holiday or holiday season (WTF is a holiday season?). Christmastide has 12 days, starting on December 24th/25th.

Please do not wish me a Merry Christmas in November or early December--since it's not actually Christmas time yet. It would be like wishing me a Happy Halloween on October 1st. Nobody would do that, so why do it when it comes to Christmas?

Prior to the 12 days of Christmas is the season of Advent (what we are actually in now).  Advent, an important religious time for Christians, is completely lost in the commercialization of the "Christmas season" (or Happy Holidays in a PC world).  Advent is a time to prepare one's being for the birth of the Word of God in oneself and teaches us to look for and help reveal the coming of a Kingdom of justice and peace on earth.  All of which seems infinitely more valuable than stupid f@#!ing Hallmark cards or endless present buying.  At least to me anyway.   

2. War on Christmas BS

This is bigger in the US where I grew up, but there's smatterings of it here in Canada.  The so-called War on Christmas.  I saw some idiot on TV drone on and one about how Christmas was being expunged because some politician invited people to a "Holiday Tree" celebration. Nevermind that Jesus wasn't born under damned evergreen tree.  Remember any confiers from the Gospels? I sure as hell don't.    

The notion that public nativity displays and people going to church once or twice a year (see point #4 below), represents Christianity is total bullshit.  All that's being lost is a North Americanized superficial veneer of Christianity over the mainstream culture.  As a priest, I say good riddance.  Who cares?  It has nothing to do with the actual work of being a church or living the Christian path.   

tree

3. Paganism in Christmas 

Spoiler Alert: Jesus wasn't actually born on December 25th. The Christian church chose the date to coincide with the Winter Solstice and probably to undercut the rival cult of Mithras.  It's an excellent symbol:  the Light comes into the World at its darkest moment and from there the world is enlightened.  It was an attempt (failed or successful depending on your point of view) to transcend and include.  

A tree (representing the cosmic tree), gift giving, a meal, and time with extended family has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. It's pre-Christian, aboriginal European religion--aka paganism.  The paganism of Christmas has been merged (I think unhelpfully) with secular modernist capitalism and that's what Christmas is really about.  The value of that syncretism is up for debate I suppose, but the reality of it really isn't.  

If people just want to celebrate the Solstice and be pagans about the day, that's perfectly fine with me.  At least it's honest.  I'm not anti-paganism.  But I defy the notion that both the Christian and the pagan element can be celebrated with sufficient depth and respect towards both traditions (readers who want to argue with me, have at it in the comments section).  By the time all the work goes into the parties, families, gifts, cards, and everything else, there isn't time left for any real religious practice.  To wit:   

the magi

4. What is the point of going to church on Christmas (and not the rest of the year)?

As a priest, I'm clearly biased in this regard. I want to be hospitable (or at least not inhospitable), but really I don't get it.  If you don't go to church the rest of the year and aren't a practicing Christian, why go to church on Christmas (and/or Easter)?  From my pastoral side, I don't want to close off the possibility that someone might experience some depth or have some connection by attending a Christmas service, but really what's the point? It's like Jews who only go to synagogue on Yom Kippur. What up with that?  I find it very strange.  I imagine I'm too black and white on this one, but like either you're in or you're out, no?  Again, as in point #1, it's a religious holiday not a cultural one.  If you're not a practicing member of the religion (or at least considering taking this way on), then why participate?  Because when you were a kid, that is what your family did so you have to keep the family tradition up?  Really?  If you get invited to a Christmas service by an actual practicing Christian that's a different thing. I'm Christian but I've been to a number of Jewish and Islamic festivals, but I came clearly as a guest to their ritual. I wouldn't come to one uninvited.

I think we need a separate term for the secular (and/or slightly pagan) celebration of this time of year and stop calling it Christmas.  Festivus is always a great option of course, but may not totally cut it for some.    

star

5. Christmas Actually Isn't Nearly the Biggest Religious Holiday of the Year for Christians

The vast majority of Christians wouldn't be able to tell you this (much less non-Christians), but Christmas is actually a bit down the list in terms of the importance of Christian festivals.  It's an important remembrance to be sure, but I get well meaning folks telling me how it's the most important day of the Christian year.  

Not so much. 

The most important festival of the Christian year is Pascua (wrongly termed in English Easter).  Really Holy Week, in particular Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

The second most important remembrance in the Christian year is Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after the Resurrection.  Sometimes called the birthday of the church.

Third most important interestingly is Epiphany--the festival at the conclusion of the 12 days of Christmas. This feast recalls the story of the Magi (the so-called Wise Men or Three Kings) paying homage to the Christ Child. This feast recalls the coming of the Gentiles to worship the Christ Child.

Then Christmas. 

stressed

6. It makes people Crazy 

Again, my perspective on all of this is very biased and quite different than most. But in my world, this time of year means way more people coming to see me, suffering because they are A)lonely B)in horrible relations with their family C)stressed out, etc. 

The creation of this perfect family Christmas horseshit on TV and so forth creates this unreachable expectation: "WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A WONDEFUL FAMILY TIME NOW, AREN'T WE?"  Again, as an outside observer I have to ask, "Why?" "Is this worth it?, What's the point?" 

There's no rule written in the universe saying we have to do these things.  Just because corporations want you to buy their products and families are supposed to be happy and act like they love each other (which of course in some cases they actually do), doesn't mean we have to act this way.  

I'm just sayin'.

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19 comments

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 13 December 2011 21:22 posted by TJ Dawe

    Chris, a documentary you might like is What Would Jesus Buy, following the antics of performance artist/activist Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.

    Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGi21YQFjMM

    Full movie online: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/what-would-jesus-buy/

    the stats near the beginning of the amount of money that's spent, the amount of waste created by the packaging and wrapping, the square footage of US retail outlets - that alone is enough to bolster the arguments of anyone who says I Hate Christmas.

  • Comment Link Andrew Templeton Tuesday, 13 December 2011 22:01 posted by Andrew Templeton

    Chris, I'm sorry for your pain, however you've already cited the underlying reason for the confusion in point 3. The Church did a masterful job in the early centuries of its existence of grafting itself onto existing pagan rituals in order, to use a capitalist term, "to increase market share". In doing this, they were using the same model that the Romans used so successfully as they conquered Europe (and which the US now does in a more subtle, secular manner through US media such as Hollywood and now gaming).

    I'm sorry that you feel so outraged, but the Church caused this problem in the first place. They blurred everything into one big mass that continues to evolve and morph to meet the needs/weakness of the current culture.

    I don't blame the public for one moment for their confusion. You may feel that they are misinformed but in truth they're just following traditions that the Church (in its many forms) cannot control.

    I imagine you hate that bloody Eater Bunny and his Pagan eggs as well...

  • Comment Link David Marshall Wednesday, 14 December 2011 05:02 posted by David Marshall

    Chris, thank you. Very informative. I appreciate posts like this. Not many people are that serious about their religion, are they.

    As someone from one of those church-once-a-year Christian families, I'd be interested to know just a bit more about these holidays, if you don't mind. What would you say is the essence of Advent, Christmas, Pentecost, Epiphany, Holy Week, Pascua? What does proper appreciation of those holidays look and feel like?

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 14 December 2011 18:42 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Andrew,

    Fair point. While Western society was still nominally Christian in the large scale the combination I suppose made sense--and certainly even more so back in say the Middle Ages.

    But I think at this point it's really time to separate the two and say something like Christmas is a religious practice for Christians and this other thing (name to be decided....Solstice?) is a secular holiday everyone can participate in. I don't know however if Neo-Pagans would object to calling it Solstice as presumably (like the Christmas for Christians example), they are practicing Solstice as an actual religious festival.

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Wednesday, 14 December 2011 18:45 posted by Andrew Baxter

    Bravo Chris. I appreciate the energy and vigour of your piece. I understand it, I accept it, but would probably quibble slightly with your wonder at why people might go to church just the once a year.

    There is much to be said for some larger community gathering of thanks that can take place at this time of year. And the church service is just part of that gathering. As a practicing non-Christian and anti-capitalist, I agree that the dominant narrative of the "Holiday Season" is at its core crass and empty. But there remains some small bit of value in the idea of Christmas beyond its more fundamental place within the Christian church. And while I appreciate your fury at the cooption of the Christmas story, we should be reminded that it is simply the metaphor we have. To me - the non-Chritian, anti-capitalist - its a festival of light, of gratitude, of community that at this point in our society's history is something we could use a lot more of.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 14 December 2011 18:49 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Tj, good call. I have seen that one--dude's pretty out there to be sure but it's an interesting message nonetheless.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 14 December 2011 18:52 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Andrew,

    I appreciate the other view. The other day a friend of mine referred to Christmas as the "ultimate mashup holiday." That seems right to me.

    Admittedly in this piece, I'm unraveling some of those threads and separating and in so doing creating more sharp lines.

    I wonder though would it be possible to celebrate the metaphor you speak of in homes or other gatherings--maybe I'm just dense or something but I still wonder why church is thought to be a natural place for that expression.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 14 December 2011 23:57 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @David,

    Great question. Man, there's a lot in there.

    As a basic response, the Christian calendar is a full calendar and there's a flow to the whole thing. Basically the flow is the birth of Christ through his life and ministry (Epiphany) to his suffering (Lent), passion, death, resurrection (Holy Week) through to his Ascension. From there the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (usually around June), and then the rest of the year being the life of Pentecost.

    So there are kinda two halves to the year. The first half revolves around Jesus and the second half The Spirit--which is The Spirit of Christ alive in one's being. The model (half 1, Jesus) and the apprentice (half 2, Christians in their lives).

    The whole thing is really meant to go together which gets broken by the 1 or 2 a year thing. There's no context, no rhythm, no flow, no large pattern. No great story.

    The circular nature of it allows (like a spiral) to go deeper and deeper each year, returning again and again to the same themes but with greater depth.

    Mystically it is about the incorporation of our being into the reality of Christ. Preparing for Divine birth within one's soul (Advent), the arrival of that Birth (Christmas), the manifestation of recognition of that birth (Epiphany), the travails of that birth leading to suffering (Lent), eventual death (Good Friday), dissolution (Holy Saturday), resurrection (Pascua). Then releasing even our spiritual selves (Ascension) to prepare for the descent of the Spirit into our full manifestation in life (Season of Pentecost).

    I have no idea if any of that makes sense--or if I'm just using churchy language. Does it resonate?

  • Comment Link David Marshall Friday, 16 December 2011 02:33 posted by David Marshall

    Chris, thank you very much. That's great. Yes, I realized there was a lot in there. :) I almost said something like, "Please feel free to take each holiday separately as they arrive, if you like." But then I didn't because I thought it might discourage you from saying anything. But that overview is really perfect.

    It's a really interesting system or tradition. There is this ever-deepening cycle within a developmental or evolutionary context. I think that's really cool. I see it much better now. I'm going to have to ponder this.

    Is what you just said a fairly commonly held or consciously held view among many Christians? Or is this more like your own special meta-view?

    It's sort of a metaphor for realization and also a metaphor for each stage where subject is made an object of the emerging subject (a la Kegan) and the former subject "dies," isn't it. Thus the seasons and holidays are ever new for someone really engaged.

  • Comment Link Del Sunday, 18 December 2011 05:50 posted by Del

    Chris, I thought you might find it interesting that Neo-Pagans struggle with the same problem (of people only attending certain religious holidays). Most open ritual groups I know get twice to three times as many attendees at Beltane (May) and Samhain (October). I wonder if it's a holdover from being Christmas/Easter Christians.

    And yes, at least for me personally, if we were to shunt all of the commercialism and consumption from "Christmas" to "Solstice", I would be offended. Our celebratory cycle is similar to the flow of the Christian cycle - each holiday follows a narrative about death, rebirth, growth, maturity, harvest, and back to death again. So when they come to Beltane and Samhain, they're catching the birth and death aspects, but missing all the juicy stuff in between.

    I have been really struggling this year, because many Neo-Pagans use the name "Yule" (or "Winter Solstice") as what they call their winter holiday, but they put up trees, give presents, and listen to Christmas carols. I agree with you on one level, that Yule is about families - both of birth and of choice - getting together and sharing what they have with each other so we can survive the winter. I would be happy to do that, if there was some way I could do it without all the Christmas trappings. I don't know.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed and appreciated your post.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 20 December 2011 02:10 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Del,

    I found your comment quite fascinating. I had a gut sense that might be the case but I hadn't really checked it out with anyone, so that's good feedback.

    I sorta referenced it in the piece but I wondered whether the Neo-Pagan community would really be happy with calling it Solstice. So I guess we need some third term?

    What your comment sparked in me was a sense of validation that we've reached a placed where the conflation of traditions around Christmas is (for some of us) unhelpful and it might be better to do some disentangling.

    All the best and Happy Yule.

  • Comment Link Paul P Wednesday, 21 December 2011 06:38 posted by Paul P

    Chris,

    While I can appreciate that this is a gutsy piece for someone, such as yourself who is a priest, to write - and kudos for putting your view out there too - I am reminded of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas:

    You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch
    You're a nasty, wasty skunk
    Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk
    Mr. Gri-inch
    The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!

    :-)

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 21 December 2011 17:43 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Paul,

    :). I talked to someone after church Sunday who was really worried that I was in really bad shape after reading this--I tried to explain it was pretty tongue in cheek. Anyway, to relieve her I said I would come in with a small drawn heart and draw two bigger sizes and then hopefully fill them in as we went through Christmas.

    So I guess I am the Grinch. Me and Sue Sylvester from Glee.

  • Comment Link Del Wednesday, 21 December 2011 19:33 posted by Del

    So I wanted to share with you my blog post about Holiday traditions, inspired by your post:
    http://dyingforadiagnosis.com/2011/12/21/holiday-celebrations/

    (I do link to this article.)

    Thank you for helping me sort out how I feel this season.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Sunday, 25 December 2011 07:44 posted by Gail Hochachka

    Chris,

    I've noticed that several of your posts are "against" this or that, including this title "why I hate...." Here, I get your rant. Though, I admit I was hoping for some inspiration.

    Why do I go to church on Christmas (and rarely the rest of the year)? Because it's not my spiritual practice yet I go for the tradition, to honour the lineage that grew me and fed my family's culture. But also because I am hoping and yearning--like seeking Light in the darkness--for inspiration. Leaving mass often with glimmers of where in the gospels and the readings there are entry points for a deeper layer of practice, and yet deeply saddened that it isn't highlighted. Why not? are we, the congregation, really seen to be that childlike that we wouldn't 'get' it if the priest shared greater depth? ...saddened when i see people around me in the congregation yawning. ...frustrated (and depressed?) that I want to go 'home' and when I do, I find I don't fit anymore.

    So, I go hoping for some inspiration... For some depth in the veneer. You, in my opinion, are one among few who can offer this, and I for one would be very open to hearing what you love about Christmas one of these days.

  • Comment Link Ben Sunday, 25 December 2011 12:10 posted by Ben

    I agree with point 4. Was at Christmas service a few hours ago. Church was packed to the brim with many having to stand. Admittedly, I was annoyed and not feeling charitable. Where were the vast majority of these people during "normal" services? I just really hate how people have turned the birth of Christ into an annual secular spectacle. Perhaps next year I will refrain from attending Christmas service, if only to let one more spectator get standing room for his/her annual churchgoing event.

    P.S. I have nothing but joy for people who attended Christmas service and found their faith again or for the first time. The rest, well, till we meet again next year (if there is indeed one for them).

    @Gail, the commenter just before me, if you are truly interested, any time of the year would work. Just open up the Bible and read about what Christ has done for you. Waiting for Christmas to show up is just pointless procrastination for what should be the most important info anyone can ever know about life, the universe and everything. Forget tradition, forget inspiration, forget about waiting for the planets to line up. You won't have time for such dalliance; nobody does. In the words of Nike: JUST DO IT.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 27 December 2011 19:23 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Gail,

    Merry Xmas, thanks for your comment. I thought it deserved a full on piece as a response rather than a simple comment response.

    So I've responded here:

    http://www.beamsandstruts.com/bits-a-pieces/item/743-reply-to-gail-re-xmas

    Love and Light,

    Chris

  • Comment Link Clarity Monday, 02 January 2012 21:40 posted by Clarity

    It used to really irritate me that people would only go to church twice a year. Nowadays I comfort myself (because apparently I'm the important one, haha) by thinking, "What do people get when they come to church only on Christmas and Easter? Incarnation and resurrection. That's a good balance. They can do with it what they will." Also, as I continue my studies, I'm intrigued by the lashing out against "ritual" by some groups, secular and Christian, as being exclusive or "un-evolved", where, at this time of year, it seems that that concept is tossed right out the window. People are looking for something, and they keep coming back for it. Although we won't know what it is or whether or not they're actually receiving it unless we ask them, it seems clear that the great rituals of this faith and perhaps many faiths are filling a deep hunger in people. There's a whole thesis paper somewhere about the lack of adequate ritual in Western cultures contributing to the creation of ritual in other spheres than religion, I'm sure...

  • Comment Link Jeannette Monday, 24 December 2012 03:59 posted by Jeannette

    I was listening and singing along to a few Christmas albums the other day, and in the rotation, a few songs were being sung by modern rock/pop groups...

    And it suddenly occurred to me how absurd it is that explicitly non religious people sing what are essentially hymns this time of year. I know people who are passionately "not" religious/Christian, but who come Christmas time, will sing along to "Hark The Harold Angels Sing", "Silent Night", etc.

    It's really, really weird how so many people just shut off and go along with what they are told is appropriate to do culturally around Christmas, even if it means that they don't question actions, behaviors, or ideas that they would do any other time of year.

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