Peace on earth and goodwill to all

It’s almost Christmas. You know, that end-of-year festival that is given pride of place in the western countries most of us live in.

It’s the festival I grew up with: a house decorated with lights and sparkles; green and red, (okay, in those days it was more multicoloured hues); a tree that smells of sap and drops needles all over the floor; a stocking for Santa to fill with bits and bobs and sweets; presents under the tree from the extended family; chocolates, dates, candied fruit and fizzy pop laid out in our own version of an all-you-can-eat buffet; and roast, stuffed turkey with two types of potato, carrots and brussels sprouts, sausages wrapped in bacon, and followed by Christmas pudding.

We called it ‘Christmas’, but there wasn’t much of Christ in it, (apart from being dragged to church when my grandmother came to stay). There was, however, a feeling of warmth and light in the middle of a cold, dark period, a coming together of loved ones and an air of ‘goodwill to all’, and a promise of good days to come. In short, it was more of a winter solstice celebration.

And these are the traditions I want to pass on to my children. So why do I feel, deep down, that I have more explaining to do? Why do I find it ever harder to get into the Christmas spirit (the non-alcoholic kind, that is)?

For sure, I was brought up a Christian. And even if I hadn’t been, it was a time when Christianity was much more present in our everyday lives than today. Children didn’t ask who Jesus was because they knew, and some of what I feel comes from the realisation that this is not the case now. I want my kids to understand the world they live in, to know what they are singing about when they intone Away in the Manger or Il est né le divin enfant.

But I guess that I also want them to understand the controversy that now surrounds this ancient feast. I want them to know that having a Christmas tree, and even calling it Christmas, does not mean we are Christians; that many of the traditions we have, have no root in Christianity at all.

And I also want them to know that you can subscribe to another religion or belief system and still have a Christmas tree. And that if you don’t, you might celebrate another type of winter festival: a festival with light and warmth, that brings together family and encourages us to think of others less fortunate than ourselves, that also carries traditions of feasting and gift-giving.

In short, I am sick of the way this end-of-the-year celebration is used to polarise society into “those who are with us” and “those who are not”. I am sick of the ignorant who (purport to) believe that the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, animists etc., who are our neighbours and co-workers, “don’t celebrate Christmas”. I am sick of the do-gooders who fan the flames of racism by removing Christmas trees from public places to “be more inclusive”. And I am weighed down by this responsibility to be the one who corrects the distorted vision of the world my children receive through osmosis.

But I will fight the good fight because, Christian or not, I believe in peace on earth and goodwill to all.

11 thoughts on “Peace on earth and goodwill to all

  1. I understand where you’re going with this, Resistance, but there are many of us who DON’T celebrate Christmas, and have no qualms about identifying ourselves as different because we don’t. It’s what people do with or assume about the difference that I think is the source of the problem.

  2. “It’s what people do with or assume about the difference that I think is the source of the problem.”

    And that is the root of racism, psychobabbler.

  3. This is precisely why I decided to “celebrate” the holidays in the Middle East. Hopefully we’ll all get a sense of Christmas as it originally was. Still, under the stars, in the cold desert night, candlelit. And when we visit the forts and castles of the Crusaders, I’ll have to mention to our daughter the senseless slaughter they wrought in the name of Christianity.

  4. I think I understand where you’re coming from; on the other hand, I’ve had co-workers excuse their exclusive celebration of Christmas by pointing out that one of my Muslim co-workers celebrates Christmas too.

    Regardless, thanks for posting this. It definitely forces me to rethink and reflect on my thoughts and actions, even if it’s uncomfortable to do so.

  5. christmas traditions. another co-opting of a diversity of celebrations into one (attemptedly) hegemonic, christ-centered holiday. but as you wonderfully put it…it doesn’t have to be that way. thanks for the positive post…i always need them this time of year :-)

  6. I don’t get what you’re trying to say. As a Jew, I hate when people claim that Christmas isn’t Christian. It’s like their way of telling me that I don’t have an excuse not to participate. I feel like they’re saying “See, it’s an American thing, not a Christian thing! Everyone celebrates it! What’s your problem?!”. I get really annoyed by friends who claim to be against religion in general, but then put up a Christmas tree for their kids. They’re against religion, right, so probably they think it’s weird when I participate in Jewish rituals, but they don’t see their Christmas tree as religious..

    I think Christmas is a beautiful holiday, honestly, and it’s entirely appropriate for people of Christian heritage and anyone else who wants to celebrate it, but I wasn’t raised with it, I don’t identify with it, and I’d rather not have to justify that..

  7. Happy Hannukah, lady cow!

    You’re right, ‘Christmas’ is Christian. That’s one of the reasons I find it more and more difficult to use the word. But Christmas trees are not, neither are Yule logs, the 12 days of Christmas, holly or mistletoe, or even the December 25th date, and certainly not Santa. They are pagan, and that’s how I like them.

    I absolutely agree with you and Steven Saus that many people of Christian origin in our Christian-based societies do use the secular argument to force the celebration on non-Christian-origin peoples. And many use the pc diversity argument to highlight otherness as opposed to being inclusive. That was what I was trying to say.

    Everyone should be free to celebrate what they wish to celebrate, and an inclusive society would also highlight the major festivals of all religions and peoples living in that society.

  8. Sinoangle, I guess what I was trying to say, and where I think Lady Cow may have been coming from, is that some of us (and I am Jewish too), there is value in othering OURSELVES at this time of year – due to the secular argument you’ve described above, and due to a need to reinforce our own identities at a time when it’s too easy to be swept away in the assimilation. People acknowledging my “being other” in a respectful way is something I really appreciate – for example, the friends who send out en-masse Christmas cards, but take the time to make or buy a Chanukah card for our family instead, or my boss remembering not to put me on-call during Jewish holiday festivals.

    For me, the PC diversity argument in-and-of itself is not bad. I absolutely LOVE that there was no catch-all holiday party in my son’s class this year. I find those parties to be dominated by a lot of Christmas traditions (secular as they may be) no matter what they’re called. Instead, what the teacher invited the parents to do was come in and share one of their family’s traditions at this time of year. So each child’s own traditions had the opportunity to be shared and valued by the class on “equal footing.” In my son’s class there are Christian, Muslim and Jewish kids whose parents came in to share books, music, games and foods throughout the month. To me, shifting the paradigm like this so that everyone feels equally valued is really what inclusiveness should be all about.

  9. Psychobabbler, what your son’s teacher did sounds wonderful. Sinoangle, I see what you mean, I think. Honestly though I’ve always appreciated the pc/diversity stuff with regard to winter holidays and it’s never even occured to me that it was exclusive. I like when strangers say “happy holidays” instead of “merry christmas”, for instance, and I think it’s nice when the city puts up a giant menorah in addition to the christmas tree. Just my opinion.

  10. Can’t wait to hear about gabriela63’s holiday.

    I have never particularly viewed Christmas as a religious holiday, partly because my family isn’t Christian. But I had an argument with my mother about Christmas being “American.” It feels like their assumption of all this holiday stuff had to do with their perceived need for assimilation.

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