Merry Christmas, Everyone
I’m not a Christian. But for me, the Christians have decisively won the battle for the meaning of Christmas. Their Christmas songs are just plain better. The best Christmas songs are about the birth of Christ. Therefore Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Not that we needed the music to tell us. It’s right there in the name.
In the middle of the 20th century, the American propaganda establishment seems to have got together to try to create a new meaning for Christmas. No Jesus now, only “Santa”. This seems to happen every now and then. The romantics in the 19th century, and people like Dickens, invented most of our prior Christmas culture. Before that, Christmas was banned by the puritans as pagan idolatry. Before that, it was some kind of late medieval social inversion debauchery. These things change.
By the late 20th century, it looked like secular consoomermas was going to displace Christmas. At least to some people. The Christians worried about losing the true meaning of Christmas. No, not love and charity and all that. The other true meaning: Christ the savior is born. Songs like “Silver Bells” and “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” had displaced classics like “Good King Wenceslas” and “O Holy Night”.
I grew up in this milieu. For me, Christmas was about caroling, and presents, and shopping, and Christmas trees, and being with family. The people who said this was all wrong, that Christmas was actually about the singular metaphysical event of the earthly incarnation of God, seemed odd. Anachronistic. Lame, somehow. They were, at the time.
Music is powerful. If you can get people singing your songs, loaded with your ontological concepts, you thereby drill those concepts into their heads. They don’t have to believe, at first. They just have to have fun repeating your concepts. Then those concepts become the available material for thought and culture. Slowly but surely, people come to believe. They are not educated in any alternative.
So it was with secular “holiday”. We all got drilled with the concepts of shopping, and Santa, and Christmas trees, and presents, and charity, and snow, and so on. That was our Christmas.
Nostalgia is also a powerful force. For a while.
The “Christmas” we know is the Christmas that was promoted during the childhood of the baby boomers. Just look at the release date of the songs. The big bulk is from the 1950s and 1960s. Boomermas.
Then, it was a new propaganda initiative. It was inherently hip just because it was what the elite was doing at the time. In the later 20th century, it was just how things were. It was nostalgic. It made people (read boomers) remember their childhood, and feel warm and fuzzy inside. It was powered by boomer nostalgia.
But now, the nostalgia has worn off the secular consumerism songs. The truth is revealed. The emperor wears no clothes. Secular songs like “Silver Bells” and so on simply don’t hold the slightest candle to the explicitly, intensely Christian songs like “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. The former really has no place in the canon. In fact, it’s one for the memory hole. Best sunk in a bog and never spoken of again. It’s not actively bad, just without merit.
It doesn’t help that consumerism itself, and the idea of giving and recieving presents, the centerpiece of secular “Christmas”, has become distasteful. Material stuff is mostly a liability. It has to be stored and managed. We move around a lot, and live in smaller spaces. In the middle of the 20th century, material abundance was a novelty. It has become a burden.
We no longer define our class position by how much stuff we can buy. In fact, the most prolific consumers are the lower classes. They rent bouncy castles for parties and buy heaps of plastic toys. Who wants to live like that? It’s distasteful. Instead, we rank ourselves by our carefully considered consumer choices of a few high quality or especially virtuous items.
Further, the gift exchange ritual is logistically stressful. Who wants to spend hundreds of dollars and many hours running around paying tribute to global capitalism, when we could be relaxing with family?
And won’t someone think of the environment. Realistically, we immediately throw out easily 90% of the gifts we recieve at Christmas. Or at least we hold them for a few years out of gift guilt, until they finally make their way to the landfill. And don’t forget the packaging!
I appreciate cash, meat, tools, and good wool socks. Otherwise, it’s rare to get something worth the cubic centimeters it takes up in my life. Even chocolate is so abundant as to become a liability. It’s even worse to take on the responsibility of giving someone something that isn’t going to be a liability. I can’t be the only one thinking this.
I see a lot of families furtively de-emphasizing consumerist gift culture in favor of feasting and singing. “We’re not doing presents this year”. Gathering as a family to do our annual Christmas ritual, our own emphasis has likewise shifted over the years, from presents, to singing. Even as the next generation comes into being, I don’t see this trend reversing.
As the emphasis shifts to singing and feasting with family, Christmas becomes about the content of the best Christmas songs. The best Christmas songs are extremely Christian. Hail the newborn sacrifical God-king.
Another factor is probably just that liberal propaganda culture has moved on from trying to redefine Christmas. An invasion of Christmas to lubricate the mass conversion of the normie population from Christianity to secular liberalism was necessary after the war. But in the long run, “Christmas” just wasn’t defensible territory for a secular worldview. Nor is it valuable territory, once you’re no longer Christian. It’s all “holiday” and “solstice” and “new year” these days. Those are perfectly adequate to the needs of secular religio.
So the victory of the Christians in the battle for the meaning of Christmas is something of a Phyrric victory. You won, but only because your adversary has mostly phased out “Christmas”.
Christmas is about the birth of Christ. But I’m not a Christian, so where does that leave people like me?
For many people, neither Christianity nor it’s farcial secular successor inspire true belief. And yet these are the previous and current core ideological operating systems of our civilization. So, much like the late USSR with failing belief in official Marxism, we’re in a bit of a pickle.
We no longer believe, but having no alternative, we are forced to go through the motions to prop up an empty official ideology. What can you do when you don’t believe, but don’t have an alternative? Any simple rebellion or rejection is pointless and harmful. The ideology is doing real work in animating your social order. But it’s also somehow dead. You prop it up and affirm its ritual claims even as you desperately search for some believable alternative.
Faced with two official ideologies I don’t believe, one utterly meaningless, nonsensical, and evil, and the other dripping with meaning, metaphysically mostly coherent, and mostly good, the choice is fairly easy. It’s made easier in that the latter ideology presided over the golden age of our civilization, and has better music. But we still don’t believe in the core message of Christmas. We’re still in a pickle.
It seems good and right to affirm and celebrate the birth of Christ, even as we work on whatever comes next. This is the most important event in the mythology of our civilization’s golden age. So rejoice in the birth of God, even if you don’t believe. It keeps some good parts of our world running.
Besides, the music is better.
Merry Christmas, everyone.