If ever anyone actually fought a War on Christmas, I think they won this year. For the first time in my 29 years, I started feeling uneasy when people wished me a Merry Christmas. The greeting, friendly or at worst benign throughout my years, started in 2006 to sound like a Republican code word.
I never called myself “pro-life” for very long, and I thought that “family values” sounded a bit squirrelly even back in high school. But in the moment when I realized that “Christmas” had been tainted, claimed as property by a political party, I got mad. And when I get mad, it tends to last only a couple minutes, and then I start to think.
The booger about Christmas is that every stage of its development is contested territory. Its origins might or might not have something to do with Saturnalia, and the historical tradition that links it with Saturnalia might or might not have its own agenda. The consumer orgy might or might not be a deviation from a pristine ur-Christmas with all the Advent fasts and proper piety, and the urge to return to that pristine Christmas might or might not be a quasi-liturgical neo-Puritan impulse. Of course, I tend to see complexity where others don’t. (Hate the phrase “over-think.”)
The lazy but literate part of my self wants simply to fall back on Dickens and Irving, to claim some easy “middle ground” in which Christmas is at once sacred and secular and in which the archaeology of genetic moments is an unnecessary trifle and for which the proper response is not thought but revelry in whatever happens to be there. (BTW, “A Christmas Carol” is the obvious Dickens reference; Irving’s Sketch-Book has a number of Christmas chapters.)
And then I realize that I’ve wandered far afield from the suspiciously-partisan-sounding insistences that in fact it’s time for Merry Christmas and not for a Happy Holiday.
And then I realize that the spring semester begins in four days. Thank the heavens I can think about something simple then, like Old English participles or Heidegger.