Every year, regular as clockwork, as stores play “White Xmas” for first time and begin selling mince pies, some conservative-religious-fanatic-populist-politician-radio-shockjock will begin complaining about the “War on Xmas”.
Complain (with complete lack of historical/linguistic knowledge) about saying Xmas instead of Christmas, complain about “Happy holiday” instead of “Happy Xmas”, complain about lack of (totally invented) “nativity” scenes, and so on.
Some of this, most of this, is culture war stuff. Religious and political conservatives seeking stick to beat progressives, determined to impose their will and world view on society. But some, to be charitable in this season of goodwill, is a complete absence of any historical sense, and an inability to recognise the role of personal development in apparently rock solid core values. You know how your popular music tastes are formed by the music that is, well, popular in your teenage years? Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Beatles, Lady GaGa (heaven help us) will forever remain the yardstick by which you judge all the music that pre- and post-dates your period.
Same with Xmas. Your memories of the pleasures of childhood, your childhood, Xmas will remain etched in your brain as the sine qua non of all Xmases past present and future. The slightest deviation from that golden mean, just like the arrival of the Beatles (more popular of course than Christmas) heralded the death of Presleyesque Rock and Roll, means the pagans, the atheists, are out to destroy the one and only true spirit of Xmas past.
But this is also true in a more general sense. We think of Xmas, of course, as essentially the Xmas of our lifetimes, and our parent’s lifetimes, the Xmas, in fact of the twentieth century, of, for many of us, Dear old Blighty, The Mother Country, England. A Xmas unchanged and unchanging until, as the culture warriors see it, those militant atheists spoiled it for everyone – the end of Xmas as we know it.
Absolute nonsense of course, it has changed, been changed, added to, amalgamated, combined, modified, ever since the decision, many thousands, probably at least 10,000 years, ago, to begin celebrating the winter solstice. The depth of winter in the northern hemisphere, time to hope that the Sun was once again on its way back, and the happy days of Spring would one day be here again.
You know all the rest don’t you, pagan rituals, mistletoe, Saturnalia, adopted by christians to fit an imaginary story, St Nicholas, Queen Victoria, German trees, Charles Dickens, Coca Cola? Suffice it to say that if xmas culture warriors like Barnaby Joyce or American Bill O’Reilly were transported back to any time prior to, say, 1830 in England (or indeed Scotland or Wales), or to Europe (or indeed any other continent) they would find Xmas unrecognisable. Similarly a medieval English or European peasant time travelling to Xmas 2011 would have no idea what was going on, would view the festivities as they would an alien spaceship.
To take just one example. My beloved Pickwick Papers is often rightly seen as the book that began the trend towards the modern Xmas we see now. But if you read the Xmas scenes, this is a celebration by a rich landowner and his family with a visit by a group of rich unemployed middleclass travellers. The great mass of the population of England, peasants and poor, weren’t celebrating like this. They were lucky to get Xmas Day as a holiday at all. They never had celebrated it much other than by attending church on an extra day. The lords and ladies had always had solstice celebrations (nobless oblige us every one), but it wasn’t for the likes of you and me. Even after Pickwick Papers, the Xmas celebration was more popularised by Queen Victoria, and her German Consort introduced Germanic elements like trees and ornaments etc, and it remained very much an upper classes celebration.
Then other elements were added for commercial reasons – the food, the Xmas cards, ornaments, presents, indeed “Father Xmas” himself. And eventually, slowly and gradually, we got to the “traditional Xmas” in its current form some time after the second world war, the time that the culture warriors remember. Oh and “Xmas taking the Christ out of Christmas” (devilishly clever these culture warriors)? Fraid not, it is a very old religious abbreviation, the “X” actually being the Chi used as first letter abbreviation of Christ in Greek going way way back to the early church.
All sound familiar? Yes, you got it, it’s very very similar to the same-sex-marriage-war-on-marriage line pushed by many of the same cultural warriors who are dying in the ditch to keep Coca Cola Christmas as it ever was. “Traditional marriage” has about the same pedigree as “Traditional Xmas”. Proper registration of marriages only came in in England in 1837. Up until then it was the province of individual parishes. And the concept of people getting “formally married”, unless you were a member of royalty or aristocracy, with alliances to seal, land to inherit, was pretty hit and miss before about the eighteenth century. Peasants either married informally, or didn’t marry at all, children were christened or not or in batches. And the “nuclear family” was pretty much an invention of the post-war world. And all of that even without considering “marriage” customs in Australia or Africa and so on, all considerably different to what we have now. So, quite frankly, when people talk about marriage as an ancient institution they are talking ignorant bullshit.
Atheists can’t celebrate the festive season and gays can’t get married because some hard-faced men who look as if they have done well out of the culture wars have defined what those things are? Get over yourselves. Looking at you Barnaby.
Anyway, to all my blog readers and twitter followers, wherever you are, and whatever your marital state, have a great end-of-the-year-politically-correct-happy-holiday with family and community.
And as George Grossmith said “I am a poor man but I would gladly give ten shillings to find out who sent me the insulting Christmas card I received this morning.”