Life is filled with paradox, even at a time as delightful as Christmas. When our children were small we would convince them that the NORAD Santa Claus tracker was real, and they would listen to the voice at the end of the phone — usually that of a woman serving in the U.S. Air Force — explaining the movements of St. Nicholas.
NORAD, of course, is part of the American defence network, and the U.S. military implemented a foreign policy in the Middle East that caused anarchy in Iraq, destabilized Syria and directly led to the hell of suffering that exists there now.
On Boxing Day we spend what money we have left from the previous year in mass sales, presenting an image of the most vulgar and inexorable capitalism. It’s actually St. Stephen’s Day, commemorating the first Christian martyr. He died for his belief in Jesus, who preached peace, love and equality and condemned materialism and gain as immoral and un-Godly.
Three days later, on December 29, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we remember King Herod massacring all the children he could find in a failed attempt to murder the infant Jesus. This comes at a time when children are still being directly targeted in Aleppo by snipers in the service of various terror factions. Generally speaking, the western world — nominally Christian — does as little as the Muslim world to try to stop the carnage.
The point is this: We’ve got Christmas terribly wrong, and the rot set in fairly recently. The commercialization is regrettable, but the usual moaners and religious pedants really should have a “silent night” once in a while. As for the alleged ‘war on Christmas’, that’s mostly, to quote Ebenezer, “humbug”. It might be annoying for a Christmas tree to be banned or for a nativity scene to be removed from a public square, but that’s hardly the stuff of persecution.
No, we got it wrong when, ironically, we thought we were getting it right. In 1914, for example, there was a temporary but sublime Christmas truce between British and German soldiers. In 1946 Hollywood made It’s A Wonderful Life, in which unbridled capitalism and urban development were portrayed as cruel and soulless.
It was in the 1960s that the conservative Christian world, while screaming about Christian values, wove the cross into the flag, glued God to alleged ‘family values’ and attached Christ to an aggressive foreign policy, American exceptionalism and a suspicion of all that was not “like us.”
An ugly coalition of right-wing Catholics, militant evangelicals, Fox News, Republicans, elements of the ‘new right’ in Canada, and various influential Canadian blogs and personalities has produced an implosion. Whether they knew it or not, whether they cared or not, they’ve allowed a genuine war on Christmas to take place. A war not against greeting cards and carol singing but against the quintessential virtues that are at the heart of the Christmas message.
For those of us who believe, those virtues are forgiveness, compassion, social justice, economic fairness, stewardship of the planet, care for the marginalized, empathy with the despised, a stale world turned upside down. A baby born in occupied Palestine 2,000 years ago grows up to give the ultimate answers, before being executed by the rulers — the wealthy, the privileged, the conservative and those terrified of change and revolution.
It has long mystified me that a religion so tied to the poor and the powerless should have become — in North America in particular — so linked to the rich and the powerful. During the Christmas season that jarring reality becomes all the more obvious and disturbing.
People like to say that they wish it could be Christmas every day. I agree. But what sort of Christmas? The Christmas it was supposed to have been, or the one it has become? The Christmas of suburban indifference hiding in the politics of Donald Trump and Kellie Leitch, or a Christmas layered in the teachings of the man whose birth it’s supposed to celebrate?
Enjoy the holidays, and try to remember not only the people of Syria, Iraq and Egypt — and the vast majority of the world’s population who live in conditions we could and would never tolerate — but also the forgotten and broken in our own country. They’re the very people that baby was born to remind us of.
Who really declared war on Christmas? (external - login to view)