Christmas, at its innermost heart, is not about Christ. Many people will say, “Now, wait a minute!” But what is not obvious from the name is that Christmas precedes Christ and existed under many names in many cultures as a season shrouded in sanctity.
First of all, December 25 is not even Jesus’ birthday. The holiday known as Christmas is only the latest facade over holiness likely dating to the dawn of humankind. Just as Heathen Jól went away or morphed as Yule into Christmas as part of the endless process of syncretism, so too must Christmas give way to changing attitudes and beliefs.
And Christ. for the so-called defenders of Christmas, has himself become nothing but an excuse for racists and bigots, and a rallying cry for fleeting white privilege in a nation increasingly diverse in ethnicity and belief.
The much-touted War on Christmas has been exposed as a myth some would say is a celebration of another myth. Conservative Christians like Buster Miller of the American Family Association can say that opponents of Christmas “are using the court system of this country to force Christians to not be able to celebrate Christmas at Christmastime,” but in fact, most people still say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” and most Americans are still Christians – at least nominally – of one stripe or another.
What have changed are the underlying assumptions: that we are a Christian nation of white people sharing a common heritage that is itself a myth. In fact, the definition of white people has changed many times over the centuries. In the 19th century, bigots in America insisted the Irish were not white, and the Germans, the Italians, and others.
Conservatives like to talk about a “white culture” or “white America” but there really is no such thing. Yet we can read about people like Matthew Heimbach, 21, a student at Towson University, who clearly managed not to learn anything during his first three years at the school, saying “White culture is dying,”
We can certainly talk in more general terms about European culture, but there is no such thing as “white” culture. Myopically, he says that ” “Every other single group has a union — Jewish, black. Why don’t white students get equal treatment?”
Yes. Somebody hasn’t been paying attention in class. Christians as oppressed. Whites as oppressed. The rallying cries of the obtuse and ignorant.
It would make more sense to form a Scandinavian student union, or a French student union, or a Slovakian student union, or one of any of a dozen other European ethnicities, where Old Country traditions and language could be celebrated.
But a white student union is representative of a group that exists only in the conservative imagination. My mother belonged to the Sons of Norway in order to celebrate our family’s heritage. She would never have dreamed of joining a group celebrating “white” culture, because my mother, did in fact, learn something in school.
And she had a better upbringing from a Norwegian mother and a Swedish father than to fall for such simplified world-views as that possessed by people like Heimbach.
The underlying assumption is that we are all, and have been, a nation of Cleavers. In the conservative narrative, minorities – those icky brown people who shouldn’t be allowed to vote – moved in a shadowy miasma to be best avoided by historians as unimportant (one of the reasons Republicans hate Susan Rice is because she dared, some years ago, to object to this bias).
Any mention of ethnic studies provokes a violently emotional response from conservatives as they cling, David Barton-like, to their fantasies of a white Christian America thinking the same thoughts they do; almost like a Nazi postcard from another era.
They do not realize, because they have no interest in history or facts, that most Americans for the past 200 years have not thought like they do, that their own religious proclivities and attitudes are a relatively new innovation.
Instead of recognizing this, they prefer the David Barton’s of the world to rewrite history to justify and match their own beliefs. This is what David Barton tried to do with Jefferson, turning him into a 21st century white Evangelical more congenial to their needs.
Thus Christmas becomes emblematic of the white Christian struggle for a reality that is in fact a fantasy. Barton says he is fighting against a liberal bias in history (as Stephen Colbert has pointed out, reality has a liberal bias) while Fox News and Bill Donohue and others are fighting against what they say is a liberal war against Christianity.
But if the white perspective has been ethno-centric, America itself has never been monolithically one thing or another. Remember the Irish who were once not white, and the Native Americans and the Africans, first slaves, then free but disenfranchised. Remember the Mexicans who occupied the Southwest before being absorbed into America, and the Chinese imported to build the railroads, and all the other ethnic groups so often lost in the static but as much a part of the fabric of America as any European.
But Republicans have become so obsessed with color (not ethnicity) that they insisted Obama only one in 2008 because of his color, and compounded this absurdity with the claim that he only won in 2012 because he was not of another color: white. But it is not Obama’s color that won or lost him either election, but the inability of Republicans to see any color other than their own; the same color Obama is not.
The sad fact of life in the early 21st century is that in American conservatism, Obama is not only not an American because of his color, because real Americans are white, but because of his religion; the dogged insistence of conservatives being that he is not, in fact, a Christian, but a secret Muslim. I won’t even get into the disqualifier of demonic possession or the equally bizarre determinant that all real Americans are colonialist and Obama is not.
But as Rick might have said to Ilsa, we’ll always have Christmas, that special day of the year when in good conscience all aberrochristians can foreswear their true belief; an act based on the premise that the birthday of a god that has otherwise become completely irrelevant to them is under attack, thus undermining an America that has never existed outside of their fantasies.
Christmas is no more about Jesus for conservative Christians than it is for Heathens like me. It is a colossal excuse. Retailers and manufacturers might mine it for its cash content, but conservatives stand to lose far more than money: they stand to lose a symbol.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.