Originally published on Patheos, December 24, 2015
Jeremiah 10:2-4 2 Thus said the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. — American King James Version
Religious Freedom, as understood by the typical faith-deranged American, is dependent upon the unconstrained and exclusive right to proselytize and impose the Christian faith upon others. Only once you’ve understood this basic fact do the Culture Wars begin to make any sense at all. In fact, the debates concerning Gay Marriage, and the “freedom” to restrict the rights of homosexual couples, can’t be understood otherwise.
The “War on Christmas” — rather, the annual outbreak of hysterical persecution complex-driven conspiracy theories regarding secular/Satanic efforts to destroy a quintessential Christian holiday — must also be understood in this light. Surely, there are no serious efforts underway to prevent Christians from celebrating the holiday as they see fit. However, Bible-believing theocrats imagine their religious freedoms are being unconscionably abridged should they be in any way restricted from imposing their own interpretation of the holiday’s meaning, and their faith’s prescribed method of “celebration”, onto others. After all, ours is a “Christian Nation”, and preserving, proselytizing, and imposing Christian beliefs, are essential to the common Evangelical’s very practice of faith.
Thus, the most active aggressors in the Holiday-centered battleground of the Culture Wars imagine themselves to be acting in self-defense when they rage against secular reference to “the Holidays”. In the utopian Christian Nation, often imagined to exist in some not-too-distant past, there is no holiday in December but Christmas, a celebration of Christ, and one must either convert or abstain from any festivities which might take place in its proximity.
By now it is unnecessary and redundant to counter the arguments of the self-appointed Christmas Warriors with an academic exploration of Christmas’s non-Christian roots. Rare are those for whom such material would hold any novelty. In fact, the invention of the Christmas tradition, stolen from “heathen” practices, is now so generally known that even some unlettered Bible-thumping zealots — somehow selectively failing in their usual talent for cultivated, militant ignorance — are calling for an end to the “ungodly” holiday. In the tradition of early American Puritans, who banned the holiday outright, these affrighted fundamentalists — “Christians Against Christmas” — find it impossible to reconcile the decidedly non-Biblical, Pagan origins of Christmas traditions with their understanding of Biblical living.
This, ultimately, may threaten to be the real “War on Christmas”. As American Christians further regress into Puritanism, more may question and revolt against their coopted Solstice holiday. Celebration and fun were never strong suits held by the pious anyway, and the air of Yuletide revelry has been a problematic element of Christmas for Christians throughout the holiday’s history.
In his book The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum discusses the carnivalesque atmosphere of misrule and irreverent abandon that characterized early Christmas celebrations, much to the outrage of practicing Christians:
Reveling could easily become rowdiness; lubricated by alcohol, making merry could edge into making trouble. Christmas was a season of “misrule,” a time when ordinary behavioral restraints could be violated with impunity.
Noting that Christmas has always been a rather difficult holiday to “Christianize”, Nissenbaum further describes the loosening of “behavioral restraints” and inversion of social norms once associated with Christmas revelry:
Often people blackened their faces or disguised themselves as animals or cross-dressed, thus operating under a protective cloak of anonymity. The late-nineteenth-century historian John Ashton reports one episode from Lincolnshire in 1637, in which a man selected by a crowd of revelers as “Lord of Misrule” was publicly given a “wife,” in a ceremony led by a man dressed as a minister (he read the entire marriage service from the Book of Common Prayer). Thereupon, as Ashton noted in Victorian language, “the affair was carried to its utmost extent.”
It’s time to take the holiday back for the heathen.
Some people have expressed shock and disgust at the open willingness of Satanists within The Satanic Temple to celebrate the holiday season. However: fun, celebration — these are our domain, and we see no need to deny ourselves a good time, if there is a good time to be had. Nobody need pay any homage to the entitled heirs of the Solstice’s hostile takeover by faith-deranged brigands. How do Satanists celebrate Christmas? Any way they see fit — though, in coming years we may well organize holiday festivals similar to those of old described by Nissenbaum. The “Christ” in Christmas may then be viewed ironically, but for those with a distaste for the word, perhaps Xmas is still more appropriate. “Xmas”, as in a post-Christian “ex-Mass”. A hedonistic celebration of pleasure with no apologies for offended sacred superstitious sensibilities.
Hail Satan, and Happy Holidays!