The Secularization of Christmas Isn't Just Okay — It's Great

Good Tidings Great JoyStart your engines, folks, the War on Christmas is here again! This time it's Sarah Palin leading the charge with her new book: Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas. Released a couple of weeks ago, the book is apparently — brace yourself, this is shocking — really, really awful. The Daily Beast's Candida Moss actually read the damn thing (bless her heart) and came away with a whole lot of nothing.

"Ultimately," Moss wrote in her review, "this is a Christmas of no-bake cookies, half-baked theology, and pre-packaged Christmas stories."

By way of the "half-baked theology," Moss said, the former Vice Presidential candidate at one point talks about about placing a menorah on her Christmas table every year to "acknowledge Christianity's Judeo-Christian roots." That bit made me laugh out loud. God, she's an idiot.

But back to the War on Christmas.

By my read, the War on Christmas has two main tentacles, or assumptions:

1. Christmas is becoming a secular holiday.

2. People are forcing it into secularization by killing off all mention of Christ.

Okay, first of all, Number 1? Flat-out true.

Christmas is becoming a secular holiday. Not for everyone, of course, but for some. Maybe even for many. Definitely for me. I love Christmas — the trees, the lights, the gift giving, all of it — but I took the Christ out of my Christmas a long time ago. Other than telling my daughter about the wonderful little legend of Jesus' birth in a stable in Bethlehem, my version of Christmas is a season of entirely nonreligious traditions and celebrations. Sure, those celebrations are rooted in my Christian heritage, and I wholly acknowledge that. (The same way Palin acknowledges her religion's Jewish roots with a menorah.) But do I attach some deeper personal meaning to Christmas? No, not at all. You could say I am a secular Christian in the same way some of my friends are secular Jews or secular Hindus. They'll probably always celebrate Hanukkah and Diwali, but does that mean they actually believe in God, Brahman, or that dude with the elephant head? Uh, no.

So, yes, Fox News, I'll give you No. 1. But you lose me at No. 2.

Apart from some civic-minded folks trying to make their public spaces more inclusive of other cultures by removing nativity scenes and the like, no one is forcing Christmas into secularization. Yes, mentions of Christ are dropping like flies. But that's not because of injuries sustained in any damn war. It's because more and more Americans — more than 20 percent of us — are nonreligious. Christmas is becoming more secular because we are becoming more secular.

The holiday isn't dying. It's evolving.

And isn't that a good thing? Would Fox News rather we secularists stopped celebrating Christmas altogether? I wonder how Sarah Palin would feel if a quarter of her family and friends stopped showing up to her annual Christmas party? I wonder how all those corporations and business owners and stock brokers would feel if we stopped spending millions of our dollars on colored lights, blow-up Santas and gifts for our loved ones every year?

No, Fox News, I won't be putting the Christ back into my Christmas. Ever. But if my family and friends will let me, I'll continue to lug home pine trees from the local Christmas tree lot and obscure all but the scent of those trees with a heinous number of Christmas ornaments. I'll hang the gorgeous, envy-inducing Christmas stockings my mother knitted for each member of my family. I'll listen to the Christmas carols my grandmother used to play on the piano when I was a child. With my husband, daughter, parents, in-laws, siblings, nieces, nephews and friends always on my mind, I'll wrap Christmas presents and watch Christmas movies and read Christmas books and bake Christmas cookies and attend Christmas parties. I'll do it all.

And in doing so, I will indeed "protect the heart of Christmas." It won't be Palin's exact version of Christmas, of course. But it will be Christmas just the same. And it will be great.

What's Wrong with a Nativity Scene Made out of Dead Cats?

When my mom was in college at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, she had a sorority sister who interned for the local newspaper. One day, the intern was rummaging through the morgue (which, in pre-Internet days, is where they kept old  clips) when she found a file labeled "Funny Brides." The file was pretty self-explanatory; it was filled with stories about tasteless weddings and photographs of homely, unseemly or otherwise humorous-to-look-at brides and their grooms. Of course, she wasn't about to keep this find to herself, so she brought the file back to the Sorority House, where the sisters pissed themselves laughing. And, thus, a tradition was born. Today, some 55 years later, my mom and a close circle of her old friends have a Funny Bride Book of their own. It's filled with clippings from newspapers around the country. Sometimes, it's just the photos that are funny. But more often it's details of the ceremonies that prove the most hilarious. One couple, for instance, were married in front of a water fall. During their vows, a rock flew out of the water fall and hit the groom in the groin.

"It was reported," my mom told me, "that the bride and groom were able to consummate the marriage.... Now, isn't that more information than you really want to know?"

It wasn't just Funny Brides that caught her fancy, though. The Des Moines Register used to print "Funny Names" as a regular column. Both my parents have committed a great number of those to memory. Let's see, there's Tackaberry McAdoo, Munsing Underwear Johnson, and my least favorite of all of them, Mary Moist.

The point is that my mother's fascination with goofy newspaper stories is why I have in my possession a 1999 article about a school-sanctioned high school nativity scene in Elizabethton, Tennessee, made completely out of cat cadavers.

The Elizabethton Star, Tennessee

 

I know, I know. Christmas was so last month. And yet, I couldn't help but share this one with you. If you're not able to read it, click here — where I found an online-version of the story. And here, you'll even find a Letter to the Editor about the thing. Apparently PETA eventually awarded its annual Kind Student Award to the boy who was SUSPENDED FROM SCHOOL for daring to take the scene down. And what, you ask, would lead him to vandalize such a holy display?

Well, because it smelled bad, the boy said. And because it was disgusting to look at.

Sacrilegious little shit. They should have expelled him.

Favorite line from the editorial: "That students in Elizabethton placed a formaldehyde-soaked dead cat in a cradle as baby Jesus and inserted sticks into the rectums of cats to make them stand up as Mary, Joseph, and the wise men is shocking..."

Especially when superimposed over this line from the Elizabethton Star:

"The decorating contest 'gave students an opportunity to work as a team with their homeroom teacher with a holiday spirit activity," Alexander (the principal) said in a press release. He said most reaction so the cat cadaver display were positive."

BlogHer Spotlights Religious Charm Bracelet

BlogHer Spotlight featured one of my posts today — the one on religious charm bracelets, and they called the idea "brilliant." So, you know, I love them now. You can check out the BlogHer bit here, but this is what they wrote:

All Religions In One Charm Bracelet

Reflecting on her own childhood fascination with her mother's jangly charm bracelet, Wendy hatched a brilliant plan — create a sparkly, shiny charm bracelet featuring a variety of religious symbols as a teaching tool for her daughter:

"I’d like for Maxine to recognize religious symbols and have some sense of their back stories. It’s a challenge sometimes, though, to introduce the basic concept of religion without, you know, boring her to tears. I figured if Maxine had a bracelet with religious symbols in her jewelry box, she might drag it out every once in a while and look at it. If I got lucky, maybe she’d even ask a question or two."

Read more from All Religions In One Charm Bracelet at Relax, It's Just God

Special thanks to BlogHer's Heather Clisby, and to my mom — who inspired the post and whose birthday is tomorrow.