Christmas is a magical time of year. Excitement thickens the air with each passing day. Bells jingling, towns twinkling, vibrant hues of red, silver and gold, and the warm, buttery aroma of cookies fresh from the oven heighten our senses. Glistening snow drifts silently in the dark of night and creates a fresh vision of what we disregard every other day.
But, there’s an undercurrent of discontent during the holiday season as well. (I use the word ‘discontent’ because ‘content’ is the goal for most of us.) Every year, we are subjected to the same tired news story about the (alleged) War On Christmas. Unfortunately, if it’s delivered by the almighty TV screen, Americans accept it as gospel truth.
Then there’s the grumbling. “Holiday Trees! What? They’re Christmas trees! I’m saying MERRY CHRISTMAS! This is exactly what’s wrong with America. They need to put Christ back into Christmas. This country needs Jesus.”
For a small class of federal employees, it’s illegal to say “Merry Christmas”, and many companies have been quick to follow in discouraging the saying lest they offend.
I agree the term “holiday tree” is tragic. I’m perfectly fine with Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Not so much on the rest. This may piss some of y’all off, but the origin of Jesus Christ has little to do with December 25th, Christmas, or its traditions. More on that in a moment.
I think politically correct = boring as fuck. A writer’s job is to talk about the things you think, but cannot say. Americans LOVE telling others how they should think. We live for it. For all the hypocritical prattling we do about free speech and the Constitution, telling others what to do and how they should think is almost a national pastime. “Don’t be stupid. You need to do it how I would. If you don’t, I’ll complain vehemently about you on social media, which will surely fix everything. If anyone disagrees, FUCK THEM. Unfriended.”
Do me a favor and read this entire essay before dashing off a knee-jerk reaction email. A crazy thing to ask, I realize.
The holidays are a mixed bag for my friends and colleagues, which usually stems from emotional and financial burdens rather than religious reasons. The majority of my atheist friends love Christmas with no issues regarding festivities. They don’t give a rat’s fat ass if it makes people happy to have nativity scenes front and center. Some may snicker off to the side about The Extremists, but most just do their own thing. My “other” friends (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Dudeists…) may celebrate it for fun or enjoy the day off to check out the latest in theaters.
On the flip side, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the holiday altogether because of its ties to Paganism and their sentiment that it fails to worship the son of God properly. They feel the holiday ritualizes sinful behavior (can’t argue that logic) and their belief is that Jesus wasn’t born in December.
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loudly for all to hear.” -Elf
Not always. Some loathe the holiday. It can be a painful reminder of estranged relatives, lost loved ones, anxiety due to impending travel or family (we all love the terribly significant National Lampoons Christmas Vacation movie for a reason), or the heavy feeling of obligation regarding time, energy, and spending. Xanax-Prozac-vodka gingerbread martini, anyone?
There’s the opinion that Christmas has lost its meaning, or there’s too much forced/expected materialism. But mostly, it’s just not their gig. They haven’t declared War On Christmas. They just wish it over so they can move on.
Family lies within the spirit, not the blood. It’s whom we love, which isn’t always those who we’re related to.
I adore Christmas. (Admittedly, I don’t go near shopping centers. This is why Amazon exists. For those who say “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”, you’ve clearly never worked retail during the holidays.) I’m that merry asshole who Griswolds the ever-loving crap out of my yard the minute Thanksgiving is over. Black Friday? Nonsense. It’s red, white and green Friday!
I adore the symbolism of Christmas; peppermint everything, Santa, cookies, anticipation in children, ridiculous pet costumes, “Letters to Santa” mailboxes, cookies, neighbors lighting up their homes (C’mon, put something out, fuckers. They make solar Christmas lights now. No electric bills, no excuses!), sparkling trees in windows, cookies, babies in mangers, snow (if we should be so lucky), pumpkin pie, candlelight service, cookies, and the music, with or without “holy” in the lyrics. I need Elf, In Bruges, A Christmas Story, Love Actually, Joyeaux Noel, Rudolph and the Abominable in my house.
I’m not religious these days but grew up in a church. (Today, my stance is the only thing I know is that we don’t know. No one has come back and told us anything for sure, so I remain open-minded.) I was raised in a pretty narrow vortex; Reagan was god. Everyone reads. Hunting, crabbing and having a garden was the norm. The only language you needed to know was English; it’s universal. Dogs were never allowed inside the house. It was never acceptable to talk about politics, sex or religion. Whatever we are surrounded with is ‘normal’. If we grow up with Mom screaming at us all the time or our fathers eating their young, then we’ll probably scream at our partners and think eating children is customary unless exposed to another way. ***
“If you are the smartest person in a room, it’s time to change rooms.”
Thanks to modeling and professional wrestling, I was given more options. In Europe, I discovered you’re considered uninteresting if you don’t talk politics, sex or religion, and being dull is the surest way not to get invited back to a dinner party. I’ve since found Americans enjoy talking about these topics, but aren’t always good at it. The trick: be willing to (truly) listen without pushing your own agenda. For real. Shut the fuck up and listen. Don’t try to convert, conversate. If you can be respectful and open to other points of view, you can have meaningful banter instead of lame surface talk. You’ll also become a gold medal champ at navigating through hot-button issues at family dinners. People like to be heard and have their opinion valued. It’s an art. Know that most chats are NOT going to end with the person across from you sharing your beliefs, and that’s exactly what makes it interesting – to see why they feel the way they do. If you surround yourself with people who are just like you, you won’t grow.
If all else fails, these words, followed by a change of topic, save lives: “I can understand/appreciate where you’re coming from. It’s good to see it from your perspective. Hey, by the way, did you see that Spice Girl reunion thing on YouTube? They still look great!”
Once I started traveling, my eyes opened. Few in Germany spoke English, as I’d been assured. Mein Gott. Was für eine Scheiße ist das? Not everyone dreams of coming to America. Our healthcare mostly sucks and it’s devastatingly expensive, but if you need to be put back together quickly, this is where we medically excel. Pets are not only allowed in houses but they sleep on beds. Some people don’t hunt or eat meat, despite evolving with teeth to do so. My parents hadn’t exactly prepared me for doing global business in the world we live in.
With a world education at my fingertips, I began to Question Authority and Think for Myself. With the click of a mouse, any query I had could be researched. Traveling is also the greatest education one can get. I highly advise everyone to do so, and not the resort-type. Get out and see the world. It’s a solid investment in yourself.
I learned fascinating things regarding America, religion, and Christmas which I’ll share with you.
Fact: “In God We Trust” appeared on our money fairly recently and had everything to do with fighting a cold war against the Soviets (used as propaganda), not our collective American beliefs. Many of our forefathers were agnostic or Puritan, which is reflected in the way our Constitution was written. They understood that a country embedded in forced religion was not morally ideal, since they (and theirs) left a world rife with religion dissention, and felt Americans should have free choice in the matter. We’ve seen many ongoing religious massacres somehow perversely justified in the name of someone’s god in just the past few years: Ireland, Bosnia, Armenia, Rwanda, and Myanmar to name a few.
We should absolutely respect one another’s beliefs – or lack thereof – because we are incredibly fortunate to live in a country which vehemently protects this right by constitutional law.
Fact: The celebration of Christmas was adopted from Pagan traditions and has been around far longer than the manger birth. The Catholics, eager to convert as many as possible, compromised with Pagans and allowed them to keep some of their traditions. Easter is another one, from Eostre, the goddess of spring and fertility.
Yes. That makes two major Christian holidays named by Anglo Saxons after Pagan Deities.
Zealots have never let a few facts get in the way of preaching an agenda, but for those who like to be grounded in reality, here are some more interesting historical nuggets:
FACT: Our Christmas tree (call it a holiday tree and I’ll cut ya) originated from old Pagan ceremonies. The Vikings thought Evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder. Some counties believed that hanging evergreens on doors (wreaths) kept evil spirits and illness at bay. Germany is credited with making the tree “a thing”. Queen Victoria, eager to please her German husband, Prince Albert, honored his traditions and the Royals were shown in newspapers posing next to their tree. Martin Luther (started the Protestant religion) was said to be awed by the beauty of a lighted tree and widely encouraged it. Pennsylvania, with its dense German population, brought the tree to America. (Another fun fact: The USA has no official language, but we were only a few short votes from making it German before they decide to nix the whole process.)
FACT: December 25th refers to the Winter Solstice dating back to Egyptian times. It’s to celebrate the birth of the sun, not the “son”. In ancient times, people lived and died by the sun, which brought the light, heat, and crops. The sun was regarded as a god and worshipped appropriately. Without being able to explain how this all worked, they created stories. Light battled Darkness and rose again to save the day – and alternately, mankind.
FACT: On the Julius calendar, if Christ was born, his birth would fall on January 6th, which is a date many Orthodox religions use.
So, why is the birth of Jesus celebrated on Christmas? Because it may have been. While our modern holiday traditions aren’t overly religious in actual origin, there IS this: The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. A very early Christian tradition said the day Mary was told that she’d give birth to a very special infant (called the Annunciation) was March 25th. Nine months from that date is what we know as Christmas, so it was chosen as his birth date. A few years after Emperor Constantine started the tradition, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December, and history was made.
Many agnostics and atheists believe Jesus of Nazareth existed, but that he was a historical person, not a god.
FACT: A broad-sweeping comment like “We need Jesus to fix this country” can be wholly offensive. It insinuates that one needs a book to have morals, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Considering we are already a Christian nation (as over 75% of America profess to be affiliated), that solution does not seem be the answer to our problems.
Personally, I don’t need a book or the threat of a hell to not murder someone. There’s a substantial group of wonderful human beings who have never read the Bible, or did, but have zero fucks to give, and they generally do the right thing. Religion does not equal ethics, as we’ve seen with the thousands of scandals in the Catholic Church alone.
But, people are inherently good, with or without the guidance of the Bible, and despite what we are inundated with on the news (and then subjected to via regurgitation on social networks), we are safer today than we’ve ever been in United States history. We may not FEEL safe because we’re constantly barraged with negative shit, but remember: Unlike the not-so-distant past, our news is now 24-hours a day and they have to fill that time with something…anything. Preferably trainwrecks, because we can’t look away. Crying moms = ratings. Ratings = $$$$$$$$. The goal? Yeah. Feature crying moms, front and center.
Once again: Religion doesn’t equate to morals, morals don’t equate to religion. They can be synonymous, but not always.
FACT: For the past century, Christmas has been traditionally accepted as a celebration of the birth of Jesus or for the exchange of gifts. This shouldn’t offend anyone. It’s kind of like the abortion argument: if you don’t agree with it, you certainly don’t have to get one should you find yourself up Shits Creek in the family way. But, you have absolutely no right telling others how to live their lives.
Any other reaction shows a blatant lack of respect and suggests you feel your beliefs are superior to others. Live and let live.
Christian scriptures tell us Jesus was at odds with the cultural and political powers in which he found himself. He was not born to be a son of the Emperor in the palaces of Rome. He was born to be the son of a carpenter in a small village called Bethlehem. He fled a war zone as a refugee to escape death and later returned to do his work, which was speaking candidly (and rather radically for those times) about God’s love for all of humanity, and especially for those the privileged had rejected. This was so threatening to those in power, they silenced him by killing him. Jesus, for all accounts, was a defiant rebel. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and reckon that He would be okay with us a.) saying whatever at Christmas and b.) celebrating however we want, as long as we’re treating others the way we want to be treated.
With so many ways to celebrate this spectacular holiday, Christmas is whatever we want it to be, just like a wedding. Perhaps you’ll opt for the giant white dress and a full Catholic mass? Or elope in a private ceremony at the courthouse? (Note: neither version will protect you from divorce statistics.)
As you’ve probably figured out, I take no stance because there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate what makes you happy, as long as you’re not murdering puppies.**** I have no political or religious affiliation, which benefits me in seeing all sides. Even if I did, I feel I’m mature enough to put my own personal feelings aside, not be selfish and understand what works for me might not work for others. My stance is strictly respecting people’s freedom of choice. I understand that science is a beautiful thing, but it’s not always a comfort.
Some will always prefer to be critical. Unfortunately, it’s illegal to shake ‘em like a baby.** Whether it’s those who refuse to accept historical facts – and aggressively yell “MERRY CHRISTMAS”, or the vocal minority who thrive on getting offended and just cannot seem to respect other’s beliefs, perhaps a little less judgment about “how Christmas is SUPPOSED to be” and more sharing of cookies is a nicer option. After all, if you can’t change your situation, change your perspective and reaction. (That’s how you Choose Happiness.) Like it or not, Winter Is Coming.
My real opinion is that there is no war on Christmas, and there never has been. It’s simply another attempt by ratings-driven media (anger porn) to keep the “divide and conquer” agenda in this country going. Don’t fall for the bullshit. My only war on Christmas is when they bring that stuff out in stores before we’ve even had a chance to get our Halloween candy. What. The. Fuck.
Someone sent me this video: “God Is In Everything, Every Molecule That Holds Us Together” by Pastor Louie Giglio. 8 minutes and quite interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuDtlHtWR64
Whatever you celebrate, with or without the dear lord baby Jesus, I hope you have a very merry one.
Peace, love, and peppermint to you and yours. Happy HolliChristHanuKwanza.
Don’t shoot your eye out.
**I absolutely do not ever advise shaking babies. It’s pure sarcasm. Unless they’re really, really annoying. Then make your own adult decision.
***With the plethora of grocery stores widely available, I don’t advocate eating your children. While it may be cost-effective right now (toy shopping can really add up), think about the bigger picture. Eventually, you’ll get old and they might take care of your diapered ass if you raise them right.
****Like bacon, puppies prove there’s a God.
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April K. Hunter is a television writer, short story author, and blogger. She primarily writes thrillers and memoirs. April attends Full Sail University for her bachelor’s degree in creative writing for entertainment. Her work appears in a variety of publications, including RxMuscle, Page & Spine, Medium and European Journal FONT. She is a model and former pro wrestler.
Visit me on my website www.AprilHunter.com and Instagram: @realAprilHunter
Thank you to Hubert O’Hearn and Gregg Silliman for ideas and editing.