I like Edgar Allan Poe and taught “Berenice” in my American Lit classes around Halloween. I even dressed up for Halloween at the school. So, my students thought that because I can be “dark,” and because I was one of maybe two teachers who dressed up for Halloween that it is my favorite. It is not. I like it, but I don’t love it. Halloween can be fun, but it can also be a bit of a nuisance. If you don’t have kids or a good party to go to, what’s the point as an adult? If you try to go trick-or-treating you might end up getting arrested.
But I want to distinguish myself from the Christians who are anti-Halloween. I don’t think Halloween is celebratory of the occult. It’s interesting that the same Christians who rant about Halloween’s pagan origins fail to do the same about the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter. (You were wondering where I was going with a Halloween post in late November, eh?) Newsflash: Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. The date was picked because it was close to Saturnalia and it was a way for the Christians to co-opt a pagan holiday and reform it. Same thing with Easter.
Now, some of my friends like to point this out as though it somehow makes these holidays fraudulent. I rather see it as a stroke of genius on the part of our Christian ancestors because, well, how many people today celebrate Christmas as opposed to Saturnalia? My philosophy on holidays is to take them for what they are, not what they used to be. Otherwise I’d have no business celebrating St. Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s since I’m not Catholic.
Many of the same Christians who freak out about the witches that pop up around Halloween in all its pagan-origins glory are convinced there is an attack on Christmas. They are amazed that a secular government that advocates separation of church and state would have a problem with nativities on the lawn of city hall. They condemn the shortening of Christmas to Xmas, not realizing that X is actually an old symbol for Christ. And, worst of all, they berate cashiers for wishing them Happy Holidays. I never heard of ‘happy holidays’ as a way of “taking the Christ out of Christmas” until a few years ago when conservative pundits needed to boost their ratings. Suddenly Christmas became a kind of retelling of The Crucible with cashiers and city hall as the Proctors. When I was growing up, I heard ‘happy holidays’ quite frequently and sang along with Bing whenever I heard him wish it. It was common knowledge that ‘happy holidays’ was a way of shortening, “have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.”
Why are Christians in America so intent on creating this false persecution for themselves? We aren’t persecuted. We can have our churches, we can have our Bibles, we can print our books, we can produce our music. The secular government saying you can’t put a manger scene on city hall’s lawn is actually a good thing. Separation of church and state protects the church, because if this were a Christian country, which brand of Christianity would it be? Catholic? Methodist? Southern Baptist? Pentecostal? We should remember that this is not our Kingdom. Jesus didn’t berate the Roman government for not putting menorahs in the windows of government buildings; he was busy doing more important things like healing the sick and hanging out with the disenfranchised, and we should be too. Besides, our government being Christian isn’t going to make any more people believe in Christ. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not the President’s.
My father hates Christmas because it’s gotten “too commercial” and has detracted from Thanksgiving with stores putting up Christmas displays sometimes even before Halloween. I lovingly refer to him as a Scrooge when he grumbles about the holiday, but I give him credit for not falling into the “they’re taking Christ out of Christmas!” histrionics. I was prompted to write this post after a woman in a church service got up and read a paper bemoaning the secularization of Christmas, that you’ll only hear “happy holidays” at stores, etc. I felt annoyed. First of all, it makes perfect sense for a good capitalist to try to make all his customers feel welcome, not just the Christians. And second of all, it’s not even true. Most stores are playing Christmas music now and it’s not all secular songs either. This is the one time of year when you’ll hear references to Christ on secular music stations, on TV and in stores.
So while some people might revel in their self-created misery from being wished a happy holiday and what they see as the worship of Santa and materialism replacing the true meaning of Christmas, I refuse to be misled by that propaganda. I choose to delight in hearing Christmas music when I shop, and I sing along. I choose to focus on the fact that charitable giving goes up at this time of year. I choose to notice that people are a little friendlier this time of year and offer more hospitality to their co-workers and neighbors by extending homemade cookies or engaging in an office party. I choose to smile at the fact that all the gift giving makes us think about other people and what they would like.
Even if none of these things were true, even if everyone in America had no idea that Christmas had any religious significance and no one was nicer and no one played music, I refuse to let anyone take Christmas’s significance away from me. My grandmother used to recite “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” at our family gathering each year. I can’t listen to the words without tearing up a little because the not-well-known third and fourth verses go like this:
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
We are entering the deep, dark cold of winter. A time when nature seems dead, the sun a stranger. Yet Christmas reminds us that in the midst of our darkness came Light and Hope. For that reason, I will eat, drink and be thankful I live in a country where I can celebrate Christmas freely and openly.