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The Tyranny of American Christmas

happy christmas

Guest post by Karuna Gal

The English Puritans of the seventeenth century, when they were in power, outlawed the celebration of Christmas.”What a bunch of killjoys they were!” I thought, when I first learned about this in history class. “Who would be so harsh and mean-spirited as to actually cancel Christmas?” Although I don’t share the Puritans’ Calvinist theology or politics, I feel like a latter-day Puritan when it comes to having to submit to the relentless tyranny of American Christmas, this unholy season whose real God is mammon.

American Christmas tyranny produces “existential dread” as Christopher Hitchens put it: having to deal with week after oppressive week of the Christmas season.

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There is pressure to buy and to consume as American capitalism, already on steroids, flexes its
overdeveloped muscles while wearing a Santa suit or an angel outfit. And you feel the pressure keenly, no matter what your religious stance is.

People watch Hallmark Christmas shows or old classic Christmas movies ad nauseum, and you can’t escape hearing Christmas music everywhere you go. When I was a little kid it was the height of bad taste to put your Christmas decorations up more than a week before Christmas Day. This year I saw that someone put their Christmas decorations up on the day after Halloween. (The Nightmare Before Christmas movie may be pointing out how the Christmas season seems to begin at Halloween now. I
wish Jack Skellington had taken over Christmas permanently — nobody would want the presents he brings. But then again he’s been co-opted by Disney, which sells Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise on their website.) And need I mention the insane number of Christmas light displays, sucking up enormous amounts of electricity, and all the waste produced by discarded packaging and wrapping?

When a close family member died years ago I did not put up a Christmas tree or decorate for Christmas after his death. I was surprised to discover that I was relieved to have a good excuse not to “do Christmas.” There were no more Christmas trees for me in the years that followed. I gave away all my tree ornaments and most of my Christmas decorations, keeping the Christmas decor at a minimum. Sure, I’d listen to Christmas music a bit and would be with the family on Christmas Day, but I kept away from the madness of getting and spending and rushing around that seemingly possessed everybody, even Christians. What I did seemed to be much more appropriately “Christian.”

One time, during the Christmas season, I went to the mall to buy a few boxes of candy. After I did, I thought it might be fun to sit on a bench and watch the Christmas shoppers. Were any of them enjoying themselves? Nope! I saw nothing but long faces and hurried walking. The only person who was smiling was the musician playing his electronic keyboard in front of Sears. With Christmas looming, and maybe being forced to spend money they didn’t have, no wonder the shoppers all looked so grumpy. So much for the joy of the season. My experience as a retail clerk during the Christmas season also was quite instructive in this regard. Some of the rudest and most unpleasant people I’ve ever encountered seemed to “come out of the woodwork” then, and make us retail clerks miserable.

Churches, charitable and religious organizations milk Christmas for money. I’d bet that the ministers and priests of all Christian denominations are watching the Christmas collections plate or basket closely, hoping for a good Yuletide haul. How interesting that churches and corporate America work in tandem to push Christmas as a way to bring their fiscal year to a satisfying and lucrative conclusion.

For a tonic to American Christmas tyranny, join the Reverend Billy and the Church of
Stop Shopping
for some pointed musical commentary about consumerism, and then put up a Festivus pole on December 23rd, raising a glass (or several) of spiked eggnog to the memory of those dour old Puritans, who maybe weren’t all wrong about Christmas excess.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Dennis Russell

    I couldn’t agree more. I have grown to detest Christmas and really hate Christmas music. Plus my father died at Christmas so it has no meaning to me at all.

  2. Avatar
    Neil Rickert

    I have disliked Christmas for some time. It’s the most boring time of the year.

    Christmas music is great — or it would be great if it were not repeated over and over.

    And, yes, American Christmas is mostly worship of The Almighty Dollar.

  3. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    Bruce, thanks so much for finding the perfect cartoon to go with my screed, er, post. You are truly Bruce Almighty, world without end, amen. 😄🙏🙏🙏

    • Avatar
      Karuna Gal

      After looking at the cartoon more closely I see that each character wears a sweater with a picture on it. The woman on the left has a sweater with a sloth or the Abominable Snowman. Satan, in the middle, has Santa on his sweater. And Jesus on the right has a sweater with Satan or the Green Man. Maybe Jesus is a fan of Satan? 😄 Who could have guessed?

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Christmas has long been a time of grief and anger for me. I could see–and more important, feel–the stress my parents and other adults experienced. Much later, I realized that my mother felt pressure to “perform,” as it were: to be the perfect cook, gift-wrapper, hostess, and more. And it was probably financially stressful for her and my father, too.

    Many, many years later, I recalled sexual abuse a priest subjected. The first incidents I could recall clearly were ones I experienced during the weeks leading up to Christmas. The most difficult days of every year, for me, are the 22nd and 23rd of December, as I vividly recall abuse from those dates, and some people who mattered to me died on those dates: a suicide on each of those dates (in different years), another from HIV-related illnesses and still another from an overdose, Oh, and my first cat died on the 23rd–on the same day as the friend who lost his battle with HIV.

    About the only Christmas music I can stand is in an album of a Jessye Norman holiday concert at the Notre Dame.

    Fortunately for me, I am usually busy right before Christmas, in part because of the kind of work I’ve done for much of my adult life.

    • Avatar
      Karuna Gal

      MJ – I’m sorry to hear that there are a lot of bad experiences and memories around Christmas for you. And Dennis, and no doubt many others. Pain and sorrow are not usually welcome or acknowledged in the frenzy of American Christmas. In fairness, I do need to mention that there is a Lutheran church here that does a special remembrance service during Christmas season for those who have lost loved ones. But that is unusual.

  5. Avatar

    I’m currently working retail, but happily only as replenishment aka stocking the shelves of a major craft store. I’ve been doing this since September and oh the complete crap we import for autumn, halloween, thanksgiving and christmas. it really has shown me the total crap of a capitalistic system that is dependent on consuming such garbage.

    I’ve never enjoyed the holidays, being highly sensitive. always got big ol’ nasty “cold sores” since I was stressed the whole time. I will admit that I do enjoy watching the Muppet Christmas Carol. but most of the time I agree with Scrooge about the “surplus population”.

  6. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    It’s funny when you start agreeing with Scrooge’s stance on Christmas, huh? You have to admire Dickens for making a good case with Scrooge’s character against the Christmas excess and sentimentality Dickens supports later in the book. He was honest enough to include both sides of the argument.

  7. Avatar

    when we lived in New Jersey in the 1970s we learned something else about observations of Christmas. the local historical society gave a presentation that included passages from old diaries: farmers in the 1700s gathered hay on Christmas, not visited and feasting. The tale of Washington crossing the Delaware river to attack the British and Hessian (Germans) forces near Philadelphia leaves out some details. The royal forces were in winter quarters, relaxing and celebrating (and drinking). The American soldiers were not in the habit of getting drunk on Christmas, so they rowed across the river, marched to the royal encampment, and overwhelmed the English and Hessians. easy to conquer an army that is unprepared.

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Bruce Gerencser