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.
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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