Z is for Zuill

Theotokos_Iverskaya
Zuill, pronounced “Yule,” is a Scottish name, probably meaning “born at Christmas.” It’s my Winter Solstice gift to all word game enthusiasts who need another “Z.”

December 25th was the date on the Roman calendar corresponding to the winter solstice when the date of Christ’s birth was first marked. Although this mistake was eventually corrected (the mistake of the winter solstice, not the mistake of Christ’s birthday), it was not as gross an error as you might imagine. For many days near the winter solstice the nights are of equal length. In addition to the date of the Christ mass, some things that Christmas borrowed from the older Pagan holiday include the name “Yule,” the decorated tree, the spirit of merrymaking, the Yule log, holly, mistletoe, candles, the “twelve days,” gift giving, wreathes, feasting, and Santa Claus. Things shared between the Pagan holiday and the biblical account of Christ’s birth include the divine child, the virgin birth, gold, and incense. There have been later innovations associated with Christmas that can be traced neither to the Bible nor pre-Christian traditions, and a few of these include Christmas cards, the little drummer boy, and Black Friday.

When I first heard the term “War on Christmas” several years ago my initial thought was, “Oh no, the Christians are trying to abolish Christmas again.” The original Christ mass only got started because Christian converts refused to abandon their winter solstice festivities, and the holiday has always had its detractors. During the Protestant Reformation criticism of Christmas reached a critical mass. The Puritans, especially, were determined to stamp out what they believed was a Pagan celebration, and much of the popular backlash against the Puritans stemmed from their unrelenting attack on Christmas. The Puritans established their utopian communities in New England partly with the aim of escaping Christmas.

The “War on Christmas” is generally seen as a way of galvanizing conservative furor through a thinly veiled, paranoid attack on non-Christians. Certainly this “war” does fuel Christian intolerance. But I have a different take on the motivation and strategy behind the Christian Christmas antiwar propoganda. It relates to the uneasy alliance between fundamentalist Christians and big business in the conservative political movement. On the part of big business, the uneasiness lies partly with Christian persecution of gays and rigid enforcement of stereotypic gender roles, both of which interfere with marketing efforts across demographics. Christian morality applied to popular culture has even moved the entertainment industry politically in line with liberals. But it is the anti-capitalist sentiment within very conservative Christianity that is the source of the greatest tension.

There is always been an anti-capitalist element within Christianity consistent with Christianity’s anti-materialist roots. To the most devout conservative Christians, Christmas represents materialism and popular culture wrapped up in one Pagan package. There are many groups which believe the celebration of Christmas is anti-Christian, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church Of God, and a long list of Pentecostal churches. Within other churches, such as the Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of Christ, and many smaller Baptist churches, there is a sizable minority who vocally oppose the observation of Christmas. Even those conservative Christians who celebrate Christmas bemoan what they term the “commercialization” of the holiday.

As fundamentalist Christianity has gained strength and traction, there has been the possibility of a stronger grassroots movement against Christmas taking hold, particularly as Pagans, who own the holiday much more than Christians, have risen in visibility if not in absolute numbers. Enter the ingenious strategy of Fox News and The American Family Association, a Christian political organization that allies in itself with big business concerns in a number of ways, such as by being pro-fossil fuel and anti-union. By framing opposition to Christmas as an attack by “liberals” (read atheists and Jews), the celebration of Christmas becomes a defense of Christianity. Christian animosity toward business (big and small) can be channeled into opposition to the word “holiday” in advertising. The message is that commercial interests at Christmas are okay as long as they specify that they are in support of beleaguered Christians.

Many people look askance at the attempts to galvanize conservative Christians into defending a holiday that, if anything, is in danger of taking over the world, or at least the calendar. This is actually an attempt by right wing media, which is owned by big business, to manage the base and keep the Christian/capitalist alliance in place.


Sources

BabyNames.com

Kealthley, J. Hampton III. Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? Bible.org.

Popper, Nathaniel. Boycotts Bloom as Religious Conservatives Wage Battle Over Christmas. Jewish Daily Forward, 2005.

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