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Jingle Hell

War on Christmas? Where do I enlist?

By Shannon Rupp 19 Dec 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp was a Tyee contributing editor. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com. 

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Sticker from XmasResistance.org

While we should all be used to the perfidy of pundits by now, I find John Gibson's book The War on Christmas a particularly cruel bit of truthiness that has returned this year in paperback to mock me again.

It isn't, as I had hoped, about how the disgruntled are organizing, Grinch-like, to overthrow Shoppapalooza. This War on Christmas is little more than a figment of the Fox commentator's imagination. He uses "Christmas" as a euphemism for "Christian" in order to give an outraged and convoluted account of how half a dozen public institutions are attacking Christians by acknowledging other winter holidays too.

And here I was ready to enlist: I'd already starting singing "Onward non-Christian soldier." But there is one bit of hopeful information in Gibson's book, buried in his account of the famous 2000 incident in which city officials banned Xmas trees from government spaces in Eugene, Oregon. It got worldwide attention, not least because reports said they were objecting to the "Christian" symbol of the Christmas tree.

Many a comic had a field day with this, as the rest of us wondered if there had been a complete failure of the public school system down there. Who doesn't know that dragging greenery into the house is a pagan tradition?

But it turns out, there was a method in their ignorance. Recalling the incident five years later, the civil servant in charge of tree banning said much about the importance of "inclusiveness," but there was also this little admission that suggests people may be using multiculturalism as a form of passive resistance to the loathsome shopping festival.

"We got many people saying, 'This is really offensive. It's one thing to have to walk into a shopping mall and get hit with a Xmas tree. But when we have to come to work and see the same symbol over and over? Can't we have some peace?'" he told Gibson.

Amen, brother. Evolution may be slower than revolution, but anything that puts an end to Christmas madness should be supported: bring on the naked dancing around the bonfire.

Coalition of the unwilling

I'm beginning to suspect I'm just a vocal member of a quiet revolution to kill Christmas. This hit me, literally, when I became part of a Keystone Cops style pile-up at the entrance to downtown Vancouver's Bay store. The cause was a woman who'd been stopped short when confronted by a surprise tree in the first week of October.

"Oh, Christ," she blurted out. "We haven't even had Halloween."

We commiserated a moment with other shell-shocked shoppers -- apparently Xmas does have the power to bring people together -- when she pounced on a by-passing sales clerk. Surprisingly, she joined the Christmas kvetch.

"It's depressing, isn't it? A lot of customers are complaining. We've been telling our supervisor, but she says Christmas is when we make our money...," she said, after casting a quick glance over her shoulder to confirm Big Manager wasn't listening.

Well, of course. This would explain why a grocery store near me had to move the display of fruitcake and plum pudding to make room for the Halloween candy. (Really.)

Despite Gibson's ill-conceived political argument, "Christian" and "Christmas" aren't interchangeable. Easter is the big event on the Christian calendar, so no one but Wal-Mart will be offended when we launch an offensive on the faux religious holiday.

Christians against Xmas

The Christian complaint against Christmas is beautifully argued in The Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas (1998), by Harper's writer Bill McKibben. He happens to be Methodist, but unlike the dogma-spouting twits who use the Bible to justify their own malevolent impulses, he actually knows something about his religion. For example, he's aware December 25 was celebrated as the birthday of the sun god Mithras, long before it was co-opted as part of a PR campaign to reinvent pagan myths as Christian.

McKibben isn't interested in perpetuating the Victorian commercialism that led 19th century merchants to resurrect the dubious holy day banished by Puritans. Nor is he keen on the obviously pagan revels of medieval times. He and his fellow parishioners in a rural church in the Adirondack Mountains wanted more emphasis on spiritual pursuits that reflect their philosophy. So they set a $100 limit on holiday spending.

"Many of our friends, Christian or not, felt that [the joy] has been robbed by the pressure of Christmas busyness and the tension of gift giving...Christmas had become something to endure..." McKibben writes.

Soon the poor man was labelled "Grinch" everywhere. Whereas I'm flattered by the comparison -- the Grinch's wild-eyed declaration that he "has to keep Christmas from coming somehow" has long been my inspiration -- McKibben was stung. He just wanted to celebrate Christ's Mass in a Christian fashion, fer gawdsake. But heaven forbid one should buck mass marketing.

I feel his pain. Ever since Dickens published his most famous propaganda piece, A Christmas Carol (1843), December has been tough for those of us who hate having our lives interrupted for nonsense. And what used to be a two-week event has now been extended to almost a quarter of a year of pretending to be joyful about all the ridiculous demands that leave us cranky and exhausted.

So it's fair to say that when the revolution comes, we can expect the genuine Christians to be onside.

Grinches and gremlins unite!

Festive resentment has been festering for years and was expressed brilliantly is the black humour of my all-time favourite Christmas movie, Gremlins (1984). When Katie (Phoebe Cates) confesses to the absurdly horrible way she learned there was no Santa Claus, you'll laugh out loud and then feel guilty for it -- in other words, it's the quintessential Christmas moment.

The comedy is set to a small-town backdrop that parodies all those sentimental seasonal films like It's a Wonderful Life. The Gremlins themselves are a metaphor for the downside of the whole dreaded business. By turns they're whining, greedy children who tear into noisy toys and puke under the tree or houseguests-from-hell who destroy their host's home -- one even blows his nose on the curtains. As they morph into nastier creatures, they become the partying drunks swinging from the chandeliers. But the wild-shopper-in-the-department-store is my favourite moment, as one of the Gremlins resembles the killer from Chainsaw Massacre. Anyone who has ever been forced to shop on Christmas Eve will know this character well, and cheer his demise.

The DVD makes a perfect stocking-stuffer: fun and subversive.

That's not a star, it's a light on the horizon

Previously underground, the movement to overthrow Santa and the elves now has celebrity backers. For weeks, Stephen Colbert, in his guise as loony right-wing pundit similar to Gibson, has been claiming he's a stalwart against "The War on Christmas." This endorsement alone should make hundreds of thousands of people go back to celebrating the Feast of Mithras, if only for the fun of goading Republicans.

Also on TV, W Network is airing a duo of British documentaries called Grumpy Old Men/Women (Dec. 20, 21), featuring celebrity cranks from across the pond. They despise the whole fruitcake: false bonhomie, bad carolling, and extended family. (Don't tell me there isn't widespread seasonal hostility out there.)

Even the pro-Xmas shows reflect a radical refit. During December weekends, HGTV features Christmas overkill specials, on tape-loop, but that isn't a sign of celebration. Shows like Outta Control Christmas and Extreme Christmas feature zealots who think one can never have enough garish lights on one's home -- which is really more of death rattle than anything.

When any endeavour enters the "extreme" phase and is turned into a spectator sport, it's just a matter of time before we ordinary folk are permitted to leave it to professionals. Mark my words: like ballroom dancing, Christmas will soon be one of those things we watch on television as it's performed by D-level celebs. I'm actually looking forward to seeing Anna Nicole Smith electrocuted as she tries to hang her own lights.

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking?

There's good reason to be hopeful. My annual search for fellow travellers turned up quite a few cells working on the Christmas coup. There's the Christmas Resistance Movement, which produces eye-catching posters and stickers with slogans like "End Compulsory Consumption" and "Boycott Christmas," designed for free download. Vancouver's own Adbusters, the folks who brought us Buy Nothing Day, also have a Buy Nothing Xmas campaign, which includes a nicely designed "Holiday Gift Exemption Voucher," which might just be the best gift you can give anyone.

Steve at the British Anti-Christmas Zone may have his heart in the right place, but even I find his site disturbing. It includes some truly ugly cards in a choice of phallic or non-phallic (each name links to different window at site). Download is free, but as someone who spent half her career as a theatre critic, let me remind you: there are many times when free is way too expensive.

Still, the sheer enthusiasm for the cause is heartening. While Gibson's War on Christmas might be imaginary, it turns out there's a whole cadre of people who are taking this battle seriously.

Related Tyee stories:

© Shannon Rupp. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com.  [Tyee]

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