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Dec 20

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At peace with Christmas

What you call credit card debt is what some other person calls a job.

By Donald Kaul

Donald Kaul

It’s now officially too late to do your Christmas shopping early.

That’s OK. Doing your Christmas shopping late counts too. Remember, it’s not the thought behind the gift that counts; it’s what you spend on it.

Oh, I imagine you Xmasologists out there are offended by such crass materialism. You say that Christmas should be all about the birth of Christ and we should walk around looking pious.

I say that’s nonsense.

dickens-christmas-materialism-american

Historically, you could even argue that the ultra-religious Christmas is un-American. The Pilgrims certainly thought so.

Like the English Parliament of that time, they considered the holiday a “popish” festival that lacked any “Biblical justification.” As a matter of fact, Christmas was banned in Boston for a time in the 1600s, as though it were a dirty book.

I happen to be an expert on secular Christmas. I was born on Christmas Day into a family of non-believers and grew up thinking that they decorated the lampposts in downtown Detroit in my honor. Imagine my shock when I discovered that somebody had gotten there before me.

I never held it against Him, however, which is why I’ve never participated in the Christmas wars that swirl around the holiday every year. Non-Christians, many of them claiming to be liberals, rail against the placing of Nativity scenes in public places or the singing of carols in schools. They go to court to block such activities, arguing that they violate the separation of church and state guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Picky, picky, picky.

I tend to side with the religionists in these matters. I doubt whether the founding fathers had Christmas decorations in mind when they created the church-state separation. Christmas simply wasn’t that big a deal in those days.

As a matter of fact, one of George Washington’s great military victories — his 1777 defeat of a Hessian mercenary force in what became known as the Battle of Trenton — came the day after Christmas. Taking advantage of the fact that the German troops took Christmas more seriously than Americans and would be celebrating, he seized the opportunity to rout them as they recovered from their feast.

I wonder if Richard Nixon knew he was following in the footsteps of that George W. when he ordered the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972?

The dating of Christ’s birth is arbitrary, in any case. There’s virtually no evidence that December 25 is the actual birth date of Jesus of Nazareth. (The New Testament, for example, makes no mention of a date.) It’s more likely that the 25th was chosen because it coincides with the Roman winter solstice, the day when winter begins to recede and the full light of day begins its return journey.

In other words, it’s a festival of lights, and that’s the way I choose to celebrate it. If some choose to celebrate something else, so be it.

My Christmas is essentially the Christmas of Charles Dickens. It’s a Christmas of family, goodwill, compassion, and presents — lots of presents. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, written in 1843, is credited with reviving the holiday in the English-speaking world. It co-exists happily with the Christmas of Christians, who are free to buy each other presents or not.

Some of those Christians complain about the presents. The holiday has become too commercial, they say.

Perhaps. But a Dickens Christmas, marked by wretched excess though it sometimes can be, is also about giving and sharing — qualities that are often in short supply the rest of the year. Besides, the economy would collapse if people stopped buying things for Christmas.

The only thing I really don’t like about the holiday is “The Little Drummer Boy.” It’s the musical equivalent of waterboarding.

Anyway, have a happy holiday, whatever you choose to call it, and go out and buy something. What you call credit card debt is what some other person calls a job.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. http://otherwords.org

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