Grey day for Christmas haters

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Nick Cater writes in The Australian:

The spirit of Christmas has survived another year, much to the annoyance of its critics.

Mindful of the forbearance one should show in this season of goodwill, we should not dwell on their miserablist, misanthropic intolerance of a festival that ordinary people enjoy. Let us reflect instead on the pain they must feel as the rest of us celebrate almost everything they hold contemptible.

“It’s impossible to ‘do’ Christmas without running into one patriarchal construct after another,” writes Latham Hunter, professor of cultural studies and communications at McMaster University in Canada.

She has a point. After all, the festival is named after Him with a capital H, and the Trinity, while virtuous in many ways, is somewhat lacking in gender diversity, even if a question mark remains over the nature of the Holy Ghost.

The exclusion of women doesn’t stop there, according to the professor.

“Even the secular Christmas songs are ubiquitous in their praise of male characters,” she writes. Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, “and of course, Santa Claus, a white male who, by the way, gets all the credit for labour overwhelmingly done by women”.

The toy store is an abyss of moral uncertainty. “Shall it be the pink princess fairy aisle or the guns ’n’ ammo aisle? Do you dress your child in glitter and tulle or camouflage?”

For those who delight in deconstructing institutions, Christmas presents an irresistible temptation to overindulge. Few of its pre-Christian, Christian and post-Christian themes sit comfortably with their moral sensitivities. Yet the impulse to pull the institution down presents problems of its own.

Once you have abolished religion and consumerism, and made a concerted attempt to kill off the traditional family, what do you celebrate as you sit around the table with your significant other picking at a vegan feast of lentil and potato rostis with shredded beetroot dressed with dill and horseradish mustard?

Are we to side with Charles Dickens’s Scrooge in wishing that “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”?

Yes, says The Guardian columnist Sirena Bergman, who writes that Christmas “is a deeply cruel, elitist, problematic institution that needs to end”.

“We become collectively blind to the fact that the vast majority of people aren’t able to celebrate it in the way we’ve been told we should, and that creates a painful sense of loss, inadequacy and failure.”

Alas, it has always been so, as a cursory reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carolreveals. In Dickens’s day, however, Christianity imposed a moral duty on individuals to administer charity to the poor, since the giving of alms had not yet been entirely outsourced to the state.

Christianity as a source for good, however, is not something on which godless zealots care to dwell. Bergman boasts she “abhors organised religions and everything they stand for”.

“I cannot bring myself to buy into one of the last bastions of church indoctrination that we still blindly indulge,” she writes.

Few moral critics are prepared to go so far in demanding the end of the “cult of Christmas”. Most instinctively want to be part of it, like Richard Dawkins, the celebrity atheist, who recognises that feasts were part of human culture long before the arrival of monotheism. “Eating together, breaking bread while telling stories about ancestors, about hunting, battles, and travels, were part of everyday life for successful tribes throughout human history,” he has written.

Yet the holier-than-thou, secular cosmopolitans cannot resist the temptation to meddle with tradition, however long it may have served our tribal needs.

An online store in Britain, for example, was offering two choices of nativity ornaments this year, one with two Josephs cradling baby Jesus, and another with two Marys.

Others strip out any hint of God altogether, producing the unsatisfying taste of a gin and tonic without the gin. Hence Deck the Halls is voted best atheist Christmas song of all time by the agitprop online journal, which says the line “Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!” — repeated, incidentally, a dozen times — is one that everyone can join in.

Indeed Deck the Halls, with its jolly celebration of nothing in particular, is an exemplar of inclusiveness, unless one is troubled by the implied cisgenderism in its reference to “lads and lasses”.

Which should surely make us question if inclusiveness is as meaningful as its advocates claim.

Should the things we once imagined as an indelible part of our Australian heritage, handed down through the lens of the Enlightenment from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, be purged to save others the embarrassment of being left out?

The impulse to tread on nobody’s sensitivities — except those of the clear majority — is most rigidly applied in the universities. An edict from the University of Minnesota this year, “Religious Diversity and Holidays”, explains what is and is not appropriate.

Obvious religious iconography — angels, the star of Bethlehem, swaddled infants in mangers etc — are “not appropriate for gatherings and displays at this time of year”. Neither, apparently, are Santa Claus, bells, doves or gifts wrapped with bows. Inexplicably in this age of the rainbow, the colours red, green, blue, silver and white also are ruled out. Infringements should be reported through the bias incident website and referred to the office of conflict resolution.

The unholy thoughts this sort of idiocy evokes tempts one to write an angry something on the bias incident website and spread it around on Facebook.

Instead, in the interests of peace and goodwill, let us hope the po-faced muppets in the North Star state’s academy got what they dreamt of this year: a grey Christmas with un-glistened treetops.

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