the Disillusioned kid: Reindeer: Horses With Antlers
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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Reindeer: Horses With Antlers

The tree's up, the tinsel's out and Slade are back on the wireless. It's time once again to celebrate the birth of Doctor Who, make our annual sojourn to the Church of Consumerism and await Satan's visit and his bulging sack. It's time also, for that other festive tradition (i.e. something that's happened more than once before), the Disillusioned kid Seasonal Message. Obviously, I wouldn't dream of going against tradition so, for your delectation and delight, here's this year's winterval waffle.

Perhaps surprisingly given my all-pervading cynicism, I actually like Christmas. Last year I suggested that this might stem, at least in part from "a naive hope that the season of goodwill contains the seeds of a better world," but didn't really explore the ramifications of this idea. Conveniently, Jason Godesky has actually done that for me this year. In a fascinating post, he ruminates on what would happen if Roy Wood actually got his wish and Christmas was celebrated every day of the year. Godesky argues that gift giving is in a sense a hangover from tribal societies and notes that it offers an alternative to market economics, one operating according to an inherently incompatible logic. On this basis, he concludes,
What would it be like if we really did make Christmas last the whole year long? It would be a gift economy—it would be a tribe. It's no empty holiday slogan: it's our birthright. We deserve nothing less, and settling for less is killing us. If we don't demand more, if we don't demand what we deserve, and if we don't do it right now, then we have ceded our right to survive. It's time we actually did make Christmas last all year—nothing less will do.
Obviously, that's what I was getting at.

To suggest that Christmas is generally a good thing is not to ignore the concomitant downsides: mindless consumerism, sweatshop labour, domestic violence, animal cruelty etc. These are products of wider societal problems (capitalism, patriarchy, exploitation of animals), not of the season per se. Those problems need to be tackled, but that doesn't, or at least shouldn't, preclude us enjoying the festivities. Go forth and drink until you throw up your liver,* for tomorrow we smash capitalism.

Of course, one of the less salutary traditions at this time of year is the increasingly obstreperous mumblings from the right of the isle about a nascent "War on Christmas." In reality there isn't and never has been such a conflict outside the paranoid delusions and well-honed persecution complexes of Rebekah Wade and Stephen Green. It is interesting to note that while the Daily Mail (via) is fulminating about the fact that "only one in 100 Christmas cards sold in Britain contains any religious imagery or message," militant secularist George W. Bush seems to have no problem with sending a card emblazoned with a picture of the White House in snow and making mention only of "the season."

Much of the "controversy" around the matter this year seems to have been stirred-up by the tabloid press in order to boost their readership. They're not alone, however. The BNP, the soi-disant "true defenders of the faith," have also been getting their knickers in a twist about "the Labour controlled central government, many local councils, and the entire Politically Correct anti-British Establishment doing all they can to undermine the Christian festival of Christmas." Now, I'm not suggesting that every Christian Soldier who has signed up to this valiant fight is an unreconstructed fascist, but it is telling that this valiant struggle has been so easily co-opted by Griff & Co.

Christmas is only a Christian festival in a very limited sense. Festivities at this time of year pre-date Christianity's emergence and the Romans even held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." Christianity settled on the date largely arbitrarily, although the available evidence suggests that Christ was most likely born in the autumn. Holding the festival in winter served as a sweetener to putative converts who wouldn't have to give up their traditional parties. This also helps to explain the co-option of pre-Christian symbols such as holly.

Although I've described this process as "hijacking" in the past, I don't believe there's anything inherently wrong with it. Winter's cold and miserable, and frankly why would anybody bother if there wasn't a party in the middle of it? If you want to assign that some religious significance -whatever its origins - feel free. Whatever flies your sleigh. But don't try and tell me you have a monopoly over seasonal festivities and don't expect the rest of us to be singing from the same carol sheet. I'll enjoy my nut roast perfectly fine without having God's Seal of Approval.

The problem of course is that our courageous Christian Soldiers are motivated less by a desire to defend the festive spirit than by a thinly-veiled political agenda. Jarndyce describes the so-called war as "a cipher for our thoughts about immigration," and there's more than a snowflake of truth to that assessment. The War on Christmas is fundamentally a stick for beating radicals, liberals and ethnic minorities with. It's part of the wider struggle against the evils of "political correctness" - a largely meaningless catch-all phrase wielded by the right as a whipping-boy embodying their multitudinous dislikes (anti-racism, gay rights, health and safety regulations, immigration, red-tape, religious tolerance etc.). Our brave Christian Soldiers are involved in an ambitious political project and won't be satisfied until they've overturned every progressive development of the last fifty-years. If they want a war, we'll give 'em one, although I'd appreciate it if they could hang on until Tuesday.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holidays, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

* Please remember to drink responsibly

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