The annual December debate in the United States about how America should recognize the holiday season seems to have grown stale. Although the usual contenders in this battle continue to become indignant and hysterical, the rest of the country seems to be doing its best to ignore the fracas and get on with business as usual. And business is really what people are getting on with, buying enough goods to support stores for much of the year, booking flights, sending packages, advertising, fundraising etc., until the country shuts down for the federal holiday still nominally known as Christmas.
Conventional wisdom on the holiday debate is that liberal secular humanists play the part of the Grinch, doing their best to limit public displays of religiosity. Conservative Christians on the other hand are expected to defend the use of taxpayer money to erect manger scenes and keep Christ in the public arena. Upon reflection on this expectation there seem to be many compelling reasons for Christian conservatives to come down on the side of not only preventing endorsement of Christian Christmas symbols, but canceling the federal holiday altogether.
The first reason for stopping the federal, public observance of Christmas is that it is supposedly unconstitutional and discriminatory. Christmas is a Christian holiday. By enforcing a federal mandate that this day be a respite from work shows a bias towards Christianity, which arguably violates the establishment clause of the US constitution as interpreted today. To be fair, we would have to establish federal holidays recognizing the holy days of every heathen and infidel in the country such as Al-Eid, Yom Kippur, Chinese New Year etc. Any attempts to secularize Christmas do not solve this problem. First, any winter holiday that is instituted near the 25th of December would be unable to deny its Christian roots as a replacement for Christmas. Secondly, the government would then be endorsing secular humanism as a kind of state religion. Secular humanism has its own set of dogmas and saints that should not be forced on the citizens of a free society. Endorsing any kind of belief system becomes deeply discordant in a pluralistic society. Most federal holidays are somehow connected to religion. Thanksgiving was established by puritans and implies that there is some higher entity that we owe our thanks to. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister. Presidents Day honors the cult of personality that surrounds the practice of patriotism and July 4th is obviously a blatant form of country worship, insensitive to immigrants living within our borders. If we truly want our government to embrace cultural relativism, all federal holidays should be abolished.
Canceling all federal holidays is a splendid idea. First of all, it would reinforce the American work ethic. Many allegedly socialist secular countries in Europe function on a calendar that is absolutely riddled with religious holidays. Even in Germany, where the churches are empty, one can add Whit-Monday, Ascension Day and Corpus Christi to the already vast stretches of federally protected paid vacation enjoyed by workers there. In Spain , universities stop classes in honor of the patron saints of their schools and academic departments have their own saints on whose holy days classes are cancelled. In cultures where church attendance is almost non-existent, it seems that the logical explanation for continuing to recognize these holidays is an aversion to honest labor. America ’s relatively few pauses in the typical workweek allowed us to become the prosperous, productive country that we once were up until recently. Canceling the remaining holidays that we do have would perhaps help to find the competitive edge we once held over the slacker countries in the rest of the world. Conservatives especially should be eager to embrace this. Who is the government to interfere with the business of America ? When the postal service shuts down, that is one more delay in getting things done efficiently. When public schools close, that is another week or two that our children are falling behind or getting into trouble. The massive amounts of traveling cause delays in the air and on the roads and workers with their minds on vacation are rarely working at full capacity. The government should purge itself of self-serving lay-a-bouts and find people who are actually interested in serving the needs of the people all year round.
Traditional defenders of crèche scenes should embrace the canceling of Christmas because the federally recognized holiday is bad for Christianity. The American government has done more for the re-paganization of Christmas than Wiccans could ever have hoped to achieve. By ridiculously trying to reformulate Christmas to be inclusive of believers and non-believers alike, they have irreparably damaged the observation of Christ’s birth. The government has decided that public nativity scenes are only acceptable if they include menorahs and plastic Santa Clauses. That is to say, public religious displays are acceptable only if besmirched by outside traditions. Far from defending them, religious people should be adamantly opposed to such displays. The secularization of Christmas distorts the entire holiday. The four weeks of advent leading up to Christmas are supposed to be a penitential season of reflection and quiet anticipation. Instead, they have become a frenzy of materialism and familial obligation. A holiday that is nationalized, just like the nationalization of any aspect of life, loses its independence and effectiveness. Christmas has lost much of its mystery, mysticism and majesty at the hands of those for whom it has no meaning other than to profit monetarily or use it as a day of drunken overindulgence. Holidays that have not been nationalized yet, such as Ramadan, allow its observers to stand apart from society as holy people. Christians should keep this holiday as their own and not allow it to be co-opted by hostile forces.
The conservative defense of the recognition of Christmas in the public sector is ultimately against the values that conservatives hold dear. Conservatives should want less government involvement in private matters, especially religion. Spending taxpayer money on anything, much less the tacky decorating of public buildings, is something to fight against and limit as much as possible. Government regulation of a celebration that transcends this world should worry Christians. It’s our holiday and we should take it back. Make Advent the model, a quiet, reflective time packed with meaning that nobody who doesn’t go to church regularly ever pays any attention to. If Christians would withdraw from the worldly hullabaloo that the season has become they might be more inclined to remember the true meaning of Christmas: that the Lord Almighty came into the world as the helpless newborn child of two Middle-Eastern Jews to redeem a fucked-up broken world. Amen.