The Fifth-Generation War on Christmas
The day after Thanksgiving—the day after Thanksgiving—I was riding in somebody else’s car when some unholy noise started screeching from the radio. I’ve blocked the memory of exactly what it was, but suffice it to say that it was some kind of “Christmas” music of the abhorrent Mariah Carey variety. The driver, in a sadistic tone undeniably intended for yours truly, defended the move with just two words: It’s time.
I despise Christmas music. I hate it. I can’t stand it. I don’t want to listen to a single minute of it, and I certainly don’t want to listen to it starting at Thanksgiving and stretching right up to New Year’s.
Plenty of people share a moderated version of my opinion: that the music should be restricted to the actual Christmas season, which begins on December 25 and extends to Epiphany. The day after Thanksgiving is not, in fact, time. Advent, which began last Sunday (two days after that festive assault on my eardrums), is a penitential season and ought to be observed as such. As we sinners prepare to welcome God made man on Christmas Day, saccharine corporate pop with vapid lyrics about snow and bells and Hallmark romance with a holiday twist just doesn’t feel appropriate. Once He’s here though, turn ‘er up.
This is, of course, no kind of solution. The problem will not be solved by setting up a cordon sanitaire around it. Because the problem is not that hearing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” three times a day for 30 days straight would drive any reasonable person mad. The problem is that hearing “All I want for Christmas Is You” just once is an abomination. (I’d say it’s a safe bet that “you” to Mariah Carey is not the Word made flesh, though I am open to correction on this point.)
I have been called a Scrooge before for my reluctance to participate in such standard Yuletide merrymaking. But this misses the point. Pre-conversion Ebenezer Scrooge, infamous Dickensian hater of all things connected to St. Nick, would have loved the way we do Christmas. That miserable old capitalist would have been thrilled to see the holiday he despised reduced to a black mass for his god Mammon. In the story, Scrooge is overcome by the spirit of Christmas; in the real world, Christmas is overcome by the spirit of Scrooge.
This year (and I’m sure in others) the suggestion has been circulated that the entire Santa Claus Industrial Complex operates with insidious intent—even more insidious, that is, than the reduction of the incarnation of the Creator of the universe to a cheap commercial jubilee. Joel Berry, managing editor of satire site the Babylon Bee, proposes:
Hot take: Letting your kids believe in Santa Claus—who doesn't exist—is just training them to deconstruct their faith and reject God, who does exist. Discuss.
— Joel Berry (@JoelWBerry) December 2, 2021
I think he’s right.
The secular left wait eagerly for Advent every year because it gives them an opportunity to loudly insist that “there is no war on Christmas,” an endearingly boomerish attachment to the terminology of a culture war that was maybe fought in the days of yore. Maybe I’m just missing it, but I don’t see many Republicans these days up in arms about the multiculturalists’ assault on public displays of mistletoe Christianity.
Both camps, as always, are wrong. There is, in fact, a war being waged on Christmas—but it is not a traditional war, not even a traditional culture war. This isn’t the old days, with clear combatants and battlefields, when the first of the dog moms launched high-intensity pressure campaigns to switch “Merry Christmas” for “Happy Holidays” on every sign at the local mall. The mall isn’t even open anymore.
The war on Christmas that remains is much more complicated, and much more dangerous. It is a fifth-generation war on an “omnipresent battlefield,” characterized by high-tech social engineering and complex psychological operations rather than traditional kinetic conflict.
The war on Christmas is waged by reducing our celebrations to absurdities—not (as the last generation worried) by pushing it into the private realm but by assuming it into the public one. The integration of St. Nicholas into Christmas ritual has been carefully reformed into a farcical commercial demon-worship, with the inevitable collapse of gimcrack enchantment eroding young people’s capacity for genuine faith and justified wonder. The venerable tradition of gift-giving has been twisted so grotesquely as to birth an entire pagan holiday of its own. The natural desire to celebrate the arrival of the Son of God on earth has given way to a soulless and only tangentially related holiday industry, characterized by nothing so aptly as that accursed clanging music.
If this is the second-holiest day of the Christian year we can hardly lay much blame on those who turn away. In all but the vital details it has been overtaken by a different faith, one that wipes out everything in its path only to kill itself in turn.
The antithesis of all this, actually, is the Christmas tree, a European pagan tradition that made its way into Christmas when the continent was baptized. Returning to that ever-present theme of which force conquers which, the tree reminds us that Christ at Christmas can remake not just Scrooge but every pagan and even paganism. It is a symbol not just of Christ’s coming but of his victory. It is Advent’s great sign of hope.
Three weeks from now you can feast and drink egg nog and swap gifts with those you love in honor of the infant Christ. Do it all around the tree that reminds you He—that infant—has made you and your world new, that he conquers the forces of darkness that would drag you to perdition. But if you can hear Mariah Carey wailing—even quietly, even faintly—over the crackle of the yule log in the background, you maybe ought to ask if they haven’t conquered you right back.