Confused Rhode Island Christianists sing secular song to defend Pagan symbol

I have long argued that perpetual offendedness leads to stupidity.

This stupidity is not innate. It is willful, voluntary and chosen. But it’s also extreme. Those who have become addicted to indignation wind up divorced from reality, interacting with it only sporadically when in search of some new pretext onto which they can project the pre-existing umbrage that has become their character, their identity and their reason for being. And when one only rarely interacts with reality — and even then only on one’s own terms — well, it makes one stupid.

Really stupid.

This was illustrated yet again yesterday, when a small cadre from the IndigNation interrupted a children’s choir to sing “O Christmas Tree.”

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee had upset these Christianists —

Wait, no, that’s not accurate. They were already upset. These people are always upset. “Upset” has been what they do for so long that now it’s just who they are. Let’s try that again.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee provided an opening for the latest display of Christianists’ perpetual indignation by referring to the large fir tree in the statehouse as a “holiday tree”:

The governor said [last month] that lawmakers upset with his decision to call the blue spruce erected in the Statehouse a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree should focus their energy on feeding the poor.

Calling the 17-foot-tall spruce a holiday tree is in keeping with Rhode Island’s founding in 1636 by religious dissident Roger Williams as a haven for tolerance, where government and religion were kept separate, independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee said.

“I would encourage all those engaged in this discussion – whatever their opinion on the matter – to use their energy and enthusiasm to make a positive difference in the lives of their fellow Rhode Islanders,” Chafee said, offering an initiative to feed the needy as a good place to start.

Hearing that, the good Christian people of Rhode Island realized that Chafee was right. Their Bibles, after all, don’t say anything at all about Christmas trees — a pre-Christian symbol from Pagan celebrations later adopted and syncretized into a Christian holiday — but those Bibles do have a great deal to say about feeding the needy. So …

No, I’m kidding. Of course that’s not what happened. Chafee’s “holiday tree” gave these Christianists an excuse to pretend they’re being persecuted and nothing delights them more than a chance to pretend they’re being persecuted.

So during the holiday tree lighting ceremony in the Statehouse, these proudly offended morons interrupted a performance by a children’s choir to strike a blow against pluralism:

After Chafee lit the “holiday” tree, a few dozen carolers interrupted a performance by a children’s chorus to sing “O Christmas Tree.” …

“He’s trying to put our religion down,” said Ken Schiano of Cranston, who came to the tree lighting after hearing about the controversy.

And what better way to defend “our religion,” he decided, than by singing, “O Christmas Tree” — a thoroughly secular holiday song that has as much to do with religion as “White Christmas” or “Merry Christmas Baby.”

So for these Christianists, the best way they could think of to promote their sectarian view was to sing a secular song in defense of a Pagan symbol.

As ridiculous as that is, it makes sense according to the internal logic of the hegemonic civil religion these folks practice. That religion is primarily tribal. It’s not about a set of shared beliefs or a set of shared practices — that’s why these folks were so angrily dismissive of Chafee’s suggestion that they help the poor. What it’s about is a set of shared symbols — totemic tribal gestures, buzz-words and commodities that can be used to keep track of which tribe is winning.

Such tribal symbols don’t have to have anything to do with the nominal Christian faith on which this tribal religion has been appended. The Bible may not say anything about Christmas trees, but then it doesn’t say anything about guns either. Or the American flag. But whenever anyone says anything that might be remotely construed as questioning the sacredness of those, such comments will be made into the focus for the next performance of IndigNation theater and the pre-existing offendedness of the tribal Christianists will be projected in that direction for a while.

Which brings us to the other inevitable consequence of perpetual offendedness: It leads to unhappiness.

That unhappiness is willful, voluntary and chosen. And it’s also extreme.

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  • Tomhoustn

    “The EARLIEST accounts of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas were recorded in Livonia and in Germany in the 16th century.[2][3]” By the time people started using decorated trees to celebrate in december all the real pagans had been dead for one thousand years. The real pagans not the one today who dress up and play pagan.

  • William

    Yeah, except that that isn’t the earliest evidence we have of trees being decorated during winter holidays. Also, you do realize that there are a diversity of modern pagan religions, some far more based on history than others, right? I wonder how you’d feel if someone accused you of “playing Christian” (or whatever religion you are, the analogy works anyway) simply because modern Christianity is nowhere near the same as Christianity of the 1st Century. Does Christianity get a pass on the “play acting” accusation simply because it changed over time instead of having a foreign doctrine aggressively usurp it and cause a historical hiatus in its practice?

  • EDB

      “The EARLIEST accounts of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas were

       recorded in Livonia and in Germany in the 16th century.[2][3]” By the time
       people started using decorated trees to celebrate in
    december all the real
       pagans had been dead for one thousand years.

    Er, no. Especially with regards to Livonia – The Baltic area was the last major pagan holdout in Europe, with Lithuania not finally converting until early in the 15th century.

    Which isn’t to say that neopagan claims as to the antiquity and pagan origins of things like Christmas trees and the Easter Bunny are anything but completely a-historical, but it is false to claim that paganism has been gone from Northern Europe as long as you are saying.

  • Anonymous

    So, you’re saying that only people who lived before the spread of Christianity could possibly genuinely worship other gods?  Seriously?  That sounds so unbearably arrogant, I don’t know where to begin.

  • Donalbain

    By the time people started using decorated trees to celebrate in
    december all the real pagans had been dead for one thousand years. The
    real pagans not the one today who dress up and play pagan.

    Are real pagans in any way related to the Real True Christians of Left Behind?

  • Apocalypse Review

    Hope not, but then again nobody’s ever written mass market literature that insists that a certain prophecy is fulfilled in a way that smirkingly validates all of a particular set of pagan beliefs and constitutes a veiled “Fuck You” to all nonbelievers.

    As far as I know, anyway.

  • FangsFirst

    Are real pagans in any way related to the Real True Christians of Left Behind?

    Of course not.

    RTCs are identified by the “experts” on the inside of “Christianity,” while “real pagans” are identified by “experts” on the outside of paganism. Totally different, because people with zero involvement whatsoever are, of course, more expert than those who are inside a tradition and declare their minority variant the superior one. It’s the objectivity, really. Which is a natural result of lacking experience, knowledge and information on the subject.

    Hm.
    I guess they do have that last bit in common.

  • 2-D Man

    Chafee’s “holiday tree” gave these Christianists an excuse to pretend they’re being persecuted and nothing delights them more than a chance to pretend they’re being persecuted.

    It’s almost like he fed the poor without helping the needy.

    (That’s not to imply that Chafee doesn’t do other things that help the needy.)

  • vsm

    Lori:

    What other holiday has large public displays like Christmas does?

    Well, there’s language. From what I’ve understood, wishing someone happy Halloween is seen as neutral while merry Christmas isn’t, even though both names refer to Christianity. I’m guessing “Halloween” is sufficiently far from “All Hallows’ Eve” and the festival has become sufficiently divorced from its Christian meaning that no one on the secular side particularly minds.

    As for Thanksgiving, I’m afraid I don’t understand your point. Do you mean it was never officially a religious holiday? While that may be true, the pre-Lincoln Northern celebration appeared to be religious in character, which was then made national by a declaration using explicitly religious language.

    Tonio:

    They sometimes do, so they’re relevant in this discussion. And for the
    purposes of neutrality among religions, it doesn’t matter how
    significant Hanukkah is in the Jewish religion.

    It just feels artificial to me to advance a narrative of this being the time of year when all these religions come together in celebration when the amount of religions coming together is often three, and then it turns out one of them totally copied one of the others. It’s a better narrative than Christian hegemony, certainly.

    I hope you’re not arguing that Paganism doesn’t qualify as a religion.

    Certainly not. I was referring to the last element on my list, not celebrating at all and wondering if it was strictly correct to include it under holy days. I think Paganism is pretty cool.

  • Tonio

    a narrative of this being the time of year when all these religions come together in celebration

    But no one is advancing that narrative. The only narrative at work here involves the principles of neutrality and inclusiveness. Obviously not every religion has a holiday this time of year, but all that matters here is that the number is greater than one.

  • Lori

    Well, there’s language. From what I’ve understood, wishing someone happy Halloween is seen as neutral while merry Christmas isn’t, even though both names refer to Christianity. I’m guessing “Halloween” is sufficiently far from “All Hallows’ Eve” and the festival has become sufficiently divorced from its Christian meaning that no one on the secular side particularly minds.  

    I’ve lost track and confess that I’m too lazy to search—are you in the US? Because pretty much nothing about this matches the reality of Halloween as I’ve experienced it. I don’t believe anyone has ever wished me a Happy Halloween in conversation and certainly not at the check out counter at a store. That said, if you did say “Happy Halloween” to everyone at the check out stand we could start a pool on how long it would be until some Christianist accused you of being a tool of Satan. (I’ll take the unders on 2 hours.) It would take longer, but eventually someone would come at it from the other side and complain about the commercialization of All Hallows Eve. 

    For much of my childhood Halloween was treated as sufficiently distant from its roots to be just a excuse for fun things like dressing up, eating too much sugar and having parties. Things change. Now, it’s yet another culture war battleground and that’s getting worse. This year some idiot on Fox News started blathering about the War on Halloween. 

     As for Thanksgiving, I’m afraid I don’t understand your point. Do you mean it was never officially a religious holiday? While that may be true, the pre-Lincoln Northern celebration appeared to be religious in character, which was then made national by a declaration using explicitly religious language.  

    What exactly do you mean when you say that it “appeared to be religious in character”? There is considerably more to something being a religious holiday than the fact that people pray as part of observing it. 

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Ah yes this I was going to be very flip and comment on earlier and then forgot. I hope the moment has not passed. Warning! Punctuation pedantry ahoy!

    So vsm writes,

    That leaves Hanukkah (religiously speaking, a minor holiday), Yule as a pagan festival and not celebrating at all (thought I’m not sure that
    really fits under the word holiday).

    and gets two people pointing out that Yule does indeed count as celebrating at all, thank you very much! To which, the reply,

    I was referring to the last element on my list, not celebrating at all[,] and wondering if it was strictly correct to include it under holy days.

    Thus providing us with yet another datum supporting Team Oxford Comma (slogan: “It clears up confusion before it starts!”).

    (I am also, as you can see from my minor edit in the quote above, Team Closing Parenthetical Comma. When you separate a phrase out “parenthetically” (such that parentheses would also make sense) — and so would em dashes — but you use commas as your separator, like this, you want a comma before AND a comma after. Otherwise it’s like not closing your parentheses. OR SO I THINK — I keep seeing a lot of published material that leaves off the closing commathetical. WOE. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN ORPHANED COMMATHETICALS. Anyway, I think maybe vsm left that comma off because an “and” follows it. It is a scary thing to get kicked off of Team No Oxford Comma. But never fear! It takes more than a following “and” to make a comma an Oxford Comma!)

    Thank you. Punctuation Pedant over and out!

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    ROFL, you crack me up.

    I support the mission of Team Oxford Comma and would like to join.

  • Mark L Nutter

    I am a Gay Christian that believes in Magick. I understand where Christians can feel there beliefs being challenged on this day.  I do think to sing over the choir of children was wrong and should not have happened.  but that’s what is wrong with this holiday, everyone thinks there right but in reality instead of fighting this day was to be about giving and sharing.  more and more we need to see the wisdom in excepting others including their beliefs, NO MATTER WHAT THEY BELIEVE. As long as I can Say Merry Christmas anytime i want why should it be a big deal if someone says Happy Holiday. Christmas tree, Holiday tree, its still a tree. If everyone just was more excepting of other people, (and I’m not only talking about Christians even pagans can get like that),  then we would be able to look at this day, the whole world, as a family. Isn’t that what Christmas was supposed to be about? You don’t have to conform to another religion to have a holiday and i mean any religion.

    Mark L Nutter

  • Ursula L

    Because it is on-topic, and awesome, White Wine in the Sun:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCNvZqpa-7Q

    Because it is possible to simultaneously be an atheist, celebrate Christmas in a secular fashion, and object to the commercialization of the holiday.  

    And I’ve decided my mid-winter holiday greeting this year should probably be “Sol Invictus! We’re halfway out of the dark!” because it’s true, at least for the half of the planet that I’m in.

    (For the southern hemisphere, would “we’re halfway out of the heat” be appropriate?  Because mid-summer, I’m often wishing for cooler weather.)

  • Tonio

    For the southern hemisphere, would “we’re halfway out of the heat” be appropriate?

    I was thinking that in several hundred years, we might have new religions and Christianity may be a minority religion in the US, or else Christianity might look very different by then. Perhaps by then in Australia and New Zealand, Christmas and Easter may fade in importance in the calendar, they could end up being celebrated in June and October respectively, or new holidays may arise at those times. Either option would involve what may be a natural human tendency to celebrate the return of the sun.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    (For the southern hemisphere, would “we’re halfway out of the heat” be appropriate?  Because mid-summer, I’m often wishing for cooler weather.)

    In my experience, by Christmas, the heat has barely started yet.

    We tend to get most of our hottest weather in February.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    (For the southern hemisphere, would “we’re halfway out of the heat” be appropriate? Because mid-summer, I’m often wishing for cooler weather.)

    Oh God no. The worst of the heat tends to be in January and February so at the end of December you’re still facing down the worst of it.

    How about “I hope you get through bushfire season evacuation-free”?

  • Ursula L

    Oh God no. The worst of the heat tends to be in January and February so at the end of December you’re still facing down the worst of it. 

    How about “I hope you get through bushfire season evacuation-free”?

    The cold weather is only just starting here at the solstice, the same as the warm weather is just starting for you.  But the change in the amount of daylight begins at the solstice, and that’s worth celebrating, even if there are a few more months of blizzards to go.  

    Avoiding evacuations due to wildfires is certainly wished for by and for everyone!  But it doesn’t have quite the sense of achievement and hope as recognizing that the shift from dark to light (or vice versa?) has happened. 

  • Daughter
  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Jon Stewart’s awesome take on the RI incident and the War on Christmas.

    I loved that bit.  Particularly his “War on Christmas: Operation Godless Sh*t Storm.”  

    My fellow Americans, tonight I humbly come before you to declare war on Christmas.  We did not ask for this war, but neither will we shirk from it.  It is said that we provoked these hostilities, through our use of the phrase ‘Happy Holidays.’”  

  • wolverinefan2

    What a perfect summary of this particular example of Ignorance on Parade. Well done.

  • vsm

    No, I’m not from the US. I am aware that Christianists have an intense dislike of Halloween, but I didn’t know it had become that politicized. My picture of it resembled your childhood memories. Looks like old Peanuts comics won’t cut it any more as a guide to US culture. In any case, I’ve probably reached the limit of how much I can discuss this subject based on newspaper articles and television shows several posts ago.

    I read up on the War on Halloween. Shouldn’t the Fox people be lambasting Halloween for its occultism, or is that for a slightly different crew? Or is Halloween cool as long as you can bash immigrants with it?

    What
    exactly do you mean when you say that it “appeared to be religious in
    character”? There is considerably more to something being a religious
    holiday than the fact that people pray as part of observing it.

    I suspect cultural differences may be at play here. To me, praying as part of the celebration makes it religious, at least in origin. What do you think would be needed to make it a religious holiday, now or then?

  • Lori

     I read up on the War on Halloween. Shouldn’t the Fox people be lambasting Halloween for its occultism, or is that for a slightly different crew? Or is Halloween cool as long as you can bash immigrants with it?  

    Yeah, Fox seems particularly confused on this issue. 

     To me, praying as part of the celebration makes it religious, at least in origin. What do you think would be needed to make it a religious holiday, now or then?  

    Plenty of people pray on any and every available occasion (and in many cases their religion specifically tells them to do so). There are people who pray as part of their 4th of July observances and plenty do it for Memorial Day. That doesn’t make either of those religious holidays. 

    I’m not the official keeper of the definition of religious holiday, but in general I think that if the holiday doesn’t commemorate some supposedly religious occurrence or point of doctrine and celebrating it isn’t part of any particular religious tradition then it’s not a religious holiday? Do Christians all over the world celebrate US Thanksgiving as part of being Christian? No? Then IMO, not a religious holiday. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Yeah, Fox seems particularly confused on this issue. 

    Is there any issue on which Fox is not confused?  

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I have a regret. Upthread, several folks commented on how despite being non-Christian they adore the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, and how a big Hallelujah Chorus sing along is the best thing evar. My regret is, I can’t enjoy it, thanks to several years with a chorus who really seemed to believe, like asc-whatsis up there, that Christianity is Culturally Dominant So You Minority Religions Just STFU.

    It seems like a little thing, when I describe it. One year, around November, a handful of us told the chorus director that for a supposedly open and welcoming-diversity-in-membership chorus, we sure only seemed to celebrate Christmas. Could we maybe reflect the diversity of the chorus’s religious beliefs with a diversity of winter-seasonal holidays celebrated in song?

    Pretty much immediately, the predictable happened. The rest of the chorus members branded us grinches for wanting to steal Christmas. Cracks about “You can’t really want us to sing ‘Dreidl Dreidl Dreidl’, can you?” and “Oh, I didn’t know Jews sang” were made. (They didn’t make similar cracks about neo-Pagan Yule celebrations because they didn’t know enough. I suppose if South Park had had an episode in which a Wiccan child’s mom had made a stink about the holiday concert, things might have been different.) They’d also say things like, “Can’t you just sing the Christmas carols and pretend you’re singing to whatever it is you worship?” Because that’s what religious minorities are supposed to do, right? Just eat your nice second-class status cake, with or without internal coping mechanism icing, your choice.

    Meanwhile, the director… pretended to consider the issue. He said that it was too late this year to add any new songs, but he’d be sure to have a more inclusive line-up next year. As for this year, he’d call it the “Holiday Concert” instead of the “Christmas Concert.”

    Which was of course worse than nothing, because 1) insofar as “Holiday Concert” implies multiple holidays being celebrated, it was a lie, and 2) our status of Grinches was now confirmed because, lo! we had stolen Christmas, or at least the word Christmas.

    Next year, what new songs did the director add to the line-up? A couple of secular-ish Christmastime songs (“Winter Wonderland” was one of them) … and the Hallelujah Chorus.

    And every time they practiced the Hallelujah chorus, the entire membership broke out in aggressive cheers — not just “yay that was an awesome song” but “YAY CHRISTMAS WON CHRISTIANS RULE TAKE THAT YOU GRINCHES.” Aggressive, like I said. It became very painful to be in the same room when this happened.

    I say “they” because the handful of us non-Christians who tried to make a bid for inclusivity recognized by now the futility of it and bowed out of the Concert. The director said things like, “We called it a Holiday concert, isn’t that enough?” and “Can’t I convince you that it’s just about good music regardless of the words?” and other clearly not-in-good-faith remarks.

    I left that chorus soon after — it wasn’t a healthy place for me to be. And to this day I can’t hear the Hallelujah Chorus without feeling all the frustration and anger and ostracism I experienced then, and without remembering the hostile tenor of the rest of the chorus’s rah-rah-rahs after each practice.

    And it really sucks, because it’s a great piece of music, and I also remember singing it in high school and it being a powerful, uplifting experience. But it’s hard to separate out the good things from the bad things memories that tarnish them, and it can be really painful to try to seek out those good things even with the explicit intent of forming new, better, happy associations. Like… trying to go back to a restaurant you and a former lover enjoyed, after the painful break-up. It seems logically like the thing to do, go back there and associate the restaurant with new good memories. But it’s not something I can do until it hurts less; otherwise the restaurant becomes the scene of even more bad memories, like (to continue stretching the metaphor) crying into my beer for two hours straight while trying to think happy thoughts and failing.

    Cultural domination hurts. And sometimes “Merry Christmas” is exactly the statement of cultural domination that some here have experienced it as. I want more inclusivity going forward, and less “you’re the minority, so suck it up”.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little: I’m really sorry to hear that. :( It’s really quite saddening that the Christians in your singing group chose to treat the matter of carols as some kind of points-scoring contest and mixed in a substantial degree of monumental insensitivity to other religious traditions.

  • Tonio

    How ugly and repulsive. I’m sorry that you went through that. Among the musicians and singers and music buffs I know, almost all of them at least respect different musical traditions and genres even if they don’t enjoy listening to them. They would treat the opportunity to perform another religion’s songs as a learning experience. I have a tough time imagining them reacting like the chorus members you describe.

    “I didn’t know Jews sang”? Please tell me that was a joke, either theirs or yours. Hello! Al Jolson? Zero Mostel? Lou Reed? Leonard Cohen? Simon and Garfunkel? David Lee Roth, for (Jamie’s) cryin’ out loud?

  • Hawker40

    My own ‘Handel’s Messiah’ story.

    My father is a classical music buff (and an admitted atheist).
    When he converted from LPs to CDs, he had trouble finding Handel’s Messiah.  After searching every music store he knew of, he saw a “Christian Music and Books” store.
    “Aha!” he thought, “They will surely have it!”
    So, he went in, and asked the clerk.  The clerk informed him…
    “I’m sorry, sir, but whe only have CHRISTIAN* music here!”

    Dad fled.  Literally, leaving the store at a pace one step below running.

    I bought him a copy for his birthday, ordering it online.

    *emphasis in original

  • PurpleGirl

    Actually, after singing sections of it during Lutheran services, it seems/feels like The Messiah is much more suited theologically to Easter and that Easter — the resurrection — is the more important holy day.

    Consider that I see myself now as an equal opportunity deity worshiper — if the holy day and its meaning or festival routine strikes a chord with me I will observe the holy day.  I’ve lately been observing Divali and the Indian owner of the place I buy coffee and bagels was mildly amused when I wished him prosperity in the new year.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t find religious greetings to be insensitive personally.

    (although I’ll remind everyone that I do understand that this has become some kind of cultural struggle in the USA, where people are using ‘Merry Christmas’ as a shibboleth, which isn’t just insensitive but outright aggressively rude)

    What I do personally find to be excluding and mildly uncomfortable is the assumption I’m interested in whatever the latest major sporting event is.  I’ve at best marginal interest in organised sport, so “what do you think of the game?” accompanied by the look of bafflement and horror when I say “what game?” does leave me somewhat on the outer.

    While I think some people could probably do to learn that there are people out there who don’t share their interest in sport, I don’t really think I’ve really got much to complain about here.  It’s reasonable to suppose the next person is interested in ‘the game’, because large numbers of people are, and I’m always going to be excluded from that.  I’m not in the least bit inclined to stop people saying ‘what do you think of the game’ just because it makes things slightly awkward for me.

  • Albanaeon

    arcseconds, you’re missing a bit of the point with your sports analogy.  While, I agree that some people do need to learn that we aren’t all interested in the game, this is a whole different realm than being interested in sports.

    Imagine that there are a largish, and vocal, group that is publically everyday saying that EVERYONE has to be interested in sports, in particular football.  They work to undermine the institutions that guarantee your right to be indifferent to sports in ways both subtle and overt.  They go out of their way to say that you, as being neutral to sports or like a different game than theirs, are therefore less than citizens and should have your rights taken away.  And they have gotten a fair portion of the population to think that anyone who doesn’t like sports is fundamentally distrustful and unfit to hold office.

    Now imagine, that as a non-sports fan, you weather this storm all the time, putting up the the slights and insults, and now at the championship game is about to be played, you’re just looking forward to it as a chance to see family, or just sleep in because everything’s closed, and this group, that’s been haranguing you all year, now says that anybody that doesn’t say “Happy Championship Day” is oppressing them and taking away their rights to be sports fanatics.  Would you be perhaps a little miffed that yet again the fanatics are deliberately targeting you, ruining your day and how you choose to spend it, and have the gall to say THEY are the victims.

    So, why don’t you check a bit of that privilege, and realize that it isn’t an abstract, why can’t we all just get along, thing for us of minority religious persuasions, K? 

  • Anonymous

    All I’m trying to do is understand why people think that ‘Merry Christmas’ is problematic.  

    The arguments I’ve been offered up until recently as to why it’s problematic to greet people with ‘Merry Christmas’ have been that the greeting itself is presumptuous, exclusive, marjoritarian-ish, etc.   I’m also constantly being told that no-one’s against it, which confuses me as clearly people are against it (you see it as part and parcel of an oppressive and obnoxious religious culture, for example).

    Those arguments are what I was responding to with my sports analogy, which is also presumptuous, exclusive, majoritarian, etc.  You apparently don’t think that’s the real issue, so I guess I have indeed missed the point as you see it – but then I’ve been lead astray by people who have either missed the point themselves, or have been unable to articulate it very well – so it’s not entirely my fault :]

    That it’s part and parcel of an aggressive and obnoxious religious culture is a different argument, one that my analogy wasn’t designed to deal with, so naturally it doesn’t hold up (no analogy holds up in every case).

    I can see in such an environment some people are going to find ‘Merry Christmas’ always obnoxious – and I did admit I’m not myself living in such an environment (and glad of it, too).  However, the people you’re describing are a minority, just a very vocal one, no?  At any rate, that certainly seems to be the impression that others are giving on this thread.  It seems a pity to let such people poison what’s usually a perfectly innocent and well-intentioned greeting.

  • Matri

    No-one is against “Merry Christmas”.

    Everyone is against the rejection of “Happy Holidays” as an acknowledgement of the multitude of holidays the month is host to and as an all-inclusive greeting designed to be accommodating to all religions instead of being exclusive only to Christians which they take delight in rubbing into the faces of Others.

  • Matri

    Grr. Because I don’t get an Edit button, the last “they” should be replaced with “most“.

  • Anonymous

    No-one is against “Merry Christmas”.

    That’s clearly not true, though.  EllieMukasaki thinks it’s a violation of human rights, for a start. 

    More mildly, I’ve been told rather constantly here that it’s partisan, exclusive, sectarian, assumptive, and things of that nature, by Tonio and WingedBeast and others.  I don’t get the impression that they think it’s very bad, but they certainly seem to think that ‘Happy Holidays’ is preferable, so they’re at least a little against it.

    Gaudior points out that as a little jewish boy, he did feel excluded, and tells me to think of the children.  That’s actually the best reason I’ve heard so far for avoiding the expression. 

  • Tonio

    Perhaps part of the reason you’re drawing a negative reaction here is that your arguments ignore the context.

    If I’m a store clerk, I probably won’t know the religions of the vast majority of my customers, unless I’m in a very small town. So if I wished any sectarian holiday greeting to the customers, it would be tantamount to treating that particular religion as normative. The issue matters more when we’re talking about a majority religion, but the principle applies equally to other religions in a community as well. It’s not about the phrase itself, it’s saying the phrase to a person when I don’t know his or her religious affiliation. So using a neutral phrase like Happy Holidays sends the message that the store values all customers regardless of affiliation. It’s an proactive act of inclusiveness rather than a reactive move to avoid offense.

    Obviously there’s room here for exceptions where I as the clerk know the customer well, at least to the point where I would know his or her affiliation. But the operative word is “know.” The key is that the neutral inclusive treatment should be the default because it treats all religions equally. The “War on Christmas” crowd wants Christianity as the default.

    As an example…http://www.somdnews.com/article/20111209/OPINION/712099946/1084/don-t-wish-me-happy-holidays&template=southernMaryland

  • Tonio

    Sorry, I meant “a proactive” act. I had typed “assertive” but changed my mind.

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    I don’t get why you should have to wish people Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. I’ve never had any problem simply saying “hello”.

    (Ex-Witness atheist, with no Christmas tradition, in Ireland, where this isn’t a political issue.)

    TRiG.

  • Tonio

    I’ve never had any problem simply saying “hello”.

    Well, yes, that would be an obvious solution, but it may be natural for some people to want to be festive.

    Is it a Poe?

    I hope it is.

  • WingedBeast

    After reading that link, the only reason I don’t think it’s a joke is because it’s not funny.  Is it a Poe?

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps part of the reason you’re drawing a negative reaction here is that your arguments ignore the context.

    no, I’m not ignoring the context. I’ve considered a lot of different contexts in the course of this discussion, including religious greetings during non-Christian religious festivals, and I’ve presumed the main one being discussed when not otherwise specified has been when the interaction is between people who don’t know each other, because that’s obviously the potentially problematic one.

    I’m drawing a different conclusion to you.  That doesn’t mean I’m making an elementary mistake.

    The one context which raises doubts for me is the one Albanaeon raises, in which it’s part of a thorough-going culture of repressing religious minorities.  But I get the impression, and this is backed up by virtually all of the comments here, that it isn’t the experience of most people here.  Maybe it’s true in some parts of the world – the Bible Belt, maybe.  Yes, a small minority do try to use it like this, but why let them govern the meaning of the expression? Some of them are likely to use ‘hello’ as a shibboleth as well – if you respond with ‘beunos dias’ you’ll get a xenophobic rant about how we use English here.  that’s not going to prevent me from saying ‘hello’ to people.

    If you really were living in such an area, I’m not really sure what you should do.  There ‘happy holidays’ couldn’t be an innocent greeting (if you knew the context in which you lived) – it would be flagging your dissenting view.  It’s vaguely comparable to Rosa Parks – in her context, she’s not innocently taking a seat, that’s not an option to her.

    Maybe it would be an important act of rebellion, but I think it would also be quite defensible to choose to pick your battles, and perhaps the holiday season isn’t the most important one to be fighting.

    So if I wished any sectarian holiday greeting to the customers, it would be tantamount to treating that particular religion as normative.

    This is a slightly different argument to the exclusive argument, but I still don’t see why that should be.   I’ve never interpreted any religious greeting as maintaining that the religious view of the greeter is normative – hell, most of the people i’d commonly get ‘Merry Christmas’ from don’t have religious views.  (One reason to think it isn’t really a religious greetting at all – remember I also maintain that.  but even if it was, I wouldn’t think it made Christianity normative)

    Now, it’s possible I could be out on a limb here, but it really seems as though I’m not.  Virtually everyone here who could have had a problem with the greeting seems to not feel it’s a problem at all, except for litte Gaudior, but adult Gaudior enjoys a ‘merry christmas’ these days, and EllieMukasaki, who thinks any appearance of religion whatsoever is against the universal declaration of human rights.

    Given that the intent behind saying ‘Merry christmas’ is not to be exclusive or normative or anything like that (with rare exceptions), and it is not interpreted like that even by non-christians (against with rare exceptions), I’m afraid I just don’t beleive it is ‘tantamount to treating [christianity] as normative’.  At worst it’s potentially as bad as ‘how’s the game then?’

    Ursuala says:

    I have yet to hear any good argument in favor of saying “Merry Christmas”
    in any context other than when you’re speaking to a person or a group
    of people all of whom you know actually celebrate Christmas.

    I think the boot’s on the other foot – greetings are innocent until proven guilty, and I’ve yet to hear an argument against the practice.

     At least, an argument that actually works in the context in which it is normally spoken, that wouldn’t also rule out ‘how’s the game’, ‘happy thanksgiving’ and ‘hello’.

    I’ve one last thing to say that I don’t think has been giving enough weight to date, and then I’m out of here, unless someone actually comes up with something different.  We’re just going around in circles now.

  • Lori

    The one context which raises doubts for me is the one Albanaeon raises,
    in which it’s part of a thorough-going culture of repressing religious
    minorities.  But I get the impression, and this is backed up by
    virtually all of the comments here, that it isn’t the experience of most
    people here.  Maybe it’s true in some parts of the world – the Bible
    Belt, maybe. 

    I asked this before, but I don’t believe you answered. If you did and I missed it I apologize for asking again. Do you live in the US? You sound like you don’t.

    Given that the intent behind saying ‘Merry christmas’ is not to be
    exclusive or normative or anything like that (with rare exceptions), and
    it is not interpreted like that even by non-christians (against with
    rare exceptions),

    The fact that this is what you’ve taken from this discussion leads me to suspect that discussing it further with you is pointless. I’ll give it one more go though.

    In the US the intent of saying Merry Christmas in public contexts is often to be both normative and exclusive. Other times it is an expression of thoughtless privilege. Most non-Christians aren’t offended by the words “Merry Christmas”, but we are offended by the desire to use the words in a normative and/or exclusionary way and by the brainless privilege. Which, I repeat, happens quite a bit and is the entire point of the War on Christmas nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    EllieMukasaki, who thinks any appearance of religion whatsoever is against the universal declaration of human rights.

    I assume you mean me. (Check your spelling.) When the hell did I say that?

  • vsm

    Speaking of which, I just noticed your name is spelled “Muraski” on Fred’s blogroll.

  • Tonio

    Given that the intent behind saying ‘Merry christmas’ is not to be
    exclusive or normative or anything like that (with rare exceptions), and
    it is not interpreted like that even by non-christians (against with
    rare exceptions), I’m afraid I just don’t beleive it is ‘tantamount to
    treating [christianity] as normative’.

    The intent is largely irrelevant. That’s the same point that we’ve made here about racism. My argument about context deals with majority privilege. Our culture wrongly otherizes non-Christian religions in myriads of ways, and if one is a Jew or a Muslim or any other non-Christian, being told Merry Christmas is one more sign that one’s religion is not really accepted. Not quite the same as, say, a devout Jew having to use vacation time for Yom Kippur while Christian co-workers get a paid holiday for Good Friday. It’s not about whether  non-Christians take offense at Merry Christmas, or whether someone who accidentally says Merry Christmas to a non-Christian intended to offend the person.

    This Wikipedia entry deals with white privilege, but most of its principles apply also to Christian privilege:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_privilege

  • Ursula L

    Given that the intent behind saying ‘Merry christmas’ is not to be exclusive or normative or anything like that (with rare exceptions), and it is not interpreted like that even by non-christians (against with rare exceptions), I’m afraid I just don’t beleive it is ‘tantamount to treating [christianity] as normative’.  At worst it’s potentially as bad as ‘how’s the game then?’

    Intent isn’t magic.  

    If something causes harm, then it is harmful, even if the person who did it hadn’t intended to cause harm.

    And the use of “Merry Christmas” as a general mid-winter greeting absolutely assumes that the person you’re saying it to is fine with the celebration of Christmas, and with being treated as if they are Christian.  

    Many non-Christians in the US and elsewhere are used to the “Merry Christmas” greeting, and they may not be aware of the way that privilege twists the way that members of non-privileged groups are treated.  That doesn’t mean that the harm isn’t happening, it just means that some people are so used to being treated as second-class that they take it for granted.  

  • Anonymous

    Intent isn’t magic.

    Which is why I referred to the reactions of the recipients of the greetings.   It’s worth considering the intent, though, because if the intent was normally to harm in some way, then chances are with social interactions like this it probably does in fact harm – and even if it doesn’t it would still be bad.

    But you also dismiss the reactions of the recipients.  You realise that you are saying that several people on this comment thread are being treated like second-class citizens, but don’t realise it?  I would have thought that Slactivist regulars would be fairly attuned to these sorts of matters.  Makabit in particular seems to be quite sensitive to the social situation of a Jew living in a majority non-Jewish country, yet he’s happy with calling it Christmas.

    (That might well include me, too, as I’m not a Christian, but maybe it doesn’t as my background is Christian and I don’t live in the USA.  Not that it particularly matters, but I would be interested to know your opinion on this – am I being treated as a second-class citizen too when receiving a ‘Merry Christmas’ from someone I don’t know?  Does it make a difference if I’m in the United States, or not?)

    I still don’t agree with your arguments – I think I’m inclined to deny just about everything you’re saying (saying ‘Merry Christmas’ doesn’t treat someone as though they’re Christian, etc.).

    But it would be quite significant if, contrary to the examples shown in this comment thread, that non-Christians commonly did interpret ‘Merry Christmas’ as being treated as a second class citizen in America, or could be made to understand that they are so being treated.  I would seriously think twice about being party to something like that.  Even if they aren’t actually being so treated, the fact that on consideration they think they are is still something I’d want to avoid.

    So I’m interested in finding out.  I have no doubt you can find examples where people do feel treated like second-class citizens, and I can’t afford to sponsor a proper statistical research project to see how widespread that is. 

    So here’s what I’ll offer instead.  You find 10 non-Christians currently residing in the States who don’t currently feel as though they are being treated as second-class citizens by being greeted with ‘Merry Christmas’ by Easter, who agree to participate in the experiment, and convince 5 of them that they are being treated as second-class citizens by next Christmas.

    (There’s a few potential candidates in this comments thread.)

    Basically, these people will act as a jury for your proposition that they’re being treated as second-class citizens.  In a way, they’re deciding their own case, so it should be easy for you! (That’s a bit of a joke, but I think I am stacking the game in your favour).

    To reward them for their participation and to provide a small amount of compensation for their time, I’ll buy all 10 of them an e-book of their choice worth up to $15 US dollars, or donate $15 to a charity of their choice (i.e. one ebook each, not one between all of them!).  I’ll also do the same for you.  It’s not much, but I’m not made of money.

    (It’s either a go or no-go, though.  Either you find 10 people, and the game is on and I spend $165, or the game is off and I spend nothing.  I might well buy you an ebook anyway, if I think you’ve made a genuine effort, but that’s up to me.)

    If you manage to convince 5 of them, I will always use ‘Happy Holidays’ for the whole of the next ‘holiday season’, and explain to anyone whom I have an actual conversation with why I am doing that – and most certainly to anyone who asks or comments on the matter.   I will also do the same for the next such season I spend in the USA (may never happen, but there you go.)

    Should you take this offer up, I’ll also announce what we’re doing on my ‘blog (moribund and a bit broken at the moment, but I’ll undertake to get one going), and on Slactiverse, if the management agrees.  Also, in the comments here on Fred’s blog.  Outcomes will be posted similarly. Other venues could be negotiated. 

    It’s worth keeping in mind that although ‘Merry Christmas’ itself isn’t the biggest issue in the world (hopefully we both agree on that!), to the extent this competition gets any attention whatsoever, it will also draw attention to the wider issue of treatment of non-Christians in the USA (or more generally, in majority Christian cultures).  I also care about that issue, so that’s a win-win.

    What you get out of it no matter what happens:

    – an e-book (or a donation to a charity)
    – holiday presents for 10 other people
    – publicity for the issue
    – a really good go at awakening 10 people to the poor way in which they are being treated holiday after holiday, with their permission!

    what you get if you win:

    – satisfaction
    – 5 people (at least) thoroughly awoken to the issue that affects them
    – more publicity on the internet
    – stopping me from treating people as second-class citizens for at least one and possibly two whole holiday periods
    – ‘grass roots’ popularisation of the issue due to me explaining to everyone I meet (for more than absolutely trivial encounters) why I’m saying ‘Happy Holidays’.

    what I get out of it: 

    – well, it’ll be interesting if nothing else
    – maybe I’ll discover that ‘Merry Christmas’ really does treat non-Christians as second class citizens, so I potentially will improve my treatment of people.
    – if you fail, a small amount of vindication for my current position that ‘Merry Christmas’ doesn’t normally treat anyone as a second-class citizen.  This vindication owing to the fact that it’s difficult to convince anyone in this position that they are in fact being so treated.

    No-one needs to admit that they’re wrong.

    I have a few more conditions that would need to be spelled out, mostly around making some attempt to make sure that the people are who they say they are and are genuine in the exposition of their opinions. Oh, neither of us must know them personally. 

    What I’m looking for now is a conditional acceptance – conditional on agreeing on a final protocol.  If we can’t mutually agree on one, then the wager’s off.

    This offer is open to Ursula first of all, and if she does not accept, then she can nominate anyone else who’s participated in this comment thread up until now.  I ‘m not going to offer the wager to just anyone, because even as it stands it’s open to all sorts of skullduggery should someone wish to take me for a ride – I’m just hoping that scoundrels and cads don’t hang out on Slactivist arguing for rights of non-Christians.

    If no-one accepts, then, well, while you might be right that people are being treated as second-class citizens, if no-one here is willing to do anything to fight it, I’d have to conclude you don’t take the issue seriously enough to do anything about (beyond arguing about it on the internet). Consequently there’s no need for me to take the issue particularly seriously either.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    *blink*

    *blink*

    Mmmm-kay!

    *toddles off to get some tea*

    Sorry, I just have a lot of trouble understanding why you’re insisting on going to this much trouble.

  • Anonymous

    This.

    I have never minded being greeted with “Merry Christmas”.

    I deeply take offense at people who think that my saying something else is an affront to them.

  • Lori

     All I’m trying to do is understand why people think that ‘Merry Christmas’ is problematic.   

    I would be more inclined to believe this if you were reading people’s whole comments instead of seemingly just pulling out bits and pieces. 

    The arguments I’ve been offered up until recently as to why it’s problematic to greet people with ‘Merry Christmas’ have been that the greeting itself is presumptuous, exclusive, marjoritarian-ish, etc.   I’m also constantly being told that no-one’s against it, which confuses me as clearly people are against it (you see it as part and parcel of an oppressive and obnoxious religious culture, for example).  

    People are not against “Merry Christmas” as a voluntary greeting between people who celebrate it. People are against “Merry Christmas” as a mandatory greeting used as a demonstration of cultural dominance. The “War on Christmas” and “if it doesn’t say Merry Christmas in the window don’t shop there” shit are the latter, not the former. 

    Maybe this is simply too specific to US culture for it to make sense to people who don’t live here. 

  • Anonymous

    Lori, I am reading whole comments, and I don’t think I’m just pulling out bits and pieces.  If you think I’m mischaracterising or misunderstanding someone’s position, it would be helpful to me if you could point out where I’m doing so.

    I can’t respond to absolutely everything everyone says, because although it’s fun and interesting, I’m spending enough time on it as it is. Plus my posts are long enough and numerous enough already, don’t you think?

    So far, there are 2 different but related issues:

    1) is saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to someone one doesn’t know bad somehow?
    2) does the State need to relabel things to avoid mentioning Christianity?

    I’ve been focusing almost entirely on 1, and so have most of my interlocutors, but not all.

    There are 3 different main arguments that have been addressed to me:

    1) Merry Christmas is to some extent exclusive, assumptive, or sectarian, potentially causes social awkwardness or something of the sort, and therefore there are reasons to avoid it in favour of ‘happy holidays’ , even though very few non-Christians actually find it uncomfortable.

    arguments of this sort have been advanced by Tonio and WingedBeast amongst others. Invisible Neutrino halfheartedly agrees there may be a slight issue of this sort.

    These were the first arguments that were advanced after my initial post, and I’ve spent most of the time on this.

    2) Merry Christmas is tied up with an oppressive Christian religious culture in the States, and can’t be disentangled from that.

    This kind of argument has been advanced by EllieMukasaki and Albanaeon, quite a lot later in the piece.  WingedBeast has lately expressed some agreement with the concept.

    3) the USA has to avoid mentioning Christmas in order to avoid infringing Amendment 1 of the Constitution.

    As far as I can work out, you are the first person to address this argument to me, about a day ago (although you have said things like this earlier), and FangsFirst has said something similar more recently.

    Obviously this is an argument against issue 2, not issue 1.  Not that it matters particularly, so long as everyone understands that.

    I haven’t really addressed this argument, I must admit, but then I have mostly been discussing the issue 1.

    Those are the main arguments.  There’s been other stuff – many people seem to think i’m arguing that ‘Happy Holidays’ is offensive (I’ve no idea why – I said at the beginning I thought the outrage was absurd).  Some have been insistent that I’m missing the main issue, which they tell me is the Outraged Christians – again, I’ve already said they’re absurd, I agree with most of what has been said about them, I’m not sure why it’s necessary for me to continue discussing them – I don’t have anything interesting to say about them, and I haven’t seen anything very illuminating said about them, either, although some of the anecdotes are interesting. 

    Have I missed anything important?

    It’s obviously a very complex topic.

  • Albanaeon

    No, not just a vocal minority.  One with outsized influence on one of the two parties that are usually elected.  One that can get nearly the entire contingent of primary candidates of that party to sign declarations of their intent to have Christianity dominate this country.  Do you not see that religious minorities might have an issue with that group again showing how they can dominate the discussion and force any conversation to revolve around their hurt feelings that they aren’t being exclusively catered to while ignoring that more than our feelings are being hurt on the religious minority side.

    Stop trying to make this a “Well both sides are just as bad” thing, okay?  Being upset over “Merry Christmas,” when it is being used as a bludgeon and representative over how much power and control Christianists really do have, is a far different thing than the faux persecution and indignation those Christianists go into when someone says “Happy Holidays.”  Stop it.

  • Anonymous

    I was going to use you as an example in my reply to Matri as someone who objects to “Merry Christmas”, but then I saw the ‘bludgeon’ restriction here, and I went and reread your earlier comment too. Are you actually against ‘Merry Christmas’ in general, or only when it’s used in the bludgeon ‘Christians dominate the culture’ manner that you refer to here?

    If you’re not against ‘Merry Christmas’ in general, I’m not sure what you’re so upset with me about – in fact, I’m not entirely sure we have a genuine disagreement over anything very important.  I’m also against ‘Merry Christmas’ being used as a bludgeon, and I’ve said so several times – I’ve characterised it as rude, aggressive, and obnoxious and shibollethic.

    I don’t like the Outraged Christians’ behaviour either – in my first comment here I characterized it as absurd.

    I’ve never said both sides are just as bad.  I did say I think the relabelling is absurd – and maybe that’s what you’re picking up on here.  I still think it’s absurd as it doesn’t really fix anything, and it does fan the fires of controversy, even if that’s not the intention. Maybe it is necessary to avoid any 1st Amendment issues, but that doesn’t stop it being absurd.

    I took your earlier argument to be against ‘Merry Christmas’ in general, and I think it’s an interesting one.  But now I think you’re mostly not especially concerned about the greeting itself, but because you think I’m implicitly supporting Christian hegemony?

  • Ursula L

    I’m also constantly being told that no-one’s against it, which confuses me as clearly people are against it (you see it as part and parcel of an oppressive and obnoxious religious culture, for example). 

    No one is against someone who chooses to celebrate Christmas wishing “Merry Christmas” to another person whom they know also chooses to celebrate Christmas in a context where it is not done in a way to exclude others.

    People are against:

    1.  Wishing “Merry Christmas” when you do not know that the person or people you are wishing it to actually choose to celebrate Christmas.

    2.  Using “Merry Christmas” as a general mid-winter wish.

    3.  Wishing “Merry Christmas” when you know that the person you are speaking to or some of the people you are speaking to don’t celebrate Christmas.

    4.  Expecting other people to wish you “Merry Christmas” whether or not they choose to celebrate Christmas.

    5.  The use of “Merry Christmas” at government or public events which may be attended by people who do not choose to celebrate Christmas, and where the establishment of a specific religious context is inappropriate. 

    Basically, unless you know that you’re speaking to someone who chooses to celebrate a particular holiday, it’s problematic to offer them wishes related to that particular holiday.  

    Happily, we have alternative wishes – “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” – that are cheerful, inclusive and entirely appropriate.  

    I have yet to hear any good argument in favor of saying “Merry Christmas” in any context other than when you’re speaking to a person or a group of people all of whom you know actually celebrate Christmas.

  • WingedBeast

    Only Jeff Dunham has really put forth the actual argument.

    Walter (the grumpy old-man dummy) says “Okay, screw this, it’s Merry Christmas”.
    Jeff (the ventriloquist) “Walter, there are other religions.”
    Walter using a singsongy voice.  “But, they’re wro-ong.”

    Of course, Dunham’s audience gives a lot of applause to this, because they’re if not vocally at least silently offended by having to admit that other religions exist.  Jeff Dunham, actually a very witty comedian, but includes a lot of racism in his act that I’m sure he doesn’t even think of as racist.

    Still, that’s the argument, that Christianity is the one true religion and all others are wrong.  Once they can prove it, it’ll be a valid argument.  Until then, it’s just tribal arrogance.

  • Tonio

    they’re if not vocally at least silently offended by having to admit that other religions exist

    Do you ever feel like telling them to fuck off? It’s not up to them to decide what religion you or anyone else should follow.

  • Tonio

    This!

    Items 1 through 4 perpetuate privilege for the adherents of the majority religion. While some of their defenders don’t explicitly argue for the religion being an official or unofficial state one, their arguments presume an unofficial state culture of which the religion would be a part. Almost like they see the US as a far larger version of an Amish enclave, with no relevant distinctions between state, religion and culture. The effect is to marginalize and otherize all other religions.

  • WingedBeast

    And neither do you find many people looking to stop anybody from asking people what they think of whatever game.

    You keep on swapping the aggressor here.  You’re acting as though those saying “happy holidays” are the subject, rather than those getting into an uproar over such a saying.

    As a fellow non-sports fan, let me ask you what excludes you and what offends you.  Does it exclude you when people in the majority share an interest you don’t?  Partially.  Does it merely exclude you when they act as though there’s something wrong with you for not?  It’s edging into offense.  Would it offend you if others expressed offense at anybody not assuming that you were interested in sports?  “Hey, this is a sports-loving country.  If you don’t follow sports, get out of this country!”

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, I’m not following you.  When have I said anything to indicate that saying ‘happy holidays’ is at all problematic?

    I’m being told that ‘Merry Christmas’ is exclusive and sectarian.  You yourself said  it ‘does rather put that person [who does not celebrate Christmas] in the position of either accepting the discomfort or risking conflict’.  EllieMurasaki apparently feels her rights are being violated by being addressed in such a way. 

    So my analogy is between saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and saying ‘How about the game, then?’.  Both potentially cause the other person a small amount of sense of exclusion and marginalization, and both can potentially lead to awkwardness.   But on the other hand, they’re both usually used in a friendly fashion, and are, I think, more likely to result in a positive interaction than a negative one, even if the other person isn’t a Christian/sports fan, and notwithstanding a sense of marginalization.

     I think that’s borne out by the comments here – almost everyone is saying that they don’t find ‘Merry Christmas’ very problematic personally, and those that have noted an aggressive usage of it don’t seem to think it’s very common.

    Both phrases can be used obnoxiously, sure.  I’ve certainly had the ‘what about the game then?’ used fairly obnoxiously, and I’ve certainly had the kinds of follow-ups you’ve mentioned.  Is that a reason to avoid using the phrase? I don’t think so.  I even use it myself when I know someone is interested in it.

  • WingedBeast

    Is potentially putting someone in an excluded position reason to avoid using “Merry Christmas” when you don’t have any indication that the recipient celebrates Christmas?  Yes.

    Would that exclusion be a part of a larger tapestry of larger exclusions that include but are not limited to denying military advancement, denying private business advancement, denying non-profit access, and a general lack of representation of your views and/or needs among lawmakers?  Yes.

    Would that be signifigantly a greater exclusion than what happens to people who just don’t care about sports unless they or their own family members are playing?  Yes.

    Do we need to over-estimate the exclusion in order for it to be something worth avoiding?  No.

    Are the people who are angry over the lack of “Merry Christmass”es or public-tree lightings labelled Christas being self-glorifying, faux oppressed jerks?  Yes.

  • http://fiadhiglas.wordpress.com/ Laiima

    Um, I apologize for the off-topic-ness of this post, but as this thread is still active, it seemed like a good place for it. My husband’s company is looking for IT people, and they’re having trouble finding anyone to interview, so he sent me the info so I could post it here, in case a Slacktivite in Maryland might see it. Company is located in Hunt Valley, MD, which is northern Baltimore county. He’s been at the company 3 years and really likes it, and he’s picky. :)

    1) Senior and Junior Java web developer. J2EE, EJB, SQL, BA or BS in computer science or related field or equivalent work experience.
    2)
    Interface developers. We will train on the coding platform we use
    (Windows server environment). Candidates should have solid experience
    with programming logic and understand batch file processing (input to
    conversion to output). Some SQL experience preferred. Not sure about
    education requirements but BA or BS in computer science or related field
    or equivalent work experience will certainly be helpful.
    3) DBAs.
    SQL, stored procedures, etc. on MS SQL Server. BA or BS in computer
    science or related field or equivalent work experience.

    All these
    positions require typical skills in a corporate IT environment: Can
    work on a team, can handle multiple projects at once, can meet deadlines
    when required, etc.

    If anyone’s interested, contact me at: shokiai at yahoo dot com.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think the main point is people who purpose use “Merry Christmas” as exclusivist language rather than rattling it off as a nearly-automatic socialized response to a greeting in December. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said it, but the thing is, I never purposely used it, jaw jutted out, body language daring someone else to make an issue out of it.

    That said, if someone objects to me saying it even as an automatic response, they do have a case to make for it being the usage of the language of a dominant religion in the dominant culture on this planet.

    In short it is possible for even the watered-down usage of ‘Merry Christmas’ to potentially be problematic, but it becomes far more so when people use it as a weapon.

    And this weaponizing of “Merry Christmas” by Christianists* is an issue one should be concerned with.

    * Nice word. Encapsulates “fundamentalist/extremist Christians” in a more easily rattled off word.

  • Tonio

    Exactly. Merry Christmas an automatic response is simply majority privilege. That’s like Lenny Bruce’s point about non-Jews who don’t realize when someone is Jewish because they have no experience of living as a religious and cultural minority. The behavior at the Rhode Island ceremony is the deliberate use of the term and concept as weapons. I know people in customer service who have been ranted at after they wished Happy Holidays.

  • Lori

    On the subject of annoying Christmas music: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-aTuEZhPKpq0/TuIInAhkafI/AAAAAAABNBU/Sr0rrZBM6TQ/s1600/tradition.png

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think this xkcd nails it.

    I just wish all the people trying to recreate the 1950s would think about reinstating the tax system back then.

  • FangsFirst

    I am probably going to regret this but let me give it a shot:

    I think there’s some confusion about the issues at hand here, from what is being expressed to what is being understood by arcseconds.

    Arc: The issue begins from this–the “holiday tree” is in a governmental location, and thus has a responsibility to the law. To have a tree in that place, it is necessarily secular because the law demands it. The offense that stems from this is the original issue here, and is the one that is being argued against here. There is a legal issue here, and it is infringement upon the rights of those who practice another or no religion, when it is placed in the context of a government facility.

    This is where the relevance of rights and the necessity of the change occurs: if a government building is to have a tree, it cannot be related to a religion because it gives the appearance of endorsement/establishment. So, it becomes a “holiday tree” by necessity. This is an action to show that the government is not showing favoritism to any particular religion over others or the absence.

    The discussion of “Merry Christmas” as a casual greeting or note is secondary and is used to describe those who are offended by the exchange of words when describing more legal issues, rather than to suggest that those who insist upon assuming everyone celebrates Christmas are anything more than assumptive and rude for doing so (ie, not outside their legal rights, just kind of boorish). These are examples of how “christmas” still has enough exclusionary and religious implications to necessitate changes like the above in contexts where rights and legality ARE at issue. Not to say that “Merry Christmas” as a phrase must permanently be eliminated. Some would prefer not to be greeted with it and see it as something that, out of a sense of respect and inclusion should be eliminated from common parlance–because it makes assumptions and can be, has been, and will be used to oppress or exclude others.

    On the “manners” front, the point is that “happy holidays” is inclusive, and should be seen as a compromise, so as to not exclude or oppress anyone at all. It’s not an attempt to remove “Christmas,” so much as an attempt to bring everything else in alongside it. Thus the manufactured nature of the “offense” at “removing Christmas,” which is right and proper in a legal/government context, and decent manners in a conversation.

    Sidenote: My Catholic ex(?) had a conversation with me about this wherein she felt that it was, from any group, a greeting to be returned as is. If someone wishes her “Happy Hannukah,” she wishes them that right back. To her, it is “I am sharing my joy at this holiday/season, and wish to do the same for you.” I never quite got to the point of agreeing to disagree, but I felt like injecting that much more cynicism into such a well-meaning person was wrong. She takes issue with more definitively cruel and oppressive practices of people at her particular congregations on her own. I share that not necessarily as a viable alternative, but just a sort of anecdote. She is not American either though, which has led to no end of discussion about the difference between religious expression/experience here and in Scotland and England.

  • Anonymous

    I just participated in a Messiah sing-along this last weekend.  I played the alto trombone part (which is hard to get on a tenor trombone, let me tell you), and since the low brass only play on four or five of the pieces out of the whole suite, I spent a long time singing instead, even though we only did about half the pieces (the more Christmas-y ones).

    And I gotta tell you, the lyrics kind of started disturbing me, considering the whole thing was written in Great Britain at the height of empire.

    The government shall be upon his shoulders sounds dominionist.

    Rejoice, O daughter of Jerusalem is aimed on the surface at Mary, but I started hearing daughter of Jerusalem = Great Britain and that skirted uncomfortably close to the whole idea that Judaism has been “replaced” by Christianity.

    There was also a bit that said he shall speak peace unto the heathen which implied that heathens don’t know peace.

    Not to mention there was a general assumption that everyone participating in the sing-along was Christian, which would be a valid assumption except that one of the performances was in the local Unitarian Universalist church (I’m pretty sure they’re going to hold a ceremony on the solstice to raise a cone of power there) and for the simple fact that I was there, and I am not a Christian.  So I had to put up with some prayers.  No big.  It was the assumption that bugged me.

    … and as an unrelated thought, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us made me think of the slogan on the Wehrmacht’s belt buckles, Gott mitt uns, which in no way can be Handel’s fault.

  • Eminnith

    While I can understand the discomfort, it might help to know that Handel didn’t write the lyrics to the Messiah, but took them directly from the King James Version of the Old Testament.

    And “he shall speak peace unto the heathen” would have more to do with the Messiah creating peace between Israel and the other peoples of the world, unless I’m totally confused.

  • Lori

     4.  Expecting other people to wish you “Merry Christmas” whether or not they choose to celebrate Christmas.   

    This is the one that really gets on my last good nerve and the reason I find the Christianists “don’t shop in any store that doesn’t say Merry Christmas” campaign so wrong. It’s bad enough for you to reflexively give others the greeting that focuses on your celebration, with no regard for the fact that they may not celebrate the same holiday. 

    It’s a whole other level of assholery to demand that people who may not celebrate Christmas still use “Marry Christmas” as a standard greeting because you simply can’t bear to hear anything else. And it’s perfectly reasonable to alienate everyone who isn’t Christian in order to prevent you from suffering the fate worse than death that is hearing a general holiday greeting. Because Christians, being the majority, own December bitches, and everyone else just better step aside.

    I think some folks are seriously failing to grasp this part of the US situation when they’re thinking that all this is much ado about nothing on the part of non-Christians. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    One thing I’d like to know: These Christmas Warriors, do they want non-christians to wish them merry christmas, or do they imagine a legion of oppressed retail clerks who *want* to wish them a merry christmas, but are forbidden by EVIL MANAGEMENT? 

    Because “Fuck you, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, etc, you WILL WISH ME A MERRY CHRISTMAS, Heathen!” seems extra special douchey.

  • Lori

    One thing I’d like to know: These Christmas Warriors, do they want
    non-christians to wish them merry christmas, or do they imagine a legion
    of oppressed retail clerks who *want* to wish them a merry christmas,
    but are forbidden by EVIL MANAGEMENT? 

    Because “Fuck you, Jew,
    Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, etc, you WILL WISH ME A MERRY CHRISTMAS,
    Heathen!” seems extra special douchey. 

    IME it’s actually closer to “Obviously the vast majority of the clerks and management want to wish customers a Merry Christmas because that’s the real greeting for this time of year, but the Evil Forces of Political Correctness are forcing them to ignore our Lord and Savior.”

  • WingedBeast

    Third option.  It’s not so much “Fuck you…” more like “I’d rather not be forced to admit that, by virtue of my self-identifying as Christian, my opinions and values don’t rule over all of civilization with the exception of horrible foriegn places that are horrible because they’re foriegn and foriegn because they’re horrible.”

  • vsm

    Sorry for the late reply. I had music library discourse to study and Chinese numerals to forget in the middle of a test.

    Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little:

    Thus providing us with yet another datum supporting Team Oxford Comma (slogan: “It clears up confusion before it starts!”).

    I suspect I could have avoided the confusion better by including a parenthetical comment on Yule. The Oxford comma simply looks wrong to me. However, there can be no excuse for the second lacking comma, for which I’m unbelievably sorry.Lori:

    Do Christians all over the world celebrate US Thanksgiving as part of
    being Christian? No? Then IMO, not a religious holiday.

    They may not celebrate US Thanksgiving exactly, but as I understand it, the festival is based on European harvest festivals that are often held in churches. The German Erntedankfest is a good example of such a celebration. Across the pond, Thanksgiving looks a lot like Halloween, ie. a religious festival that was secularized over time.In any case, I now have a much better grasp of the Christmas Question. Thank you to everyone who explained the issue. I hope I wasn’t too annoying.Incidentelly, re: real pagans dying out centuries ago, I wouldn’t be all that sure. For instance, there is no official harvest festival in Finland, because the church apparently found the Kekri festival too pagan to adopt. Instead, they tried banning it, but it wouldn’t die until the country started industrializing. It involved all sorts of charming habits, such as eating, drinking and food sacrifices to dead ancestors and spirits to ensure a good harvest next year. While the celebrants would have probably considered themselves Christian if asked, it seems perfectly obvious to me they were New Agers, picking little pieces of different faiths depending on what suited them. This was presumably true of a very large percentage of Christians through the centuries.

  • Lori

    They may not celebrate US Thanksgiving exactly, but as I understand it, the festival is based on European harvest festivals that are often held in churches.

    The thing the Pilgrims did may have been, although I don’t know about even that. It’s not like harvest festivals are rare or that one group needed to copy another in order to come up with the idea of having a celebration of the harvest. At any rate, by the time Thanksgiving became an actual holiday in the US it was not. It’s a national holiday.

  • vsm

    …And sorry for the awful-looking mess above. I swear it used to have paragraphs.

  • Anonymous

    I have mentioned this before, but what is actually more significant than the words used as greetings, is that it has become normal in Western countries for there to be some kind of holiday and celebration around this time.  This is where the real cultural assimilation is happening – Makabit has already pointed out that Kwaanzaa was deliberately created as an alternative to Christmas, and Hannukah has gone from a very minor holiday to something much more major, and they’ve even incorporated the yule/christmas tree as a holiday bush.  It even seems that Diwali is celebrated more around this time, whereas traditionally the timing varies from October through to January.  There was also the anecdote about a Muslim man thinking of getting a Christmas tree for his family this year in England.

    ‘Happy Holidays’ incorporates this cultural assumption.  It assumes you will be celebrating something around this time – that you won’t be working, have people to celebrate with, and all of those things.  This isn’t true of everyone, it isn’t true in many non-Western countries, and it wasn’t true of Judaism or Hinduism.

    If you want to avoid any exclusivity and cultural normativity, and you think the use of the word ‘Christmas’ does those things, then don’t use any seasonal greetings.  Object to the ‘holiday tree’ – it’s still priviledging a north-western european festival tradition.

    Christmas has already done a lot of assimilatory ‘damage’, if that’s the way you want to see it, to minority non-European/non-christian cultures in western societies.   This wasn’t done by normalizing christianity; it was done by normalizing a party – the force at work here is Fear of Missing Out.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Speaking of the way in which Christian holidays get secularized –

    One thing I’d like to see is that under Canadian provincial and federal labor law, that statutory holidays become entirely secular. Already over half the holidays are tied to important Canadian or British (or in Quebec, French) historical figures and/or important dates – e.g. Victoria Day, Canada Day, B.C. (or other provincial civic days for the August one) Day, “Family” Day (really, couldn’t they have called it something else? but hey, a holiday.), and so on.

    The December, October, and March/April holidays should be changed to some appropriate secular winter day; I don’t think Canadians would be unhappy to have some kind of civic holiday that corresponds approximately to Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter respectively; the New Year holiday is pretty much secular, since our calendar is just a convenient date marking system.

    I would also not mind seeing more flexibility in labor law to allow employees to exchange a civic holiday on a date to one more convenient to one of religious significance, if possible. (e.g. suppose we have a mandated holiday in April instead of the movable one for Easter; Christians who wanted to celebrate Easter could ask to take the Good Friday off instead of $APRIL_DAY)

  • Tonio

    The US generally lacks statutory holidays, except for Thanksgiving. But in practice, most employers follow the same schedule that the federal government uses for its own employees. Or they include the state workforce holidays as well. A few Southern states celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday, and that sound you hear is my bile rising.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I did note that I almost automatically say Merry Christmas without really stopping to think about it, but I should have noted that it’s usually in response to being told a Merry Christmas. That said, I think I’ll be watching out more, since it would be better to use a nondenominational type holiday wish.

  • PurpleGirl

    While reading this thread it occurred to me that many people were missing some historical aspects of the decorated evergreen tree. It was not part of English/Welsh/Scots/Irish traditions of the earlier pagan eras. Decorating with holly and ivy was. The decorated evergreen tree doesn’t become part of English celebrations until Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert and allows him to have a decorated evergreen tree in their home. Prince Albert was Germanic and was introducing traditions he knew from his Germanic background to his family with Victoria. Italy, France, Spain and other countries had other traditions for celebrating Christ’s birth. The Christmas Tree was not universal although many northern European countries had traditions using a decorated evergreen tree.

  • http://usb3gvn.com/ USB 3G

    Well, interesting post,
    thanks!

  • P J Evans

     SPAM! Eggs and Spam!

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I prefer bacon and eggs m’self. :P

  • P J Evans

     Spam with mustard sauce (and cloves, if you have them) is not bad. Neither is pan-fried spam. (Not as good as actual ham, but good enough.)

  • Zachary

    FYI, there are plenty of non-religious gun owners like myself. No need to perpetuate stereotypes.


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