Christopher Hitchens on Christmas

Christopher Hitchens talks about the history of Christmas:

I never cease to be amazed by how little the Bible-believing Protestants, who constitute most of the soldiery in the Christmas wars, know about their own tradition. Under the rule of the Puritan Revolution in England, the celebration of Christmas was banned outright. This was for three reasons: The December fiesta was actually the honoring of paganism in disguise, and a descendant of the old rites of the winter solstice. Then, it was also a manifestation of popery and superstition (the “Christ-Mass”). Finally, it was an excuse for the riff-raff to get drunk and disorderly. Only the last part seems to have survived….

I myself repose no faith in any man-made text or made-man redeemer, so when it’s Christmas I say “Merry Christmas” with a clear conscience, as I respect Ramadan and Passover, and also because “Happy Holidays” is so thin and insipid.

But when it comes to the White House, Hitchens says:

It is not the business of the chief executive to take any part in this business. May his daughters’ stockings be well-stuffed, may a mythical St. Nick from ancient mythology delight them, may visions of sugarplums dance in their heads, but please, not in the parts of the White House that belong to the world’s first secular republic.

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  • Cletus

    I used to love Hitchens, lately, not so much.

    First off, If anyone has personal knowledge of the riff-raff gettin’ drunk and disorderly, it would be Hitchens.

    Secondly, “Happy Holidays” is no more or less insipid than any other combination of two words. It’s a fitting and universal acknowledgement that there are many holidays clustered around this time of the year (with any number of deluded, easily offended, whack-jobs participating in them). Best to keep it broad.

    Last of all, his comments on the President could have easily been made during the Bush administration, but he was too busy fawning over W’s war policies to be much concerned with the trappings of Christianity in the halls of power.

    I’d like him more if he was consistent.

    • Custador

      I’ve always been more of a Dawkins fan. I just prefer his gentler approach; that said I hugely enjoyed watching Hitchens tear George Galloway (UK Member of Parliament and vocal friend and supporter of Saddam Hussein) to shreds in their debate over the Iraq war. Regardless of the issue, Galloway is a turd and it was great to see him DE-HE-HE-HE-STROYED by a man of infinitely greater intelligence.

    • Jer

      I agree. I don’t like Hitchens. Not because he’s shrill, or because he’s caustic, or for most of the other reasons a lot of atheists who aren’t in favor of getting into the faces of theists don’t like him, but because he’s often very, very wrong. Not just wrong but wrong-headed. He’s incredibly opinionated, he holds his opinions to be almost Holy Writ and he’s not terribly introspective about the opinions he holds. He has a hair trigger and forms an opinion with very little evidence for it and then defends and maintains that opinion despite mountains of evidence to the contrary until, finally, there’s some overwhelming bit that even he just can’t ignore and he has to begrudgingly give in and admit he was wrong. And to be blunt – anyone who has to be waterboarded themselves to see that waterboarding is torture is not going to hold much esteem in my eyes (though at least he was willing to go through with it, which is more than a lot of the “waterboarding isn’ torture” crowd have been willing to undertake).

      As far as “Happy Holidays” being “thin” and “insipid” – WTF is he talking about here? Is this more of his knee-jerk anti-multiculturalism? Does he not actually have friends who are Jewish or live in a community where Jewish folks work? It’s just polite to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” if you don’t freaking know if the person you’re talking to is a Christian or not. But then Hitchens doesn’t set much store at all on being polite, so maybe this is just another aspect of his “I’m a bastard and I like to show it to the world” macho posture that he likes to throw into other people’s faces. I’m reminded more of an 8th grade school-yard bully than anything else when I read one of his drunken ramblings.

      (Grod I think I’ve gone from just not understanding what other people see in his rhetoric to actually disliking the man. He’s like Bill Maher – another guy who just stands out as a textbook example of “think before you speak” to me yet who gets treated like he’s some kind of intellectual luminary. I just don’t get it.)

  • Juan

    Actually, he’s been going on about this anti-Christmas thing for a while, and has rehearsed the same arguments.

    In this instance, however, I think he’s been overcome by his persona. He’s a contrarian, and how more contrarian can you get than by being anti-Christmas?

    • Molly

      I’m not such a fan of Christmas or “the holiday season” in general, and it’s not because I’m trying to be contrarian, though I am kind of a cynic. Gaudy decorations piss me off. Christmas muzak pisses me off. Santa hats piss me off. Shopping SERIOUSLY pisses me off. I’m all about the “seeing friends and family part”, but why can’t we have happy food parties year round? My dislike of the holidays is more about my dislike for the accompanying stress, forced holiday cheer, and lack of understanding about the history behind Christmas. One more “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” card in the mail and I might seriously rant.

      • localtraveler

        Me too! Happy food parties year round!!!! Though most of my family is pretty religious (some of them very much so), they don’t really have a problem with the atheist thing–it’s a live and let live situation. But not liking Christmas?!?! This is what truly makes me the black sheep. It’s been at least 7 years since I opted out, and they still just cannot accept it.

        • Molly

          And then there’s the pressure to see ALL of the family at the exact same time, and if you choose one side, the other side is offended…

          • Leo

            My future mother-in-law just called late last night to tell me she’s organised a second Christmas Day on Boxing Day because me and my bloke are celebrating Christmas day with my parents.

            Normally I like xmas, but springing a SECOND xmas on me with little notice just because I have borrowed your son for one xmas day is the best way to dissipate my holiday spirit.
            /rant (sorry: badly needed to vent that)

            • Molly

              No no no – I totally hear you. After making the decision to split up Christmas day between our families (who live two hours apart), my husband just informed me that next weekend will be his “extended family Christmas” celebration, which will be taking place two and a half hours away. This means that we’ll be spending a fair portion of this holiday season in the car. (I’m ranting, too, but it’s good to commiserate with people who understand, so, thanks :)

      • Dave

        “why can’t we have happy food parties year round?”

        Thank God, er, thank goodness we don’t have such events. At least not where I live, in the U.S. – we’re a fat-enough nation as it is. And I don’t think, if we tried them, that “healthy food” parties would go over.

  • rA

    Merry festivus!

  • David

    Hitchens is refreshing and fun. He says what he means and means what he says. I wouldn’t want to live with him but I do enjoy listening to him.

  • ZenMonkey

    The thing is, Christmas is not a battle nontheists even have a shred of hope of winning (for those who consider it a battle, which I do not). Rail against the White House Christmas tree all you want — there is no way it’s going anywhere. I personally prefer to remember Obama’s inaugural and Fort Hood addresses, where he included “nonbelievers” as no other president has done.

    I really believe this is a season when atheists should just shut up and deal. Celebrate in your own way. Personally I have a menorah and a Christmas tree, and it all has to do with family and a really nice piney smell and pretty candles for me. The holiday season is stressful enough and I just don’t see the point of waging war on it when there are far more important issues to focus on where we can actually make a difference.

    I am (mostly) a fan of Hitchens, but he comes off as a useless Scrooge here. He is much more effective when castigating the Catholic Church for its abuses, since that actually effected change as opposed to this, which is just whining.

    • wazza

      Hitchens actually says we don’t need to fight a Christmas war, because we’ve already won, it’s ours, and we should just enjoy it. I don’t get where you’re getting any scrooginess from in this quote.

      • ZenMonkey

        This: “It is not the business of the chief executive to take any part in this business.”

        Although I mentioned Obama in my comment, this was really the sentence and the sentiment that I was responding to, and I should have been more clear about that.

        • wazza

          well, it isn’t. Anything else is establishment of religion.

          He’s fine to celebrate it privately, though, as Hitchens makes clear.

  • RogerE

    ‘Happy Holidays’ used to be a perfectly acceptable greeting before the Christian right decided it was a slap in the face to their religion and somehow unpatriotic. ‘Happy Holidays’ meant both ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’ AND it allowed you to wish your Jewish friends and neighbors well without having to figure out exactly when their celebration was or how to pronounce it or which spelling variation one should use. Back in the day before I became environmentally aware and stopped sending out paper greeting cards, I’d send out ‘Merry Christmas’ cards to those I were sure were Christians and ‘Happy Holidays’ cards to everyone else. I’m sure that some Christians got a ‘Happy Holidays’ card from me but, they understood it as meaning ‘Merry Christmas’ and were not offended. I’m pretty sure that I never sent a ‘Merry Christmas’ card to a non-christian but, back then, even if I had, they would know to take it in the spirit that it was meant, though it may have lost me some points in their regard. Nowadays, it seem even more appropriate to use ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas’ as the number of non-christians is becoming a significant portion of the population. it seems an act of hubris to me to insist on using ‘Merry Christmas’ as a holiday greeting.

  • Dino Flintstone

    Hitchens–the Simon Cowell of all things atheist– knows a thing or two about getting drunk and disorderly, so in this case I shall count him an authority on the subject–for once.

    While “Hitch,” as his bedfellows call him, is assuredly one of the most self righteous cantankerous tools to ever make love to a microphone, I still love hearing him speak. His razor sharp wit is a true spectacle, particularly since the rum should have worn it down a loooong time ago. He’s truly an enigma. Both he and Dawkins are morbidly in love with themselves and there are few thrills as grand as watching them splash about in their own saliva in the heat of debate with their theist foes. They are like Riley and Ferrell in Stepbrothers.

  • claidheamh mor

    I was expecting something a little inflammatory from Hitchens, but actually I liked this.

    Let the family in the White House celebrate Christmas all they want, but keep it out of the government. Let the separation of church and state be acted out. (And stop epople who violate it, I think ever since hearing that Nancy Pelosi spoke with Catholic bishops about keeping abortion choice out of health care.) Sounded fine to me.

  • nazani14

    Xmas in December – I always wondered what those shepherds were doing out in the fields with their flocks at night in midwinter. Palestine in late December is in the 40s or low 50s.

    Is Hitchens really as boozy as rumored? Isn’t it possible that he’s red-faced just because he has high blood pressure from his extra pounds? I enjoy his debates, and I’m glad someone takes the time to be vocal about anti-theism.

  • Tricia Potts

    My thoughts: happy holidays means only merry christmas. whether you say it, see it printed on a sign in a store, or see it on greeting cards, that is what it means. In the U.S. no one in their right mind would think “happy holidays” might mean happy jewish thing or buddhist thing or hindu thing that you might be doing from december to february. what is “the holiday season” ? do atheists or hindus or jewish people in the U.S. discuss their “holiday season” ??? NO. This is a phrase made up by someone and used by the media to pretend the Christians have “best wishes” for “non-Christians” during the christian-only “holiday season.” why is there a national christmas tree? this is an oxymoron. we need a president who will finally publicy get rid of the “national” christmas tree. yeah, it might be cute to know what the president and her/his family are doing during a particular holiday that they might be celebrating. that is fine. but not a public celebration of the commander-in-chief’s holiday.