Woebegone Christmas

I’m still chewing this one over, but I find it has raised some good thoughts from others.  Garrison Keillor of famed A Prairie Home Companion fame is raising a few hackles with a somewhat unexpected Christmas lashing out.  Read his full essay here.

He comes out swinging against those who seek to tweak and adjust Christmas to suit their secular or non-Christian preferences of the season, whether that be rewriting Silent Night to be less theistic, or writing annoying holiday tunes that have nothing to do with the actual heart of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ.  I have to admit that I tend to agree with him.  Christmas increasingly has less to do with the reason why we’re celebrating in the first place (or the reason we began celebrating in the first place, to be more precise), and more to do with the celebration itself.  Rather than sing about why we have Christmas trees, we sing about who we saw kissing whom beneath them.  It’s the Starbucks drivel about wishing and how the season is all about wishing.  Except it’s not.  The season is all about the fact that God kept His promise to His people, and so maybe we should expect that He’s going to keep on keeping His promises.

I found Keillor’s article through this blog, Cranach: The Blog of Veith.  He finds Keillor to be a bit too cranky for his tastes.  Certainly Keillor is voicing things rather harshly.  But is it any harsher than if a bunch of unaffiliated folks began tweaking the meaning of Ramadan, for instance?  Can you imagine the outcry if people were encouraged not to focus on the purpose of Ramadan, but to focus, say, only on the joy of breaking the fast each day after sundown?  Who would die because of such crassness?  Keillor is right that familiarity breeds contempt, and it has become rather vogue to find Christians and their holidays contemptible.  I disagree completely with Veith that the secular celebration of Christmas is in some respects an unknowing tribute to the Christ child.  The people focused on holiday parties and presents, who have no idea why they ought to step foot into a church, and who blithely denounce God as dead are certainly not bowing their knees or confessing with their tongues just because they run up their credit cards and purchase peppermint scented deodorant.

Another good commentary on Keillor’s rant can be found here.  He rightly points out that Keillor’s liberal ideas of what Christmas should be about – a very private and non-public affair – are problematic.  However, I don’t think that this comment negates some of the value of what Keillor says.  Keillor isn’t directly arguing that Christian Christmas shouldn’t be part of the public cultural landscape, but rather that if it *is* going to be part of the landscape, it should remain Christian in nature.   Because that’s what Christmas is – Christian.  The Christ Mass.  For whatever other reasons people choose to celebrate this time of year, the only reason they’re doing so is because Christmas has been a fundamental part of Western culture for hundreds and hundreds of years. 

Frankly I don’t find Keillor’s essay to be particularly cohesive.  But in his overall warnings against the danger of intellectualism or elitism, he strikes a few chords that – at least for now – I find make beautiful music together. 

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