Please let me remind readers old and new that I consider myself a Christian. However, I think Christ must weep daily over the atrocities done in His name. What I am about to relate isn’t exactly an atrocity… or is it?
I was barely awake and listening to talk radio, left on by my husband after he fell asleep the night before. I can’t even recall who the host was, but he was talking about this.
Now, to me, this a prime example of how reactionary the Religious Right is. Anyone tries to be least bit inclusive and all of a sudden our country is going to hell in a handbasket, and secular humanism is taking over. Pretty soon, it’ll be like the days when Christians were thrown to the lions. What they lack is perspective. For the short time I have taught at a Jewish school, one thing I have learned is how dominant and omnipresent Christianity is in our culture. Of course, I speak from the perspective of someone who lives in the South — specifically in Georgia. I really don’t think Christianity is currently in any danger of being subverted.
The talk show host ranted especially about Kwanzaa, citing all the usual objections: the holiday’s creator did prison time; it detracts from Christmas since it’s so close; it isn’t an African holiday at all; it’s an invented holiday. Blah. Blah. Blah. I guess one could say most of those things are true, but so what? Why was he so threatened by Kwanzaa? No one is forcing him to celebrate it or even to accept it as legitimate. Kwanzaa matters to those who celebrate it; to those who don’t — who cares? Why should it bother you that it exists? Kwanzaa is no threat to any religious holiday, because it isn’t religious.
Slaves brought over from Africa were made to convert to Christianity by their Christian masters. Over time, their culture became entwined with that of the slaveholders to create African American culture. What is so threatening, as I said, and to extend that, what is so wrong with wanting to embrace parts of your culture stolen from you? Or even to marry the cultures and create something new?
First of all, yes, the holiday’s creator spent time in prison for assault. Because of that, the holiday is bogus? I don’t understand this argument, because it seems to insinuate that in order to create something, you need to be without blemish — perfect or pure. Who says?
Second, yes, it is close to Christmas. But there seems to be a pretty good explanation for that.
Third, Kwanzaa is not an African holiday, but some of the principles incorporated into the celebration are African, and it embraces African roots. I think the idea is to make something distinctive that means something to African Americans, who are disconnected and removed from their antecedents in Africa. Again, is there something wrong with trying to connect with that past?
Finally, “it’s an invented holiday” is the weakest argument, because every holiday was invented at some point in the past. Christmas, for example, is most likely nowhere near the time when Christ was actually born. It does coincide closely with the Winter Solstice, which was celebrated by many different cultures. Rather than suppress the “pagan” celebrations, Pope Gregory I did something very politically astute: he encouraged Christian missionaries to incorporate those celebrations into Christianity. Christmas was born. It has been in Christian theocracies, such as Puritan New England, where Christmas has been suppressed. Surprising, no? Our staunchest Christians in the past — so devout that they devised a government that would be a shining city on a hill, a beacon to light the world and show the world the way, a government with God at the center — should suppress celebration of the birth of their Savior? Why? Because they recognized it as pagan, that’s why. It should logically follow, then, that if you are truly a fundamentalist, devout Christian, then you shouldn’t celebrate such a pagan holiday as Christmas. If what I just said sounds absurd to you, then maybe you’re starting to understand my point.
I suppose I’m talking about more than Kwanzaa here. I suppose I’m taking about Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, and maybe even Boxing Day and Hogmanay. Or Twefth Night. Or whatever. I’m talking about the fact that there are groups out there so threatened by the idea that holidays besides Christmas be acknowledged that they are taking out ads encouraging Christians not to shop at stores that have signs declaring “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.” One of my few holiday cards this year was sent to me by a Jew — a rabbi, as a matter of fact. She honored my holiday by sending me a card a few days before Christmas. Why can I not honor her holiday by simply acknowledging it in the form of greeting I use during the holidays?
The end of the WSBTV article was chilling to me:
But to many, the threats and demands that stores put up “Merry Christmas” signs are no laughing matter.
“Why not simply require stores owned by Jews to put a gold star in their ads and on their storefronts?” the Rev. Jim Melnyk, associate rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, wrote in a letter to the editor.
That was how it started once before…