Thursday, December 16, 2004

The people who are complaining about the secularization of Christmas in contemporary America probably shouldn't step into the Wayback Machine...

...looking into the past will not yield up any meaning of the Christmas holiday that most of us will recognize. The December date on the festive calendar two centuries ago was an occasion for public brawling by wandering crowds of inebriates.

Until Christmas was transformed in the 1830’s and 40’s, it was not unlike Mardi Gras. Men dressed as women and vice versa; off-key, discordant, squeaky, tub-thumping bands marched through the streets; liquored-up groups of revelers would force their way into the households of honest burghers to demand money, food and drink. When they managed to get what they came for, it wasn’t Christmas alms or charity, but something close to extortion.... These bands of not-so-merry makers would stand in front of homes and wassail those inside with such songs as this:

We’ve come here to claim our right ...
And if you don’t open your door
We will lay you flat upon the floor.

That's Nicholas von Hoffman in The New York Observer (his source is The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday by Stephen Nissenbaum).

Elsewhere in the Observer, Tom Scocca notes the recent column in which Bill O'Reilly warned that the exclusion of Christ from holiday celebrations could turn this country Canadian (gay marriage, national health care, rampant secularism). Scocca writes:

Has our snowy neighbor really repudiated Christmas? It seems like a waste of frosted evergreens.

"We’re certainly not abolishing Christmas," said Amber Authier, an events supervisor for the city of Toronto.

In fact, the putatively Grinchy people of Toronto can celebrate their gay marriages around an official municipal Christmas tree, sponsored by the Toronto
Star. At its lighting, the Saint Michael’s Choir School sang a medley of seasonal music --including the "religious music" that Mr. O’Reilly described as an endangered medium....

So hey, Bill, grab a Molson and lighten the hell up.

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