Just a quick comment on your article below.
I don’t get your position. Are you for the choice of multiculturalism where you would value other people’s customs and cultures including the right to say “Merry Christmas” around the time when many people celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth or against multiculturalism? From the article, it seems you are for multiculturalism, but against people saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I agree that most holidays are arbitrary; it seems crazy where some of them came from. But isn’t this diversity ok? Who gets to decide which are the appropriate “multicultural” holidays and appropriate ways to celebrate them? Isn’t celebrating this distinction an indicator of the multiculturalism that you advocate? Isn’t it OK if stores sell products related to holidays? Do you think this should be illegal or something? I don’t particularly like the ways that some people celebrate Halloween, but I’m not going to fret about some kind of Halloween “cultural imperialism” or witch “hegemony”.
Each year all sides of this issue spill a lot of “ink” over “Merry Christmas”. Can’t we advocate for freedom of speech, religion, and association and just let this resolve itself? It seems like there are higher issues on our society’s priority list than whether some people celebrate a holiday season around Christmas or whether some people greet another with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Of all the things to protest about on TV, you pick Christmas specials? Wow! The ironic thing is that some people would try to limit these basic freedoms in the name of multiculturalism! Too often people use “multiculturalism” as a tool to try to silence or denigrate people or values that they don’t like. For example, people who are consistently “inclusive” don’t write articles challenging the way others celebrate holidays or whether there is enough historical basis to justify whether people should celebrate a particular holiday. Exposing the inconsistency of supposed multiculturalists is a cause that I could get interested in! Opposing Christmas? Not so much.
The (Christian) Month of December
A Commentary by Warren J. Blumenfeld
When people wish others a “Happy Holiday Season,” or just “Happy Holidays,” what exactly do they mean? This “season” usually begins around Thanksgiving and lasts through December until the first day of January, “New Year’s Day.”
Thanksgiving in the United States commemorates that mythical time when “the Pilgrims” and “the Indians” shared a joyous meal together.
While the only remaining Patuxet man who had survived slavery in England, named Squanto, did help the Pilgrims, in later years, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared the first official “Day of Thanksgiving,” after the so-called “Puritans,” who had stolen land from indigenous peoples, then aided by English and Dutch mercenaries in 1637 (on the Christian Gregorian [Pope Gregory XIII] calendar), surrounded, shot, and killed an estimated 700 unarmed members of the Pequot tribe.
So if we are wishing people a “Happy Holiday Season” between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I suppose we cannot include Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, some who celebrate Diwali (“Festival of Lights”), commemorated beginning in late Ashvin (between September and October on the Christian Gregorian calendar) and ending in early Kartika (between October and November).
So when we are into December, what are we including in our “Season’s Greetings”? A major happening that comes to mind is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth, that exact split second, usually occurring on December 21 or 22 on the Christian Gregorian calendar when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest from the sun. Also called the “first day of winter” in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the seasonal reversal when days begin their gradual lengthening and nights shorten. Many groups celebrate the winter solstice in a number of ways, from sharing a meal, to lighting candles, to hanging lights, to song and dance fests.
Well, also in December, among many other celebrations, there’s Chanukah, also known as the “Festival of Lights,” an eight-day Jewish holiday observing the rededication of the Second Holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem when, in 3593 on the Hebrew calendar (167 B.C. on the Christian Gregorian calendar), the Maccabees conducted a revolt for independence. Chanukah begins at sundown on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which falls anywhere from late November to late December on the Christian Gregorian calendar. Celebrants each night light candles on candelabra called “menorahs.”
In addition, Kwanza, created by Maulana Karenga and first celebrated in 1966, honors the universal African heritage and culture, and is commemorated annually between December 26 and January 1 on the Christian Gregorian calendar. The name “Kwanza” was drawn from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning the “first fruits of the harvest.” Celebrants each night light candles on candelabra called “kinaras.”
And there’s Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Though this is not actually the known date of the birth of Jesus, most Christian denominations, though not all, celebrate Jesus’s birth on the 25th of December on the Christian Gregorian calendar. And the first day of January, known as “New Year’s Day” marks time from the supposed birth of Jesus.
Christian Cultural Imperialism
Earlier and earlier each year, often now following Halloween in late October, merchants and media begin announcing “Happy Holidays.” While many holidays, both religious and secular, come around this time, “Happy Holidays” is in all actuality coded language for “Merry Christmas” and “Happy (Christian) New Year.” In fact, most non-Christian major holidays do not fall in December.
How many people in the United States really care or are even familiar with non-Christian based holidays and celebrations? What are these “Winter Parties,” “Winter Concerts,” “Winter School Breaks,” and “Winter Vacations” really about?
I would ask, how many Christians would have even heard of Chanukah had it not come around each year usually in December on the Gregorian calendar? In actuality, Chanukah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, equivalent to, say, Arbor Day.
In fact, what we are experiencing is a form of Christian cultural imperialism (hegemony): a promotion of the larger Christian culture, celebrations, values, beliefs.
Examples of Christian cultural imperialism during the so-called “Holiday Season” are many: the constant and prolonged promotion of music, especially Christmas, by radio stations, and Christmas specials on TV throughout November and December each year; Christmas decorations (often hung at taxpayer expense) in the public square in cities and towns throughout the United States; the highly visible and widespread availability of Christian holiday decorations, greeting cards, food, and other items during Christian holiday seasons, the President and First Lady lighting the “National Christmas Tree” on the Ellipse behind the White House, and many other examples too numerous to list.
Our society marks time through a Christian lens. Even the language we use in reference to the calendar reflects Christian assumptions. A few years ago, with increasing rapidity, we heard and read of the coming of the “21st Century,” “The year 2000,” and the dawning of “THE new millennium.” Among the definitions of “millennium” in the Merriam-Webster’s Eleventh New Collegiate Dictionary (2003), definition #2a is: “a period of 1000 years” (p. 789).
Let us not forget, however, that the year 2000 is calculated with reference to the birth of Jesus, and it is therefore the beginning of the next Christian millennium. In fact, definition #1a in the same dictionary defines “millennium” as: “the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 during which holiness is to prevail and Christ is to reign on earth” (p. 789).
This fact is brought home each time we hear someone mention the date followed by “in the year of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” The century markers B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno Domini) are clearly Christian in origin. Therefore, the year 2000 is one important milepost, though, for many religious traditions, it also marks a heightening of their invisibility.
An attempt to decenter Christian hegemony in terminology related to the marking of time is the replacing of B.C. with B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and A.D. with C.E. (Common Era), although the re-naming does not affect the marking of time before and after a “common” (Christian) era.
Actually, this is the year 5772 on the Jewish calendar, a lunar based calendar, which began on the first day of Tishrei (the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar, or September 29 this year on the Christian Gregorian calendar). In addition, we are coming up on the year 4709 on the Chinese calendar (February 2 on the Christian Gregorian calendar). The Chinese calendar is both a lunar and solar based calendar. The New Year on the Islamic, or Hijri, calendar announces the year as 1432, which began on the evening the month of Muharram, or December 7 this year on the Christian Gregorian calendar.
The “Grinch Alert” or “Cultural Pluralism”
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas has organized a movement to call the season what it really is, the “Christmas Season,” and he asserts that businesses who display “Happy Holidays” greetings are simply stooping to “political correctness.”
Jeffress has created his “Grinch List” through his website (GrinchAlert.com) to expose businesses, who he contends are taking Christ out of Christmas.
Simply stated, the pastor is positioning Christians as the real “victims” in the current “Happy Holidays” epoch. In his effort to purge “Happy Holidays” from modern parlance, Jeffress is attempting not only to maintain, but also to fortify Christian cultural imperialism, though by all indications he has nothing to fear, since this form of hegemony has a long way to go and most certainly will not be placed on the endangered list any time soon.
We as a society have a choice.
Either we at least commit to issues of multiculturalism, where we learn about and value other people and other’s customs and cultures, ways of knowing, and ways of viewing the world, where we work for a true realization of the concept of “cultural pluralism,” a term coined by the Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen to challenge the image of the so-called “melting pot,” which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the “melting pot”), but rather, one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony and retain their unique and distinctive tones and timbres.
If we are unwilling to begin this journey, however, then as offensive as it is, Pastor Jeffress may have hit onto something. At least Jeffress is demanding honesty in expressly naming the reality and calling it what it really is, “the Christmas Season,” and by voicing the greeting “Merry Christmas,” rather than the utterly transparent idiom, “Happy Holidays,” created merely to give the impression of inclusivity.
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Iowa State University. He is co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge).
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Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
Another post with a dialog with Dr. Blumenfeld here.