Sunday, December 20, 2009

Being Inspired by Others

Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone

by Garrison Keillor

I've just come from Cambridge, that beehive of brilliance, where nerds don't feel self-conscious: There's always someone nerdier nearby. If you are the World's Leading Authority on the mating habits of the jabberwock beetle of the Lesser Jujube Archipelago, you can take comfort in knowing that the pinch-faced drone next to you at Starbucks may be the W.L.A. on 17th-century Huguenot hymnody or a niche of quantum physics that is understood by nobody but himself.

People in Cambridge learn to be wary of brilliance, having seen geniuses in the throes of deep thought step into potholes and disappear. Such as the brilliant economist Lawrence Summers, whose presidency brought Harvard to the verge of disaster. He, against the advice of his lessers, invested Harvard's operating funds in the stock market and lost the bet. In the cold light of day, this was dumber than dirt, like putting the kids' lunch money on Valiant's Fancy to win in the 5th. And now the genius is in the White House, two short flights of stairs above the Oval Office. This does not make Cantabrigians feel better about our nation's economic future.

You can blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for the brazen foolishness of the elite. He preached here at the First Church of Cambridge, a Unitarian outfit (where I discovered that "Silent Night" has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God), and Emerson tossed off little bon mots that have been leading people astray ever since. "To be great is to be misunderstood," for example. This tiny gem of self-pity has given license to a million arrogant and unlovable people to imagine that their unpopularity somehow was proof of their greatness.

And all his hoo-ha about listening to the voice within and don't follow the path, make your own path and leave a trail and so forth, encouraged people who might've been excellent janitors to become bold and innovative economists who run a wealthy university into the ditch.

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Christmas is a Christian holiday - if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

Christmas does not need any improvements. It is a common, ordinary experience that resists brilliant innovation. Just make some gingerbread persons and light three candles and sing softly in dim light about the poor man gathering winter fu-u-el and the radiant beams and the holly and the ivy, and you've got it. Too many people work too hard to make Christmas perfect, find the perfect gifts, get a turkey that reaches 100 percent of potential. Perfection is a goal of brilliant people, and it is unnecessary where Christmas is concerned.

The most wonderful Christmas of my life was 1997, a quiet day with no gifts and no tree, waiting in a New York apartment for my daughter to be born. And the second most wonderful was one in the Norwegian Arctic, where it rained every day and the sun came up around 11 and set around 1, not that you ever actually saw the sun, and the food was abominable, boiled cod and watery potatoes, and the people were cold and resentful, and there was no brilliance whatsoever. And I had the flu. Why was I there? Good question. But every year it gladdens my heart to know that I will not be going to Norway for Christmas. A terrific investment. Mr. Summers should be so smart. For one week of misery, I get an annual joyfulness dividend of at least 25 percent. Merry Christmas, my dears.


zorro said...

"Christmas is a Christian holiday"

Wrong - unless you want to dump the tree (a pagan symbol) along the part of the year Christmas is celebrated.
It was moved from the summer to the winter because
no one showed up for the Big Birthday Party in June -
So the early 'Re branders' moved it to the winter where
it could take advantage of the big party being celebrated by the Pagans.

Judith Ellis said...

Zorro - You are wrong. In your case why not call it TREEmas instead of CHIRSTmas? I have understood the pagan aspect of the tree since I was a kid. We still had one in our home. My first novel is precisely about the pagan traditions of faith. What we make of Christmas, no matter how far back, does not negate its root. "Jesus is the reason for the season," no matter the "re-branders," no matter what Christmas becomes or how it is altered. You are right to use the pre-fix "re." In order for there to be a "re" of anything there needs to be an original. Also, there will always be a counter culture to all cultures. There will always be an opposite of the real; there will always be the profane and holy. This is our very nature. The question is which will rule at any time or the other.

zorro said...

I don't see Christmas as a Christian holiday
Or at least not a solely Christian holiday.
Its celebration in many ways was stolen from the pagans -
My point is (unless Keilor was kidding around)
it is not a solely Christian holiday. Many of its traditions are borrowed (Its time of celebration and its tree) - this was done to make it popular.
Many people celebrate it in a secular way (including many generations of my own family) - and many cultures have a celebration at this time of the year - With it borrowing from so many traditions, it a very American holiday . Also, I think the best Christmas songs were written by Jews. According to Wiki, even Santa Clause predates Christianity.
I just don't see how you can get away with stealing so many non-Christan traditions and than insist it is a Christian holiday.
Its like saying Rock and Roll is purely white music because Elvis was white.

Judith Ellis said...

Zorro - Christmas can be seen any way anybody wants and it may be celebrated any way anybody wants. But Jesus remains the reason for the season. CHRISTmas! Also, it really doesn't matter, as I have said before, about Santa Claus, trees, etc. There is always a mix of these things. Still, Jesus is the reason for the season. With regards to Jews writing Christmas songs, who cares really? Jews are talented as all others. By the way, did Jews write songs like "Silent Night," "O Little Town of Bethleham," "Jesus Born on this Day," "O, Holy Night," "Away in a Manager," "Go Tell it on the Mountain," "We Three Kings," "What Child is This?" "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Hark the Herald," etc? Who wrote "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "White Christmas," Winter Wonderland," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "All I want for Christmas Is You," and "Rudolp the Red Nose Reindeer?" But I really don't care who wrote any of them. Keillor seems to bemoan the lack of the real essence of this holiday and the commercialization of it. I bemoan the same. Christmas is most certainly not an American holiday alone. Christmas is celebrated all over the world.

DB said...

I find this whole argument about Christmas misguided. Keilor seems to have an ax to grind about this issue. He wants non-believers to leave Christmas alone. No one is going to leave it alone, not even Christians. It changes every year. Even so there are fables that have become traditions that don't go away. Three Kings, for example. Nowhere in the Bible does in mention three kings or three of anyone. And Santa Claus does not predate Christianity. He was St. Nicholas, a Bishop and patron saint of marriners. He was brought to America by the Dutch. He was never a jolly old elf in a red suit. And Jesus is not the reason for the season. The winter solstice is.

I don't understand some Christian's paranoia about so-called non-believers and their over-protectiveness about Christmas, Christianity and all the traditions and paraphanalia that accompany this time of the year. We made it through another year and civilization is still intact. That's a good reason to celebrate any way you want.


Judith Ellis said...

DB, my dear sir - Keillor is a wise man and often non-reverential. He has often upset Christians. There is no "paranoia" or "over-protectiveness" there or here. I think that your reading of Keillor's commentary is indeed "misguided." If Jesus is not the reason for the season why not call it SOLTICEmas? Much of what you have written above is not disagreeable, but it still does not negate that Jesus IS the reason for the season. Merry CHRISTmas! By the way, where I do not know the faith of others I happily say Happy Holiday! There is no problem for me there. Similarily, I happily say Merry Christmas!

Judith Ellis said...

By the way, to be biblically correct, there is nowhere in the Bible where Christians are taught to remember the birth of Christ. Christians are taught to remember his "death, burial and resurrection." This would be Easter. But the Christmas tradition, nevertheless, began with the recognition of Christ's birth. CHRISTmas is the celebration of Christ's birth.

Judith Ellis said...

"Its like saying Rock and Roll is purely white music because Elvis was white."

Hmm? Can you say Chuck Berry and Little Richard? This is where Elvis got his grooves and moves. But considering your analogy, Christians do not associate the birth of Christ with paganism, the traditions of CHRISTmas aside.

Corrie Howe said...

These are all very interesting points and counter points. It seems to me that each person has made up their mind and no one is going to convince the other. However, it is very interesting to those reading through this. :-)

My two cents. From 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
"No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him" but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
"For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ."

Corrie Howe said...

Leaving this so I can get the follow ups

Judith Ellis said...

Corrie - I agree with many of Zorro's and DB's points. They are facts. I just think it a bit silly to say the Christmas isn't about Christ. Why was it called CHRISTmas, the celebration of Christ? Christ, by the way, was not Jesus' name, although it refers to the "Annoited One," who is Jesus, the Son of Mary and only begotten Son of the Father. This is, of course, my faith. It is my belief. Thank you for your words here, Corrie. St. Paul, the Syrian, was truly a deeply spiritual brilliant humble enlightened man. But, of course, Jesus is altogether lovely.

Judith Ellis said...

With regards, to the "death, burial and resurrection, this is done often in communion in rememberance of Him. Easter is a once a year celebration. Communion is often.

Bob Foster said...

Judith – Thank you for the post by Garrison Keillor—he makes some interesting points. The discussion that followed was equally interesting, and one, I suspect, that is regularly carried on around the world.

Christians know that December 25th is not the date of Christ’s birth, it is the day “chosen” to celebrate his birth, and we should be allowed to celebrate it the way we want, without outside interference, or condemnation.

In my unscholarly research of world religions, I have concluded that all religions have the same “root” foundation—Love, Peace, and Goodwill to mankind. So, why all the hate in the world? Hate is restrictive, and binds the mind and soul, while love and goodwill release the spirit and free our minds. What a world we would have if all religions would just return to their “roots” and practice their original tenets.

So, Judith, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ in the spirit of Love, Peace, and Goodwill to mankind—I wish you a Very Merry Christmas!

zorro said...

"Hmm? Can you say Chuck Berry and Little Richard? This is where Elvis got his grooves and moves. But considering your analogy, Christians do not associate the birth of Christ with paganism, the traditions of CHRISTmas aside."

Its name may be CHRISTmas, but no one would be celebrating it if they kept the original date in June.
They leveraged big time off the pre-Christians -
Just like Elvis leveraged off of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ike Turner and on and on.
Jesus is part of the reason for the season, but clearly, the holiday would never have been as big as it is today if much of it foundation had not been put in place before the Christians claimed the holiday as it as theirs.

Judith Ellis said...

Bob - Thank you for your comment. It's beautiful. Merry Christmas to you too!

Judith Ellis said...

"Its name may be CHRISTmas, but no one would be celebrating it if they kept the original date in June."

"...the holiday would never have been as big as it is today if much of it foundation had not been put in place before the Christians claimed the holiday as it as theirs."

Zorro - These comments are assumptions that you are clearly allowed. The reality is that Jesus is the reason for the season without which there would be no CHRISTmas; there would be no celebration of Christ's birth. Just because you are given gifts on your birthday and people have sung "Happy Birthday to You" well before you were born, do these things negate the meaning or reason for your birth? If you were not given any gifts or if no one sang "Happy Birthday to You" would the day not have been as big as if you or anyone else would not have been born?

Strawberry Girl said...

Hi Judith

Yes Christmas is about Christ, irrigardless of the traditions and trappings that have been brought into the picture. The fact that the holiday was moved from June to December is irrelevant the reason that it is so "big" is because there are people who would like to celebrate Christs birth. If it was in June it would be celebrated then but in a different form. Who knows what form it would have taken then, no "Frosty," or "White Christmas..." maybe it would have been held with more reverence then. The hype is marketers attempts to get us to buy, buy, buy...

I hope that all Christians can focus on the reason for the season, as Judith puts it, and that we all celebrate the birth of Christ and yes focus on Love the root of all good religions.

Merry Christmas Judith and a Happy New Year!!

Judith Ellis said...

Hi A! - I appreciate you. Merry Christmas and the very best New Year! Peace and love too!!

DB said...

I think it's a simple matter of understanding the terms. Jesus is NOT the reason for the season. Jesus is the reason for Christmas and Christmas is not the reason for the season. This is the time of year that is filled with tradition and lore from ancient times. Christmas is a part of the season. In some parts of the world it is a major part, in some others it is not. The winter soltice celebrations go on with joy, gladness and good will to men in places where there is no Christmas at all. It may be called the Christmas Season for us but it's not the Christmas season in Japan.

I didn't suggest that Keilor was being personally paranoid and self-protective, but there is clearly a lot of that going on in the Chrstian communities of this country. And frankly I find the arguement puny.

Christmas has become the worrisome time when we have to make sure that everyone who expects it and deserves it gets a card or a gift. People strugle financially to provide something special for thier kids, fights break out over toys, people who aren't even remotely Christians dress up like Santa Claus and collect money, families who don't like each other pay strained obligatory visits and, as one of your commentors pointed out, there seems to be more hate going around than love. Where is Jesus in all of that? I will bet the average individual who celebrates Christmas gives no thought to Jesus Christ whatsoever.

Judith Ellis said...

"Christmas is a part of the season."

DB - I must admit to laughing aloud at this sentence. Why even include CHRISTmas? What is the season? The season is CHRISTmas, the celebration of Christ. While the season (as in the four natural climates of the year) is known as winter. We are obviously not celebrating WINTERmas or as I have said above SOLSTICEmas. The REASON for the season is Jesus. It's CHRISTmas for heaven's sake, literally.

Many of your points above are true and a part of the human condition. Yes, Christmas may have become all of these things. This is a part of Keillor's point. Essence often becomes distorted. Even on your birthday perhaps there will be familial complications. Does this negate the fact that you were born and that we are happy that you arrived?

Regarding your Japan analogy, as I have said it doesn't matter what CHRISTmas has become. If it's called CHRISTmas, Jesus IS the reason for the season. You may say that your dog, cat, tree, snow, winter, Santa, ham, eggnog, red and green lights, wreaths, etc., are the reason. But the celebration of Christ IS the reason for the season. Christ the Annointed One is Jesus. The season is called CHRISTmas!

On your birthday, DB, you ARE the reason for that season, not the gifts, songs, cake, etc., that you will receive no matter what the day has become. Perhaps your birthday has become very commercialized. But I am happy that you are here. Your date of birth IS the reason for the season, no matter what they're doing in Japan. :-)

"I find this whole argument about Christmas misguided. Keilor seems to have an ax to grind about this issue."

Sorry if I misread your comment above. The two sentences forthwith seemed pretty clear to me. But I accept your further explanation.

DB, dear sir, I wish you the merriest of holiday filled with peace and love.

I LOVE Bob's words on love.

I understand the desire to take Christ out of CHRISTmas, the reason for making the season Holidaymas. We are a global society and desire to include everyone. Happy Chanukah to Jews. Happy Kwanzaa to some African-Americans. Happy Muharram to Muslims. Happy Diwali to Hindus. Happy Holiday cheer to all.

Just because we recognize the traditions and beliefs of others does not negate the reason for the season. Jesus IS the reason for the season. It's called CHRISTmas!

Merry CHRISTmas!

DB said...

To my Jewish friends Jesus Christ is not the reason for the season. And they have a right to celebrate the end of the year and the new beginning of the Soltice any way they choose as does everyone else. Jesus defines the season for Christians alone, and that's that.

Judith Ellis said...

DB - Happy Chanukah to your Jewish friends and to my many Jewish friends and relatives. There is no doubt that they will "celebrate the end of the year and the new beginning of the solstice any way they choose as does everyone else." To get others to do anything else was never the intention here. May peace and love reign.