I started this post before Christmas, and even then, it was a lament about the modern approach to it. My working title was (I had forgotten until I went to work on it again) “Christmas Goodbye.”
Here’s how my original started:
When it comes to Christmas, I feel a mild panic at the speed with which everyone is agreeing to have amnesia about the “Christ” part of it.
I feel like a child watching his dad slip off his wedding ring when he goes out for drinks.
What are you doing?
I feel like a child watching his mom destroying her wedding photos.
What are you doing?
You’re destroying everything! Stop dismantling these remembrances and these symbols!
But today it’s December 31, and as I take up my computer to continue that post, I realize that things are much worse than that.
Christmas (Christ-Mass) isn’t just being forgotten and ignored, it’s under attack.
The ignoring was just the first phase.
The changing over of Christmas to Happy Holidays (Holy Day is the origin of the word Holiday but most people have forgotten that or didn’t know it in the first place), and the choice of secular songs instead of Christmas carols on the radio stations was just the beginning. For a while now, if you went to buy Christmas cards at the store, you’d find that an actual Christmas-themed card was the rarity. Instead there are penguins on skates and reindeers having a beer. Even the Coca-Cola version of Santa Claus (Santa means Saint and Claus is short for Nicholas) is struggling to stay in the picture. And what I’m seeing now is that when a card does have a Christmas scene, it is so often ‘stylized’ which doesn’t help the imagination at all in its need to travel back the 2000 years to the actual event. I wish good-hearted artists would pray for inspiration to lovingly and skillfully portray those events. Imagine how different things would be!
But anyway, nowadays all remembrances of Christmas, even the more secular aspects of it, are threatened.
The retailers believe that they can enjoy all of the boost in shopping and sales without acknowledging anything about Christianity, and so they don’t.
And as for the average person on the street, he has been lied to. He has been told to be empathetic to the Highly Offended Person. He has heard so much about HOP (my acronym, not a real one) from everyone that he believes that this HOP exists, and, being a rather nice fellow, and always trying to at least have good manners, this average person now does worry about offending HOP, especially since HOP is everywhere.
Let me elaborate. The lie goes something like this.
Somewhere, there is someone who is so extremely delicate and frail, emotionally and psychologically, that we must be on guard at all times to consider his feelings and protect him.
I am in fact whispering to you right now, so that he doesn’t overhear this.
You are wondering how frail he is.
I’ll tell you.
He’s really frail. Really, really frail.
Just the mention of an opposing point of view causes his heart to race.
The sight of any sort of proof that people might disagree causes him to shake.
It’s really awful.
Are you wondering where he came from?
Some people say that he came from another country, where everybody always did everything the same as each other – eating the same food and driving the same cars and reading the same newspapers and having identical jobs.
I’m not sure where this is, but it seems quite remarkable.
Not only would it be strange if such a place existed, but it would be remarkable to think that such a delicate and fragile person would have the boldness to leave the security of his home and venture to a different country.
So I think what I hear about HOP must be wrong.
From what I’ve seen and experienced, those who immigrate are particularly hardy. They expect change, and often embrace it. They’re survivors and survivors are often ambitious and as tough as nails. They’ve seen a lot, and they know that not everyone is the same. (As a matter of fact, these people are often more aware of the clash of ideas and the tricks of propaganda than complacent North Americans, who are so immersed in propaganda that they don’t realize it.)
These immigrants might not like Christianity, and they may even hate it, but they’ve certainly heard of it before and they also know that North America has a Christian background. They’re actually not at all surprised to see celebrations and symbols of Christmas. There were Christians where they came from. (Who knows? Perhaps they’re surprised to find less Christian belief than they expected.)
And of course, in many cases, these newcomers are Christians, and are fleeing from persecution in their homeland for their beliefs (Christian persecution is extreme in many parts of the world, though you won’t hear about this on mainstream news). In other cases, the newcomers are on the side of the persecutors of Christians, but are in disguise as Christians fleeing from persecution. (Tricky stuff. How can you tell the difference?)
But anyway, neither type of immigrant, nor any immigrant indeed, is really highly offended by Christian symbols. They may dislike Christianity or even hate it, but they’re not ‘offended’ by it, in the worrisome way that a delicate HOP is supposed to be.
It’s the fragility of the HOP that makes him endearing, that makes him tug at our heart-strings. The myth goes that here’s someone who needs our help, tolerance, and special consideration. We bend over backwards for him – we think maybe we should leave our wedding ring at home when we go to work. (Perhaps he’s a bachelor and we don’t want him to think we’re flaunting our married status in front of him the way his cruel parents did.)
So back to the question, where did he come from?
We probably have to look closer to home.
Is he some kind of loner, who never goes out, and never experienced siblings?
Siblings, after all, are one great way to develop resilience; they provide an unavoidable and early lesson in how different people are, in taste and temperament. That’s why the school system’s determination to separate siblings is problematic. It’s unfortunate that children learn so quickly that they shouldn’t interact with anyone other than the children who are the same age, enjoying the same sports, video games and footwear.
With the modern society, there is so much praise of ‘socialization,’ yet parents go through so much trouble to ensure that their own child is encapsulated in a tight and tiny world of BFFs, purchasing phones for them, facilitating peer-to-peer connection even during non-school hours. Children dart to various corners of the home to get on their devices to ‘be with’ their peers, in preference to siblings. Is that socialization? Is that what these parents had always hoped for?
(As for “BFF,” it took me a long time to digest that there really was an acronym which stood for Best Friend Forever. It couldn’t be, I thought to myself. It couldn’t be as lame as that, could it? How could society validate the erroneous notion that an earthly friend will necessarily be there for you forever? It creates an undue expectation and pressure on these young people to speak of friends that way. People do change, as anybody who has ever known anything about bridesmaids can tell you. And speaking of bridesmaids, I’m not sure if the entire idea of having a set number of ladies who are on ‘display’ for the day is a wholesome idea in the first place. I like tradition, but I think we’ve expanded the ‘externals’ such as having coordinated dresses and bouquets while forgetting the ‘internals’ – the original intent and purpose of having groomsmen or bridesmaids. They aren’t supposed to be like matching Christmas-tree ornaments; they are supposed to be supportive companions who have a history of non-competitive loyalty. Some brides might have only one such friend, or maybe two, but if you were to look at photographs nowadays, you would think that everyone aged 26 has three to five or more very devoted friends. But how many of these ladies will be cheering for the bride by the time of the wedding day, never mind by the time she holds her first baby in her arms?)
Back to the Highly Offended Person, where did he really come from?
I really think he must be from Mars because if he’s from Canada or the United States, he’s perfectly familiar with Christmas and couldn’t be ‘offended’ by it. He might hate it, but the truth is, he probably remembers hanging up a stocking and getting an orange in it, or making a fort under the Christmas tree. He remembers the suppers at his grandmother’s place.
He’s not startled and “offended” by it, needing protection from proof that others like it or celebrate it.
If he were, then he really would need his own acronym. This fragile HOP would be like Mork or Mr. Bean and is entirely tender and naive (and in need of protection) because he has just recently been dropped on earth.
Mind you, I would think that if that were the case, then this sensitive HOP would be just as likely to be alarmed by the ‘golden’ arches of the McDonald’s sign as he would be by the cross on the local cathedral. I think he’d be just as likely to be alarmed by the Hallowe’en decorations as the Christmas ones, but somehow complaining about Hallowe’en decorations is not really okay.
No, the point is that it’s all a lie.
It’s all a lie.
The closest thing you’ll get to this mythical HOP is the perpetually disgruntled relative who complains at every family gathering about everything that everyone does.
The closest thing you’ll get to the mythical HOP is the person who attends weddings in order to complain about everything. She points out that the wedding was at 2:00 and the reception began at 5:00, leaving not enough time to do anything in between, or that the wedding was at 11:00 and the reception began at 6:00, leaving too much time in between. She points out that the salad was on the wilty side and some of the homemade perogies had lost some of their filling. She’s so busy finding ways to criticize everyone and everything that you really start to wonder if she’s happy for the newly married couple in the first place. That’s HOP. And she’s always highly, highly offended.
(Meanwhile, the good-natured people are just honoured to be invited and are happy for the couple. They don’t need to be ‘impressed’ by a Hollywood style glam event, complete with circling helicopters. A simple reception in a church basement becomes another heaven when true love is there.)
The name HOP, Highly Offended Person, is still accurate because we are dealing with a person who is offended, but the reasons for taking offence are distorted and illegitimate. They stem from an excessive love of self, and anger that the universe and other people aren’t paying adequate homage.
What is the proper response, then, to HOP?
Sometimes, in the interests of being a good Christian, or a good person, we do our best to accommodate HOPs, making excuses for them. Sometimes the excuses are accurate; psychology says that the world contains people who are psychologically compromised, who barely know what they are doing and why they are doing it. We know that this is true. We’ve met people who seem unable to handle their own affairs, being so mentally unstable.
However, psychology only gets you so far. Psychology refuses to consider the entire range of human experience, and therefore is unable to provide all the answers that religion does. True, there are labels like ‘sociopath’ within psychology, but the explanations for this behaviour are lacking.
Why would someone who seems perfectly capable of managing their own affairs, and who demonstrates the ability to be, on occasion, very charming, willfully hurt an innocent person? Why would someone victimize someone who did them no wrong? Why would someone want power or money or fame so much that other people are not even recognized as people?
Are we going to excuse everyone and say that all such people had a bad upbringing and, due to genetic or environmental factors, bear little or no responsibility for their choices? Are we going to blame their parents or society in all cases?
Is there no such thing as personal responsibility?
Authentic religion knows how to call a spade a spade, and in this case, the spade is called ‘evil.’ There are some people who choose to do wrong, on purpose, repeatedly, with no provoking stimulus.
As a matter of fact, even the fairy tales are ahead of glossy modern psychology on this one. Remember the thirteenth fairy? It’s no surprise that she wasn’t invited to Sleeping Beauty’s Christening. She was nasty and mean-spirited and thought only about herself.
The thought that others could ‘forget’ about a queenly person such as herself made her spit out her curses in a rage against the infant Sleeping Beauty, who had never done her any harm, who had only wanted to be born and to live in happiness with her parents.
People like the thirteenth fairy do exist, and they are always deeply, deeply offended. These are the true HOPs, and they, like the real Scrooge (or Dr. Suess’ nearly unrecognizable adaptation of it in the person of the Grinch), need to be understood for what they are.
Like Dickens, I question someone who has a vicious and active hatred for Christmas, and who claims that it is ‘offensive.’ It is a time when Christians remember Mary, a young virgin who has given birth to Jesus the Saviour, and who must flee her homeland with her husband. She has no choice but to give birth to him in the poverty of a grotto used by animals. The story shouldn’t really cause anyone to writhe in disgust, or even to be offended.
I think the haters of Christmas are the ones who have invented the myth of someone who can’t handle being wished, “Merry Christmas.” It’s not the regular non-Christian or even atheist who is at war with Christianity. For the most part, these non-Christians and atheists don’t really care one way or the other about it – they’re just minding their own business and don’t have strong feelings about these celebrations or symbols. They’re too busy thinking about their own concerns to be plotting and publicizing a desecration of a nativity scene in front of the cathedral. They’re not offended, they’re just distracted, perhaps by Happy Holidays shopping.
Even when they put up outrageous Christmas-as-Hallowe’en decorations, like the giant plastic inflatable yellow man with googly glasses, the ordinary person is not trying to make a big statement, other than “I have a sense of humour and I like watching a certain television show, a lot.” (As for what the yellow creature is, I haven’t done my research, but I have been told it is a minion – the word reminds me of the expression ‘the devil and his minions’ – and someone else told me it’s an Incredible Me or Inedible Me or Inflatable Me or something like that, which is perhaps the same thing.)
Another person has a gigantic 6 foot-high 12 foot-long inflatable blue triceratops dinosaur which clutches something in its jaw. This inflatable moves its head back and forth, the idea being that he’s destroying something. I didn’t know what it was at first. Later I saw that he’s holding a green Christmas tree in his teeth. The Christmas tree is turned over on its side and is topped with the Star of Bethlehem. I am assuming, in this case as well, that this is being done to be funny, and not to be malicious. The symbolism is lost on the owners of this ‘decoration,’ I can only hope.
Chesterton repeatedly makes the point that the people who are most aggressively opposed to Christianity are those who have some (or a great deal of) familiarity with it and are in rebellion against its teachings. It’s the person without a Christian background who at least begins without deep-seated prejudices. (To make an analogy, who is angrier at Fred – the woman who is sitting next to him on the bus, or the woman who was married to him for ten years and then had a bitter divorce?)
My point is, let’s not be bullied or deceived out of celebrating our good and noble Christmas traditions, upon being presented with the myth of the Highly Offended Person, any more than we would let ourselves be bullied or tricked out of celebrating our own wedding day or wearing our wedding band.
As we enter the rest of Christmastide (did you know that Christmas is in fact more than a one-day event?), let us rejoice! Let us continue our festivities, in the same way that the characters did in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and even in the same way that the family and friends of Sleeping Beauty did when they woke up.
Indeed, let’s wake up and embrace the best parts of Christmas, the parts that have been passed down from generation to generation, such as homemade baking, homemade decorations, family celebration dinners, the giving of modest but lovingly-made crafts or (if need be, store-bought items), the giving of Christmas cards with real stamps, the singing of carols, nativity scenes and nativity plays, attendance at church and so on.
Even Christmas lights can be a nice statement that some things matter more than being eco-correct. I personally like the ones which are called ‘white’ but which have a warm pale ye11ow glow to them. (I guess the multi-coloured ones can be pretty good, but most of the other lights strike me as almost eerie. Red, for instance, is such a strong colour and I don’t like seeing it glow in the night.)
And of course, the Christmas tree itself should look like an evergreen tree, wide at the bottom and narrowing to a point at the top, embellished with an angel or a star. I’ve never had a real Christmas tree, but of course those are ideal. But even the artificial ones are good if they look reasonably natural. A few traditional-looking decorations, ideally homemade, would be adorable and meaningful.
Christmas isn’t over yet. It’s not too late to try for some of those sweeter details that have been overlooked in the commotion of shopping and work parties. (One year I sent my Christmas cards so late to a family that the husband asked, “Is this card for the Christmas that has passed or the one that’s coming next?”) It’s not too late to stop in at a church and light a solitary candle for a relative who used to love Christmas and who used to love celebrating it with you. Remember and pray at this time of year for those people who have preserved these traditions for us. These traditions are heirlooms; let’s treasure them.