Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas and Culture

Why is Christmas such a big deal? Santa Claus? Holiday shopping? What are the cultural and economic functions of Christams? Does Christmas have a political function as well? (Sidenote: Politics is not government; politics is about a process for acquiring and exercising power over decisions that affect a society.)

Why is Christmas such a big deal? Because people make it a big deal? Because Jesus was born on or about December 25? Was the pursuit of power by Christians involved, maybe? Well, there is no doubt that early Christmas celebrations were...well, nonexistent. The earliest Christians didn't have anything like Christmas. Christians created a holiday that could overshadow/replace the older pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Later, the Christmas tree was introduced, and this was also a Pagan invention that Christians coopted to make their religion more appealing.

OK, so historians or expert users of Google may take issue with my account, but the basic fact remains: Christmas evolved out of Christian attempts to replace Paganism with Christianity. Jesus never told people to celebrate his birthday by giving gifts. The Christmas tree has nothing to do with the origins of Christianity either. I mean Christianity was born in an area that, I presume, had evergreen trees. But that's not the same as saying a Christmas tree has some real connection to the birth of Christianity. 

And where did Santa Claus come from anyway? This is just a modern interpretation of a story about one or more early Christian's. I'll leave it to you to dig into the historical details. Suffice it to say that the modern interpretation of St. Nick is only distantly related to reality. But Santa gets kids and their parents in the shopping malls. Heck, you can even have your pet's picture taken with Santa at some shopping malls.

How did Black Friday, the big after-Thanksgiving shopping day, when many retailers start to turn a profit, become such a big deal? Was it simple marketing by retailers and their trade associations? Probably? When did Black Friday first bexcome such a big deal for retailers and shoppers? I'm guessing that, as I just suggested, the process was begun by xcomemrcial interests and did not just happen.

Consisder that a lesson in how the use of power shapes a society: People and organizations can use money, access to the media, propaganda, and some psychology to create or "manage" traditions like after Thanksgiving shopping, and gift giving on Christmas.

And, how can I mention the politics of Christmas without mentioning the evil "War on Christmas" that conservatives love to talk about! What's the war on Christmas? Well, conservatives can point to many stories that seem to reflect liberal hostility to Christmas. The problem is that you can prove almost anything about anything by stringing together stories about people doing things (or not doing things). The conservatives don't care though. They want to maintain the power to define for us what is good or desirable. They are using isolated stories about liberal, athiest hostility to Christmas to scare people.

Liberals do the same sort of thing over issues of women's rights, racial discrimination, and poverty.

How many guys are getting their women diamond jewelry for Christmas? Why? The main reason has got to be advertising, which creates expectations in the minds of women and standards for men. A diamond necklace is not inherently more romantic than a silver necklace that costs 5% as much. A $2000 gift does not show more caring than a $100 gift, does it? Well, that really depends on what people think. And what people think is partly a reflection of the social environment.

Well, I ended up not postng anything last week, for some reason. Next week I'll explain why fantasy role playing games are so interesting to many people.

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