Saturday, April 4, 2009
Steal This Holiday
Not too long ago, I had a brief exchange with a friend of mine who is one of Jehovah's Witnesses. We are good friends, and will occassionally engage in friendly jabs about what you might call our "differing faith perspectives." I enjoy this sort of thing immensely, taking pains to refer to myself as a "false religionist" with such great relish that the irony of my usage is clear. He likes to ask very short and pointed questions that end in a very self-satisfied smacking of the lips as if he has just scored the ultimate point. Even so, none of this is mean spirited and our relationship is undergirded by a deep affection and respect.
So at the beginning of last winter he asked a question that was something like, "So, are you preparing to celebrate the pagan holiday in December?" Not wanting to lay down for such an obvious ploy, I answered, "What pagan holiday is that?" I had him there, because the JW training does not allow such a teachable moment to pass unused. Being born and raised a JW, the conditioning was too strong for him to just keep playing the game.
So he launches into a short but pointed explanation of the true pagan origins of the holiday commonly known as Christmas. It seems we christians (false religionists, that is) have been duped all along. We just THINK we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, even though it clearly cannot be his actual birthday. And even if it were, the whole idea is wrong because...well...Jesus just isn't Jehovah. You aren't supposed to worship anyone except Jehovah.
This, by the way, is completely aside from the whole aversion that JW's carry for celebrating birthdays of any kind. I have always found this to be a custom just full of comic possibilities. Especially around Christmas. After all, if you WERE going to celebrate ANYONE's birthday, would Jesus' be the one you would pick? But...I digress.
My point in return was simply that my friend clearly did not understand the nature of co-opting cultural markers. Christians are not duped at all. The whole Christmas/Saturnalia/Solstice thing was actually quite intentional. You see, what we actually did was hit the pagans over the head, and outright STEAL their holiday. Then we took it and gave it to Jesus whose day it SHOULD have been all along. It's ok because Jesus redeemed the day and it belongs to Him now. That's how the gospel works, with people, and with everything else. Jesus has this way of taking things that are all bent out of shape and straightening them out.
Of course, their is an ongoing tension where the gods of the current age are making their attempts to recapture the day. That's a subject for another post.
I've been hearing similar objections arising lately regarding Easter. I have long been in the habit of referring to it as Ressurection Day, just so as to avoid confusion with the whole bunny-eggy thing, and the happy-happy-spring thing - both gods of this age. But I have been hearing some people suggesting that the whole thing is just a thin Christiany veneer laid over a solid pagan core. Well...no. If anything it's just the opposite.