Written In Sand
Foggy Night in Advent

Hating "Holiday"

And not much liking "the holidays."

Every year I get more annoyed with the de-Christianized winter festival formerly known as Christmas. Unfortunately the advertising for that season begins in mid-November, which means that it's during football season, which is almost the only time I watch standard TV and am exposed to any great number of commercials. I am unreasonably annoyed by advertisements that begin "This holiday....", usually followed by something like "make your family happy by buying our thing." I might not be so put off by the whole thing if I weren't seeing those commercials.

The American Christmas has always, or at least since the middle of the last century or so, had its secularized aspect. That was fine: we were a predominantly Christian country, but plenty of people who did not celebrate the religious holiday as such found much to enjoy in the cultural paraphernalia. Irving Berlin gave us "White Christmas," which no decent person could dislike or resent, and he was Jewish. Notice, though, that he didn't shy away from using the word "Christmas." From an early age I had a sense that something was missing when the decorations and greetings and such of the season left out any mention whatsoever of Christmas itself. And at a not so early, but not very late, age it occurred to me that "the holiday season" would lose the essence of its charm if the religious core of it were removed.

Well, that has pretty much happened now as far as public speech is concerned. It seems that Christmas has become That Which Must Not Be Named in most situations that are not specifically Christian. And as far as I'm concerned all that paraphernalia I mentioned, which I used to enjoy for the most part, has begun to seem lame, dull, tawdry, and often depressing. I guess every Catholic who's ever read a book has heard of Flannery O'Connor's famous response to the suggestion that the Eucharist is only a symbol: "If it's only a symbol, then the hell with it." That is pretty much my view of Holiday carefully scrubbed of any Christian reference whatsoever.

The good part of this is that as I lose interest in Holiday I take more notice of Advent. I can't say I've observed it very well this year, but I did a little better than last year. And this year, thanks to the Anglican tradition, I've discovered what is called "the Advent Prose": an English translation of the Latin Rorate caeli. You can read it at the Wikipedia page for Rorate caeli. It's obviously not a contemporary translation, but I don't know how far back it goes. It's good strong stuff; here's how it begins:

Drop down, ye heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,
neither remember iniquity for ever:
thy holy city is a wilderness,
Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation:
our holy and our beautiful house,
where our fathers praised thee.

I guess it would be wrong for me to think it would be fine with me if that deluge washed Holiday away. 


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Have you ever read Lewis's two essays on Christmas. Very Scrooge-y, and partly due to what you are talking about. His sentiment is similar to your last line.

Since I don't watch much commercial TV, and stay home a lot, I manage to have very limited exposure to Holiday culture, so I'm not so grouchy about it.

Bill and I have had a nice quiet Advent, and been more faithful to observance than usual. It will be a pretty quiet Christmas.

I have always loved the Rorate Caeli sung in Latin and various translations. I could have sworn that it was on Tapestry of Carols, but I see it is not. I can just hear Maddy Prior singing it in her funny Latin.



You’re probably thinking of Steeleye Span’s Gaudete. Funny Latin indeed, and delightful. The guys’ even more so than Maddy’s to me. I’m sure it’s on YouTube but as I am tapping this out on my phone I won’t try to post a link.

Nope. Wrong album. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsH0nb8j2Jw


all that paraphernalia I mentioned, which I used to enjoy for the most part, has begun to seem lame, dull, tawdry, and often depressing

Pretty much how I feel as well, but this, in a recent piece at National Review, helped me a bit this year:

At least the commercialism of Christmas carries within it news of “joy” and “goodwill to men.” And in a time of great change, it offers us stodgy, solid traditions. In a dark mood, it blares in with a message of light. The Victorian-era residue on Christmas points us away from our meritocratic striving and our ceaseless pursuits of distinction. It reminds us to do charitable works, and to share our blessings with the poor, the less fortunate. It points east, with the giddy rumor of some great outburst of hope and a promise of peace.

That's good. It isn't exactly the commercialism per se that bothers me. Up to a point I even half-like it. It's the removal of any trace of Christmas, which is really striking in tv commercials.

I wasn't aware of that album, Janet. Looks like a good one.

I haven't read those Lewis pieces. It's possible I have them in a big book of his shorter works. I'll check.

There is this movie on Netflix about a knight who gets sent forward in time to the present. He arrives in the middle of a Christmas village. And, of course he is amazed by all the technology. And I was thinking that the most amazing thing to a medieval person would be Christmas without Jesus. I didn't, by the way, get very far into the movie.


Probably at least 80% of the things we associate with Christmas wouldn’t have meant anything in particular to him. Did the Christmas village have any actual Christmas stuff? Or was it just Holiday?


:-( :-( :-(

The cynical misanthrope in me wants to see that end with Christmas Town put to fire and sword.

I like Daugherty but I very much disagree with him there. I think that the commercialization of Christmas and the consumerism associated with it have far more cultural impact than the Christian and Victorian holdovers that still get the odd bit of societal attention.

And on a merely practical level when the Christmas season starts so early those positive effects are often tarnished. As many people have noted, by the time the holiday actually rolls around, you're tired of it all, because you've been hearing it and looking at it for two solid months. And of course another holiday, Thanksgiving, tends to get lost in the mix (not being a big shopping holiday, other than for food, I suspect the corporate honchos don't much care).

I understand MBD's desire to make the best of it, but giving in to the trappings of consumerism is a bad idea, even if you're not giving in to the consumerism itself. I don't think it takes an "Advent snob" to see this.

The thing is, Advent has all these beautiful and engaging traditions. It's a shame that almost everyone misses them.


I found the two Lewis pieces that Janet mentioned. They’re in God In the Dock and they’re brief but sharp. One, about “Exmas” in the land of “Niatirb” is pretty funny.

Ugh. I really find the "holiday" business hard to take. The worst of it is that there might indeed be some justification for it. Where I live half the people are Chinese immigrants, and I'm never quite sure if they care a whit for Christmas. For me it puts meat on the bones of the argument that multiculturalism erodes social cohesion.

But it's not just because of where I live. At the office (federal govt) I haven't heard anyone (except myself) say 'Christmas'. It's all 'holiday'. Someone wished me 'Happy Chanukah' the other day and it really made me happy.

But to you, Mac, I can say: "Merry Christmas!"

"The thing is, Advent has all these beautiful and engaging traditions. It's a shame that almost everyone misses them."

What percentage of Americans even know there is such a thing as Advent? 20% maybe? Even most Catholics, though they have heard the word, act like it doesn't exist. I have been mocked by fellow Catholics for not having a tree up "yet"--during the first week of December.

I don't think "commercialization of Christmas" is even an accurate description of the situation anymore. That battle is over. It's more like the erasure of Christmas. Even in Lewis's time he talked about there being two entirely separate holidays going on. I think at this point there's even beginning to be a cultural separation, in which one can just give up fretting about the secularization of Christmas and treat Holiday as the separate thing it is.

That's part of my sympathy for Dougherty's view--I don't agree with everything he says, but I sympathize. One just tires of the struggle. It's a losing battle. I wouldn't call those who have tried to keep Advent "Advent snobs," or at least not all of them. They certainly exist. In Catholic circles at least there are usually some people who are a real pain in the neck about it. But most are just trying to observe and preserve the church's liturgical seasons. And there's always somebody around to look down his nose at you if he (just as likely she) sees you relenting in the least. It's exhausting when you're trying to raise children, because you don't want to just squash the Christmas excitement.

I cross-posted with you, Craig. There is certainly some good reason for saying "happy holidays" with some people and in some places. I mean, basic courtesy and all. But it sometimes goes further than that. Even at the Catholic institution where I worked, where the vast majority of employees were at least culturally Christian, there was, at least for a while, this obviously strained and almost priggish avoidance of "merry Christmas." It's stupid to take offense at it, it rather defeats the whole idea, but still, it annoyed. It seemed to have relaxed a bit the last year or two I was there.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to you, too. :-)

It's very obvious that multiculturalism erodes social cohesion. Just one of the many obvious things we're not supposed to notice.

I can remember being very young (45+ years ago) and realizing back then that when people said 'Happy Holidays' they were generally combining 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy New Year' into one sentiment. I don't think anyone thought much about it back then, but today it's taken on the quality of a pernicious substitute rather than one of convenience.

In my experience, it's the super-secular folks who bristle at "Merry Christmas". Just yesterday, two Muslim men I work with said it to me, and the same thing used to happen when I lived in D.C.

Probably true. I read the other day about someone who worked for a tv network (I think) being reported to HR for saying "Merry Christmas." Not hard to imagine the kind of person who would do that, and it's not an ordinary Muslim.

"a pernicious substitute rather than one of convenience."

Yes. One more little assertion of dominance in the guise of humility. :-) And no matter how you react, the existence of any conflict over it means that unselfconscious good feeling is gone.

But I do have the impression that a lot of people who were squeamish about mentioning Christmas have gotten over it.

"I do have the impression that a lot of people who were squeamish about mentioning Christmas have gotten over it."

I think you're right, and that's a good sign.

Here's an interesting piece from Addison del Mastro at American Conservative:


I like this:

"The mid-century cultural moment was unstable and is not coming back; indeed, very few popular Christmas songs have been written after the end of the postwar era. But we can more correctly view the Jewish Christmas song of the past not as an appropriation of a Christian holiday, but as an act of positive cultural creation and accommodation. What we got from that arrangement was a body of work that to this day brightens the season, complements rather than denies its specific religious meaning, and avoided a culture war in a country that was sadly not ready to fully accept Jews."

The unfortunate tendency now is precisely to deny rather than complement.

"The unfortunate tendency now is precisely to deny rather than complement."

True, alas.

As I'm going to be offline until Thursday, I wanted to wish everyone a safe and blessed Christmas!

You should post something so the first word on your blog in Christmas won't be hating.


I was just about to do that, actually. And just did.

Thank you, Rob, and the same to you.l

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