Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Secular holiday," and other curious beliefs

Secular holiday. I love it. A secular holy day--how does that work?

Yet, there it is, all over the Google. 61,000 hits, about. What's next? "Religious atheism"?

For a while, there was the U.S. holiday tradition of complaining about people not saying "Christmas." Now we also have the tradition of telling the complainers to stop complaining, that there's nothing happening. As a letter writer to our big city newspaper pointed out today, not mentioning Christmas is the only way to be inclusive.

Of course, that goes on my favorite received-ideas list, which I file next to my favorite-phrases list. Want to be inclusive? Simple--exclude! Works like a charm, at least during the secular holy day season.

Now, what does this all really mean, besides the fact that people are annually becoming less familiar with words and their meanings? Well, for one, it means that some folks are confusing "secular" with popular. Popular festivals like Christmas are for everyone, by definition, which means that nobody but NOBODY has the right to dictate how those days are kept, observed, and/or experienced. Noooooo-body. The same day that, for me, celebrates Christ's birth can be something else entirely for someone else. The pumpkin pie's the limit. Welcome to our democracy, where secular and sacred coexist.

Ah, but should the "state" celebrate Christmas, thus promoting religion? Wow. Where to start? First, the state doesn't celebrate anything--the people do. The state is merely acknowledging (or representing) the fact that Christmas in my country is a hugely popular celebration. It's good when our democracy fulfills its representative, go-with-the-popular-flow function, not bad. Now, can the state represent all the people all of the time with complete accuracy? Of course not. So the state goes with what's of the people. As a body. If you're not in with the dominant trend, if you're one of those who wish Christmas would stop occurring, no sweat--you're still in the group.

Second, as noted earlier, Christmas is neither/nor as a religious holiday, at least as it is collectively celebrated. And promoting a neither/nor celebration is neither promoting religion nor not promoting it. (I've always wanted to type "nor not.")

Remember--when a day is popular (i.e., belongs to the people), its ownership is collective. No single group or person can lay claim to it. No one can decide what that day means, except for him or herself.

Does that stop everyone? Nope. We have, for ex., those among the faithful who demand that Christ be "put back" in Christmas (hey, he's in the word itself--isn't that enough?) and secularists who demand that he be taken out. Both groups are equally convinced that they are reading our democracy correctly, and both have equally nonexistent ground on which to make that claim. Is our (U.S.) democracy Bible-based (whatever that really means)? Not in any literal sense. Is our democracy secular? No, it's neither/nor. Conceding that reality, however, leaves the control-freak types without a lame--er, leg--to stand on, and so they proceed in blithe denial, not taking the precious 20 or so minutes necessary to "Google" the topic and find out, for instance, where the SCOTUS stands on this issue.

If you want me to ruin the ending, I will: the SCOTUS doesn't side with either group. Neither the all-religion nor the no-religion folks. But try to tell them that. Good luck. It was nice knowing you.

There are dumber and more harmful ideas that have existed in our pop culture than the current joke that "Christmas" can't be mentioned lest someone be insulted--I mean, the notion is annoying, but it doesn't stop Christmas from 1) happening or 2) being referred to as Christmas.

Sorry about that, controversy creators. Oh, and, PFFFFFFTHHHHH!

Tradition has a way of enduring, despite the best efforts of revisionists. Celebrate the day any way you want, or even not at all. It's your day. Ours. Be highly skeptical of all special claims to the contrary.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009