Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Reason for the Season

Last Thanksgiving I saw this cutesy photo on Facebook:

Underneath it someone had linked to this:
One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.
Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers. 

Then the other day I saw this:

Ok, so here's the thing.
For most people, Thanksgiving means talking about what you're grateful for, spending time with your family, and eating a lot. Christmas is similar, but with the addition of buying each other gifts, and, for Christians, rejoicing that their savior came to earth in the first place. 

That's the meaning of those holidays for most people. You can insist that the holidays "really" mean whatever you want, but it's not like there's some objective arbiter to enforce the meanings you've chosen to insist on for all cultures throughout all history. 

You can tell people all you want that when they eat a bunch of turkey and candy yams and talk about how grateful they are for their jobs that really they are celebrating genocide--but they're not. It's not like as long as you insist that's what people think and feel, it'll be true. It's not like you can instill in them a secret happiness at the deaths of others just by insisting that's what it means to hang out together and bake pies.

And you can tell people all you want that when they hang their kids' Popsicle-stick ornaments on their Christmas trees and give each other presents that really they are worshiping Babylonian idols--but they're not. As the cartoon itself shows, traditions are mixed, mingled, adjusted, and evolved over time and geography and so on. Why should the person co-opting Charlie Brown get to decide which time in history versus all other times is the most relevant to modern-day Christmas? In the distant future I doubt someone studying the American Christmas tradition would insist it's based on Babylonians.

This is just another version of telling people what they think and how they feel, and then decrying the thoughts and feelings you've assigned that they haven't embraced. Plus, to my mind, this attitude comes off as at least as self-righteous and obnoxious as the very behavior you're complaining about.

I actually am not a big fan of genocide, and I'm still going to celebrate Tday every year because I love being with my family. I don't believe in fertility gods and I'm still going to put up a Christmas tree because they fill me with a happy nostalgia for my childhood. 

You can just get over it.


  1. "Plus, to my mind, this attitude comes off as at least as self-righteous and obnoxious as the very behavior you're complaining about."


    "You can just get over it."


    I don't really have much to contribute other than I agree completely. The one holiday I wouldn't mind seeing go, though, is Columbus Day, because Columbus really was a vile human being, the holiday is celebrated specifically in his remembrance, and it's a minor holiday anyways so getting rid of it wouldn't really take much effort.

    1. I've always just seen Columbus Day as "Three-Day Weekend Day".

    2. I haven't gotten Columbus Day off in ages :(