Chronicles, December 2008

Giotto painting reproduced on the cover of this issue




Giotto painting reproduced on the cover of this issue


Three articles about Christmas in this issue of Chronicles.  Editor Thomas Fleming, who I seem to recall occasionally describes himself as having been raised an atheist, then converted to arch-traditional Roman Catholicism, describes in the third person the attitudes of an unnamed man who was raised anatheist, then converted to arch-traditional Roman Catholicism.  As a boy, this anonymous person disliked Christmas.  The months-long buildup, the morning moments unwrapping toys that could never live up to the expectations that buildup engendered, the endless anticlimax of the day as of adult relatives hung on and bored him with their chatter.  Far better Halloween, an ordinary day that ended with a burst of total anarchy.  As he grew, he preferred the moral atmosphere of Halloween to that of Christmas.  The Christians he knew pretended that death was nothing to be afraid of and embedded that pretense into the holiday, while Halloween began by taking the cold terror of death and everything touching death for granted.  Evidently this preference remains with him in his religious phase, as the terror of death gives Easter its power.

Contributor Thomas Piatak defends Christmas, not against the severe theology of Fleming, but against opponents of public piety at Christmastime.  Apparently it was Piatak who coined the phrase “The War Against Christmas.”  While Fleming inveighs against a religious Christmas that soft-pedals or denies the hard truths of lifeand thus denatures Christianity, Piatak fears a secular Xmas that is “devoid of religious or cultural significance or indeed of beauty, with nothing left but multiculturalist pap and tawdry sentimentalism.”  As examples of this creeping insipidity, Piatak cites a case in Columbus, Ohio in 2003, when the school district banned a performance of Handel’s Messiah unless equal time were given to “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells.” 

Columnist Aaron D. Wolf has little use for the idea of a secular “War Against Christmas,” though he does agree that such a thing exists.  He tells us of wishing a store clerk “Merry Christmas.”  “She looks directly at me, smiling, eyes narrowed, and nods.  “Yes.  Merry CHRISTMAS!”… It wasn’t a bright, elven (sic) “Yes!  Merry Christmas!”  She spoke with a knowing, in your face, liberal America air of defiance.”  Later: “That Merry Christmas seemed more like a countercultural protest statement, that kind that says, yeah, you’re one of us, or yeah, I’m one of you.  One of you… what?  Believers in Christ Jesus?  … Or perhaps it was one of you proud white Americans.”  Wolf’s suspicion that many of those most exercised about the “War Against Christmas” are in fact not very much devoted to Christ at all, but are only interested in sticking it to educated secularists, gains verisimilitude from the high December sales of mugs bearing the slogan “Don’t be a Pinhead.”  

Scott Richert proposes that the Republican and Democratic Parties are best seen as mental illnesses.  Describing family gatherings in his intensely political birth home, he wonders how many years his relatives lost as a result of the stress they inflicted on themselves in their fierce partisan bickering.  He regrets that one of the last things he said to his grandfather was a nasty remark that the worst thing about then-President George H. W. Bush was that he had attracted the support of “people like you.”  “Between that day, when I suffered my bout of temporary insanity, and my grandfather’s death not all that long after, I don’t remember discussing politics with him ever again.” 

LeFalcon’s beau ideal Srdja Trifkovic steps down as Chronicles‘ foreign editor with this issue.  His valedictory column is a geopolitical tour d’horizon under the title “A new grand strategy.”  He recommends that the US withdraw its troops from western Europe and northeast Asia in the next five years, that NATO be dissolved, that we withdraw from all military and political involvement in Africa and Latin America, and that we pursue stringent policies to curb immigration.   “A new grand strategy demands disengagement abroad and closing the migratory floodgates at home… We cannot predict when or how this will happen, but happen it will.”  Trifkovic devotes some paragraphs to the challenge that the rise of China presents us.  Either we can pursue a policy of containment and isolation, which will require us to rearrange our trade policy and system of alliances in radical ways; or we can acquiesce to the rise of a new world order led by China.  He seems to lean toward the latter option. 

Beverley Eakman reports on efforts in California to effectively ban homeschooling in that state.  She sees reasons to fear that the psychiatric profession may soon be drafted to enforce a state monopoly on schooling.

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  1. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    Happy Holidays!

    There’s no “war against Christmas.” “Happy Holidays” includes Christmas, as Christmas is a holiday.

    The 2003 Columbus, Ohio case is just ridiculous. “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” are secular. “Secular” does not equal “atheist.” Furthermore, atheism is not a religion.

    “Proud white Americans,” as a catch-phrase for liberals mocking anti-liberals, is way too overdone. Once again, it shifts the focus of away from real issues of ignorance versus education, to artificial and inaccurate issues of blanket demographics.

  2. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    I may have been too terse in my notes this time.

    Wolf is far from a liberal, even though he doesn’t mind “Happy Holidays.” His objection to “proud white Americans” using Christmas traditions as a way of bashing metropolitan elites is that Christmas is supposed to be about worshipping Christ. To give you an idea if how far he is from being a liberal, he also objects to non-Christian retailers putting out Christmas displays.

    Also, Piatak doesn’t say that “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” are anti-religious. What he does say is that Handel’s “Messiah” has a lot more to offer than they do, and that it discredits the school authorities in Columbus that they put them on the same plane. Again, the fact that his most telling example is 5 years old does tend to undercut any claim that secularists are waging a massive onslaught against Christmas.

  3. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    I celebrate Christmas and I don’t worship Christ. Does that make me a “proud white American”?

    So Handel’s “Messiah” is more valuable than “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells”? Thanks, Piatak, for that useful insight. Now we can all ask Piatak what is culturally valuable, and to what degree.

  4. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    I’d hate to put words in Wolf’s mouth, but I get the impression that for him the “war on Christmas” that matters most doesn’t surround any attempts to take religious content out of public celebrations of Christmas, but rather comes when Christmas is used as anything other than a celebration of the Incarnation. Whether it’s used as a stick to beat secularists or for any other purpose, he seems to be equally opposed to all non-Incarnation-based Christmas activities.

    It may seem pretty obvious that Handel’s “Messiah” is more valuable than “Frosty the Snowman” or “Jingle Bells,” but the Columbus, Ohio schools bureaucracy didn’t know it five years ago. I don’t agree with Piatak that the reason they were dead to that value was that they weren’t Christians, but he does show that it isn’t obvious.

  5. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    So Wolf doen’t know Christmas is a rip-off of a Pagan holiday. Surprise, surprise.

  6. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    Oh, he certainly knows about that. If he didn’t, all he would have to do would be to read the magazine. Fleming’s article has a bit about Christmas’ relationship to its pre-Christian roots. As well it might; Fleming holds a PhD in Classics, and so he might be expected to exhibit expertise in ancient religion. That Christmas as we celebrate it includes practices drawn from Roman, Germanic, Celtic, and sources doesn’t seem to bother any of Chronicles’ contributors a bit.

  7. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    As long as Wolf doesn’t tell me how to celebrate my Christmas, I won’t tell Wolf how to celebrate his.

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