Christopher Hitchens died of cancer on December 15 last year. The world’s best known antitheist, he frequently debated issues of religion and politics, and was particularly hostile to the way Christmas dominates the winter season.
I agree with Christopher Hitchen’s indignation. I share his philosophical and political reasons and would add environmental and economic concerns!
My wish is more ambitious: to write an anti-Christmas column that becomes fiercer every year while remaining, in essence, the same. The core objection, which I restate every December at about this time, is that for almost a whole month, the United States—a country constitutionally based on a separation between church and state—turns itself into the cultural and commercial equivalent of a one-party state
As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda is inescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor’s office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass- produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined “themes” have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader’s birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring. Time that is supposed to be devoted to education is devoted instead to the celebration of mythical events. Originally Christian, this devotional set-aside can now be joined by any other sectarian group with a plausible claim—Hanukkah or Kwanzaa—to a holy day that occurs near enough to the pagan winter solstice.
For many people who do not believe, who have no children or family with whom to celebrate, who have experienced or are facing great difficulties at this time of year, who are poor or in debt, jobless or homeless, Christmas can be an emotional disaster. All that inescapable Christian, family oriented, consumerist propaganda, everywhere you turn. Pretty lights and decorations, carols from the Salvation Army choir, or a charity gift hamper do not erase the profound feelings of alienation and failure for those who do not fit the merry meme.
We do not need to spend so much money on so much disposable trash! This morning I passed through a business lobby in which the tree alone cost hundreds of dollars to decorate, and there beside it was a half empty basket for the collection of non perishable items for the food bank. How arrogant and condescending to think we can assuage our seasonal guilt by giving away a few token jars of peanut butter or instant coffee.
Here is the composer of the carol Hitchens recited, the renowned mathematics scholar and satirist, Tom Lehrer. Lehrer is best known for the pithy, humorous songs he recorded in the 1950s and 1960s. You may have heard him here before, as I posted Lehrer performing Pollution in my Earth Day blog, Cool Water. Just in case you want to sing along, I’ve included the lyrics below.
Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don’t say “when.”
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.
On christmas day you can’t get sore,
Your fellow-man you must adore,
There’s time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four.
Relations, sparing no expense’ll
Send some useless old utensil,
Or a matching pen and pencil.
“just the thing I need! how nice!”
It doesn’t matter how sincere it
Is, nor how heartfelt the spirit,
Sentiment will not endear it,
What’s important is the price.
Hark the herald tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!
So let the raucous sleigh bells jingle,
Hail our dear old friend kris kringle,
Driving his reindeer across the sky.
Don’t stand underneath when they fly by.