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Late Nite FDL: The Meaning of Christmas

xmas-tree.JPGYou can always tell when Christmas is coming up when you’ve got wingnut rellies with e-mail accounts. About a month to six weeks beforehand, charming little propaganda missives, either carefully crafted in various wingnut-welfare-supported sheltered workshops or homebrewed elaborations on something Bill O’Reilly or NewsMax spouted three years ago, start coming into your in box.

You know the kind. They’re stuff like this little e-mail which is presented to you as I received it, designed to prey on people who never read a book unless it was for school (and sometimes not even then) and whose curiosity about the world and the people in it is limited in the extreme:

*Twas the month before Christmas*
*When all through our land,*
*Not a Christian was praying*
*Nor taking a stand.*
*The “politically correct police” had taken away,*
*The reason for Christmas – no one could say.*
*The children were told by their schools not to sing,*
*About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.*
*It might hurt people’s feelings, the teachers would say*
*December 25th is just a “

*Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit*
*Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!*
*CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod*
*Something was changing, something quite odd! *
*Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa*
*In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.*
*As Targets were hanging their trees upside down*
*At Lowe’s the word Christmas – was no where to be found.*
*At K-Mart and Staples and Penny’s and Sears*
*You won’t hear the word Christmas; it won’t touch your ears.*

*Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty*
*Are words that were used to intimidate me.*
*Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen*
*On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on
*At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter*
*To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.*
*And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith*
* Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace*

*The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded*
*The reason for the season, stopped before it started.*

*So as you celebrate “Winter Break” under your “Dream Tree”*
*Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.*
*Choose your words carefully, choose what you say*
*Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holiday!*

A few things come to mind on reading this:

1) What is it with the addiction of right-wingers to Comic Sans MS? This is a font that when misused, as it is about, oh, 98% of the time, just about screams the following message to the world: “The author is an idiot. On no account should you, the reader, ever take this person seriously.”

2) This is, of course, the most insidious form of the right-wing smear machine — the e-mail smear. As this article from The Nation explains, e-mail smears are so nasty because it’s often time-consuming and difficult to trace them back to their originators. The utter lack of accountability makes them the perfect right-wing smear vehicle; libels that right-wing commentators can only slyly hint at on camera for fear of being made to own their words are stated in their full slanderous form in the e-mails that are sent out to dozens of recipients at a throw, who then in turn send them out to dozens more recipients, and so on, and so on, and so on (emphases mine):

But in some senses, the kind of under-the-radar attack embodied in the Gold Star e-mail–which never made the jump to Fox or Drudge–is even harder to deal with. “It’s a Pandora’s box,” says Jim Kennedy, who served as Clinton’s communications director during her first Senate term. “Once [the charges] are out in the ether, they are very hard to combat. It’s very unlike a traditional media, newspaper or TV show, or even a blog, which at least has a fixed point of reference. You know they’re traveling far and wide, but there’s no way to rebut them with all the people that have seen them.”

Such is the power of the right-wing smear forward, a vehicle for the dissemination of character assassination that has escaped the scrutiny directed at the Limbaughs and Coulters and O’Reillys but one that is as potent as it is invisible. In 2004 putative firsthand accounts of Kerry’s performance in Vietnam traveled through e-mail in right-wing circles, presaging the Swift Boat attacks. Last winter a forward began circulating accusing Barack Obama of being a secret Muslim schooled in a radical madrassa (about which more later). While the story was later fed through familiar right-wing megaphones, even making it onto Fox, it has continued to circulate via e-mail long after being definitively debunked by CNN. In other words, the few weeks the smear spent in the glare of the mainstream media was just a tiny portion of a long life cycle, most of which has been spent darting from inbox to inbox.

3) It’s designed to prey on the ignorant and/or bigoted. Though the people who created this e-mail probably knew better, they also knew that their targeted audience has no idea that Christmas has, at bottom, nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Here’s the simple truth: Nobody really knows when Christ was born. December 25th was picked by early church leaders to capitalize on the popularity of various Pagan holidays celebrated on or near that date, which is close to that of the winter solstice.

In fact, almost all of the trappings of what we call Christmas — the tree and decorations, the mistletoe, Santa (originally the Horned God or the Lord of Misrule or any number of male Pagan fertility gods), the holly and the ivy — are all lifted from Pagan Yule traditions. Yes, folks, that little tree that graces this post is Pagan through and through! Just about the one thing that isn’t lifted straight from pre-Christian traditions is Santa’s red suit — and that comes to us courtesy not of the church, but from the Coca-Cola corporation, which made sure in the 1930s that his raiment was dyed not just any old shade of red, but Coca-Cola red.

The Puritans, the ultimate Christian Fundamentalists, certainly knew all about this. (Well, they didn’t know about the Coca-Cola angle, as it hadn’t happened yet, but it wouldn’t have surprised them one bit.) That’s why they outlawed keeping Christmas wherever they controlled the local governments, either in England or America. It had almost died out in England until a concerted effort was made in the early 19th century to ressurect it, once the power of the Puritans had long since receded and the ruling Anglicans had got over their fears that bringing back Christmas would lead to the Catholics getting out from being trod underfoot (Catholics in England weren’t quite as lacking in civil rights as were Jews or women, but they weren’t far from it). The repression was even more pronounced in America, particularly in Puritan-founded New England; it wasn’t until 1870 that it was made a public holiday in the US.

So, then, what is the meaning of Christmas? Not really sure what it is now, other than as the chief means by which US retailers stay afloat. Originally, it wasn’t about Christ at all. And nowadays, among the wingnuts, it’s not really about Christ at all either, except when He can be used as a means to score points off of Democrats, the college-educated, or anyone else they don’t like.

I guess the moral here is this: Christmas is what you make of it. Let’s see if we can make it into something good. Oh, and if you ever have the chance to debunk a right-wing e-mail smear being circulated all over the place, grab that chance with both hands.

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