Tis the season: Christmas specials, movies, performances, novels, homework assignments (nothing is sacred), debates on the use of holiday (re: holy day) v. the use of Christmas, Salvation Army employees outside stores, and open season at the mall.
Yeah…I’m not a mall person. I am a Christmas person. Jesus and I were born only 2000 years and two days apart. Ha. 0=) I like the entire holiday season and all the insanity that goes with it. For real. I’ve a list of favored movies and books, and they must be acknowledged frequently. Mom starts playing Christmas tunes around September.
And before you read any further, this post is most definitely not about materialism/consumerism. That’s its own beast. So that’s not where I’m going. I like Santa. I like presents. I like reindeer and I like Jingle Bell Rock and Silver Bells.
At any rate, of late I’ve developed a bit of an aversion to particular aspects of Christmas without really knowing why. It took the movie Elf to clarify the problem for me. For some reason, I’ve never really gotten on the Elf bandwagon.
I’m not really one of those people who thinks we should not buy Christmas presents, decorate the house, or catch sales (hey, if you’re gonna spend money, spend smart), or thinks we should only play “religious music.”
I am, however, a stickler on keeping the spirit of the whole thing.
Most people understand the basic spirit of Christmas: Hope.
But…hope in what?
It’s here that the whole thing gets weird. Most movies involving Santa at all make Santa into almost a divine figure. Santa is the god of the holiday season–from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. It’s immediately after the Hallowed Eve of Candy. But check this out:
–Elf: Buddy practically worships Santa. In fact, the world depends on faith in Santa. The evil Central Park Rangers, in true Ringwraith fashion, are devilish.
–The Santa Clause: An odd combination of humans becoming the godlike Santa Clause.
–Miracle on 34th Street: Santa can make dreams come true, including matchmaking and baby-bringing. In the new one, anyway. I don’t remember if the line is in the old one.
Anyway. I could name more, where, in their intended spirit of making a statement in favor of keeping “the reason for the season.” Hope. Magic. Miracles. Honestly, in the end they’re more about hope in man or in the Santa deity. Even my beloved Muppet Christmas Carol, I think.
With whom God has found favor
And like I said. I like a good number of the movies on the list. But I expect Hanukah to be inherently religious for Jews, and I expect Ramadan to be inherently religious for Muslims. So, yes, when we strip away all the bright, pretty things…I expect a clear statement of “Hope in God.” You know, the Messiah. The Anointed One, the Creator of the universe bundled in human flesh, born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.
The fickle, karma-based Saint Nick just doesn’t do it for me. He’s fun, no doubt. But he can’t offer hope. He can’t offer the peace and favor of God. And he certainly can’t bring salvation.
Charms, Tokens, and Other Symbology
I know, I know: What the blazes does this have to do with speculative fiction? I’m going to completely steal an answer from Karen Hancock regarding Elhenu in her book Arena: He is the god of the Arena. And in that vein, I’ll say that Santa is the god of those particular stories.
There was this book I was reading for review, and it’s honestly the only book I’ve ever read that so totally offended and manhandled the reader that I had to decline to review it. On a religious level, I hated it. On a professional, writer’s level, I hated it. ( No, I’m not disclosing the title.) To mention it brings bile to my mouth and a series of absolutely disgusting images. I mention it now only to make this point: You can abuse symbolism.
This book, for all purposes, was inherently religious. I didn’t read The DaVinci Code, but it seemed about that level: Agree or not, accurate or not, the symbols and extra-biblical material require a serious treatment of the particular religion (no, it wasn’t Christian). The problem is, from what I could tell, it was done with a severe atheist or agnostic bent and winds up mocking everything that should be serious about it (despite the entire plot hinging on religious tradition). It’d be like making National Treasure in such a way that the movie wound up being anti-American and mocked everything about American culture.
One of my fellow reviewers put it this way: “Dan Brown would have gotten it wrong, but he’d have respected the symbolism.” This particular writer…did not.
And so we’re back to Christmas. Christmas, in name, tradition, and essence, is Christian. (No, I really don’t care if you call it a Christmas tree or a Holiday tree. Stick to the point.) And no, I don’t think we should only play the “religious” Christmas songs (although I tend to like them better) or watch The Santa Clause. I will probably watch a plethora of Christmas movies before this season is over. Not the point.
I just think that, maybe, in our endeavor to not appear “preachy” we shouldn’t sacrifice the inherent nature of the thing we hope in. I know most of us can keep Santa and Jesus separate in our heads – but it’s because we understand that the star in the east and the jingle of sleigh bells are completely different symbols and point to two very different people.
To Raise the Sons of Earth
So when we talk about hope, remember Santa can’t offer it. When we talk about redemption, Neo can’t bring it. When we talk about righting the universe, Luke can’t do it alone. Characters can be dead wrong in their beliefs, and that’s fine. I have one who thinks if he sins he will die and God will reject him; I have another who thinks God works on a karma system. I have another who thinks God abandoned him.
And that’s my thought, I suppose. Whatever symbol you use, use it wisely. If a story centers around a religious ritual, ceremony, or principle, then don’t castrate it. Don’t abuse it or change it or mock it, because you’re mocking the very thing you need to make the story work.
And Christmas is about the birth of Christ and the beginnings of the Invasion of Heaven. It’s about God declaring peace and his good will and favor toward man.
Not how wonderfully sentimental we mortals are, or how jolly a holiday deity is.