Friday, December 7, 2012

The Meaning of Christmas: Peace on Earth With Comfort and Technology

There is the usual round of cries of outrage the meaning of Christmas is being lost in the pursuit of commercialism and consumerism. I counter the exact opposite: the meaning of the season is the giving of material gifts, of visceral courtship romance, of taking time off for worry of world news and issues to eat, drink and be merry.

I'm only speaking of American Christmas traditions, leaving out the world. Europe had several centuries of wanton revelry as their mode of celebration, while in the US most of the people were consciously more Puritan and austere, ignoring Christ Mass altogether.

The first uptick of Christmas as we know it came after the Civil War, in the newly industrialized and commercialized North. Dead was the Jeffersonian vision of a Republic of simple autonomous farmers, replaced by a more complex society of factories, railways and shops to sell those wares (mostly in the North and spreading West with northern investment and rail).

Northern Puritan preachers condemned this new partying, consumerism and pursuit of comfort with technology. Most all Southerners hated most all things Northern, so contempt for the partying, consumerist Yankees came easily. Those with contempt for this newly industrialized consumerism and partying were on the wrong side of history,  they were dinosaurs falling into extinction.

The second uptick of Christmas as we know it came after World War II, in the strong and enduring iconography of the American 1950's. Being a child of the 60's, in my teens and twenties I thought the vision of early 50's consumerism, Lazy-Boy chairs, dad smoking a pipe, and watching this new thing called TV was something uncool, that the 60's,70's and 80's had marshaled in new counterculture full of something better. Of late I've realized the 50's vision of a convenience oriented home full of comfort came after the hellish epoch of 1917-1945 when the general public in countries all over the world were considering sophisticated and extreme political ideologies, and fighting and dying in the quest to figure out which would triumph.

With that grandly intellectual and viscerally miserable Hell behind them, the Americans of 1950's inherited the only society on Earth with an industrial sector, all other industrial sectors on Earth were in disrepair due to bombing campaigns. While the whole world probably wanted to celebrate the end of the hellish epoch, Americans were the only ones in a position to actually do it.

And American did. It's recorded in the 1950's romantic movies and songs about Christmas. [e.g. ]

Dropping back to Christmas, and the phrases we use. Peace on Earth. What does that mean or look like? If you ask a philosopher, political scientist, or theologian you'll get a very (appropriately) long description, ironically I bet their solutions would look a lot like the solutions being tested in the World Wars of the 20th century. But for the regular folks having to actually live in that peace, I can think of no more real and good peace than this: young couples kissing, giving of expensive gifts, having dinners in which the worst that happens is someone drinks too much alcohol. That is a practical Peace on Earth, and while we strongly associate it with 1950's America, I contend people from all over the world want in on it, and I applaud every one that does.

  1. Why Christmas Should be More Commercial By Leonard Peikoff

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