December 4, 2005

Keep Christmas, ban the music

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at December 4, 2005 6:49 PM

As many other bloggers have noted, certain conservative blowhards are once again pushing the "War on Christmas" meme this year, the idea being that us secular liberals are somehow forcing businesses to say "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", and that this is an issue of apocalyptic significance. Bill O'Reilly in particular seems to have been driven completely insane through his obsession with this fictional issue. Needless to say, there is no sinister conspiracy to cancel Christmas, and even I, as secular and atheistic as they come, am not bothered by "Merry Christmas"—in fact, I'm likely to respond in kind.

The fact is that a large component of Christmas is already secular, and even if I don't go to church on Christmas Eve I can participate in much of the celebration. I have, in the past, been accused of being a massive hypocrite for doing so, but I enjoy seeing my close relatives and giving them gifts, so why shouldn't I take part? Exchanging gifts isn't exactly a sacred rite on the order of taking communion—it's a fun tradition with little if any spiritual aspect. (I guess the religious connection is supposed to be through the gifts of the Magi? But this always struck me as more of a rationalization than some deep scriptural mandate.) Besides, I think the trees and lights are kind of fun, most of the traditions have their roots in pagan solstice holidays anyway, and I'm happy to celebrate the birthday of a great man who made immeasurable contributions to civilization. (I'm referring, of course, to Sir Isaac Newton.)

However, there is one unavoidable element of the season that makes me want to enlist in the nonexistent War on Christmas, and that is the saturation of Christmas music in stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places of business (presumably the same ones that are being forced to say "Happy Holidays" by Grinch-like liberals). It used to be that I'd only start getting sick of the music around Dec. 20th, but these days I cringe when I first hear some lame rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" come over a retailer's loudspeaker (usually around Oct. 3rd). Now maybe I'm overly sensitive to this sort of thing—I like a certain amount of variety in the music I listen to, and I have an elaborate set of iTunes smart playlists to prevent any given song from playing too often (and that's for music that I like to begin with)—but I know I'm not alone, since I hear more and more complaints about this every year. Fred Clark at Slacktivist, perhaps out of the same masochistic impulse that has led him to produce elaborate page-by-page analyses of the horrific writing in the Left Behind series, has been listening to one of the all-Christmas, all-the-time stations, and produced a couple of interesting posts on the subject. And via his comments I found this series of short reviews of Christmas music by a witty and theologically-knowledgable atheist. None of this really soothes the pain of having to listen to "Jingle Bell Rock" for the millionth time, but at least I know I'm not alone in this.

Tags: Christianity, Music, Religion

An iPod and a large playlist are definitely a good remedy for this phenomenon. The several weeks worth of this stuff definitely irks me, but the omnipresence of this music seems to start about a month later here (by which I mean towards the end of November) than it did in Atlanta (around Halloween was when I noticed one year and something like 10/13 was the day I noticed another year). There are a few of those songs I actually like, but there aren't that many I like in the first place and I soon start to actively hate Christmas songs when they're shoved done my throat at this rate.

In terms of the holiday itself, I have no reason to celebrate it (though I do appreciate the lights when there aren't Santa Clauses and other such things along with them) but I do participate in the traditional Jewish celebration of Christmas (which I believe may have its origin in a Woody Allen film)---which is to go to a movie and eat Chinese food.

As for Christmas gifts, I have never actually gotten one, but then again I'm not supposed to get one either.

I typically don't care about the happy holidays thing, except at least one potential employer irked me greatly in this respect. They were annoyed that I didn't come during a particular week they wanted me to come (coinciding with Hanukkah), which I didn't do because it was finals and it was necessary to finish off the semester. I asked them if the next week would work and their HR/hiring person was seemingly annoyed and told me by e-mail that they don't have people come in for interviews during the "Holidays" (written in caps in the e-mail I received). He seemed almost angry by my suggestion. In my response, I politely informed this person about what my family's holiday was (and that they thus apparently did invite people during holidays) and that they should at least be honest and state which holiday they had in mind when making that comment (i.e., just phrase it as they don't invite people during Christmas) instead of being disingenuous about things.

Naturally, if a large fraction of people have certain origins, then they'll have a particular holiday during which they won't invite people to visit. I was just irked by how things were handled, and this person clearly wasn't doing his job the way he was supposed to in talking to somebody who they had decided they wanted to hire modulo a visit to take a lie detector test and do other such business.

I won't reveal the name of this organization, but its initials are NSA. :)

I should mention as well that this is the only time I've ever had any experience like this. It was just one dumbass, but this is not the person you should want to have talking to prospective employees. I wasn't pleased, to put it lightly.

When somebody wishes me a Merry Christmas, if it's during Hanukkah (or sometimes even during other times during the holiday season), I will sometimes respond with Happy Hanukkah.

The one I like best is that when I am somewhere with a very small Jewish population. I might be asked what I am doing for Christmas and my response of 'nothing' just confuses lots of people. Somehow, the next thought often doesn't seem to be that my origins are different. These days, I'll usually just indicate the movie and Chinese food thing. A few times, for fun, I indicated I was going to howl at the moon and have a druidic ceremony, and I got some priceless looks. This works especially well in small, rural towns in the South.

Posted by: Mason | December 4, 2005 8:14 PM

WPLJ 95.5 in NY is normally a decnt station. But it drives me and some other i know nuts that from thankgiving on 2/3 songs are X-mas carols. Now some christmas music i can deal with but the repeat and continual overplaying of the theme has foced me to change my listening habits. On a plus now i listen to NPR so i remian much better informed on the world.

Posted by: shellock | December 5, 2005 4:43 AM

It would be a merrier christmass for everyone if Bill Oreilly caught fire and security mistakenly tried to put him out with lemon flavored cooking oil.

I wish I could be more productive with my comment, but I can't get it out of my mind that when eating human flesh, lemon can sometimes overpower the taste of hypocrite.

Posted by: Kyle | December 5, 2005 2:27 PM

Thanks ever so much for putting "Jingle Bell Rock" in my head.

Just got the manuscript for the new book off to my agent so hopefully I will be able to spend a little more time here this week although I do have a short story due for a "Wall Street Noir" collection that I'm a week late on....

Posted by: JSpur | December 5, 2005 2:39 PM

Kyle: Ew. I bet he goes well with falafel though.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | December 5, 2005 3:56 PM

Recommended Christmas song: "Holy Shit! It's Christmas!" by Red Peters. Some of the Weird Al ones are cool too. For certain songs, be sure to listen to the "extra gory" versions. :)

Posted by: Mason | December 5, 2005 4:07 PM

We overruled the pop Christmas song station this year because it was worse-than-getting-a-root-canal-with-no-anaesthesia-bad. I think we should get good songs, like the pogue's "Dominick the Christmas Donkey", "Joy to the world for Eike has pants", and the Pogues' "New York Christmas". Fun stuff, ne?

Posted by: Siren | December 6, 2005 7:57 AM

Siren: I keep hearing good things about those Christmas songs by the Pogues; I should check them out.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | December 6, 2005 12:45 PM

Here's another one: There's a nice parody called 'Walkin' Round in Women's Underwear'.

Posted by: Mason | December 6, 2005 3:19 PM

Yeah, that one always gets stuck in my head, but I don't particularly mind.

What I find interesting, in light of the actual topic, is that the first Christmas music I've heard all year was last night, when the Women's Glee Club got together to eat Thai food and sing old carols (I accidentally ate a Thai pepper, which didn't help my singing at all). I don't know if it's that I don't go to the right retail outlets, or that I walk around with my ipod in my ears, but I haven't been inflicted with the usual sappy pop jingles so far. My family didn't put on our Christmas CDs (Mannheim Steamroller's instrumental twist on traditional carols, actually) until the tree was being decorated, so I don't really consider carols appropriate until a week or so before Christmas, anyway.

Posted by: Lanth | December 6, 2005 5:18 PM

Hmmm... that stuck in your head comment can be creatively twisted in amusing ways, but never mind.

I actually like much of the Mannheim Steamroller stuff---except, perhaps, for the way Paseo incorporated them before their movies because I wasn't prepared when it happened and my heartrate suddenly jumped. (Techers: If you start hearing a Mannheim Steamroller medley when waiting for a movie at the Paseo, you should brace yourself for what's coming.) I'm fine when I inflict or when I otherwise know what's coming, but it's still not very pleasant when I'm caught off-guard.

The iPod effect has definitely been notable for me during such seasons. The places where I have noted the songs have been coffee places, and when I'm home during the winter (when I'm not already living in SoCal), I spend even more time than usual reading in coffee places and pre-iPod that meant listening to a lot of the sappy Christmas crap. That said, the restaurant where I ate last night started playing sappy country music versions of crappy Christmas songs in the middle of our meal, and (now that I think about it) I wonder how much of an effect that has had on my mood the last 24 hours?

Posted by: Mason | December 6, 2005 8:09 PM

Lanth: ditto on not being affected by cheesy holiday music yet. Maybe that's because I haven't really been out shopping for presents yet (uh oh), and that's usually when the music makes me want to tear my hair out. BUT, my mother always plays the "soft rock" 24-hour-bad-carols station at home, so as soon as I go home, whooosh there goes the sanity out the window...

Mason: you've never gotten a Christmas present, eh? That sounds like a great white elephant present opportunity just for perverse humor. Are you still at the same address? :P

Posted by: Jolene | December 7, 2005 12:02 PM

Yeah, the never gotten a Christmas present comment is really asking for it. :) *evil plotting*

Posted by: Zifnab | December 7, 2005 2:46 PM

I've never gotten a white elephant either. :)

Yeah, but the 'I'm not supposed to' is a reasonably big asterisk. My family's Jewish, so as a kid my grandmother would always give me money for Hanukkah (aka, "Hanukkah gelt") to spend. I did use that to get stuff on occasion, but my parents typically didn't like what I bought (toys and video games), so I always had to make additional promises to be allowed to spend it at all. I don't remember getting any sort of actual present for Hanukkah, which I suppose would be the closest equivalent, as that's never been part of the holiday (as far as I can tell). I have gotten Christmas cards from one or two friends and students, but that's it as far as what I mentioned is concerned.

As for where I live, did I mention that I traveled really far and broke a few physical laws to walk from home to go watch Firefly with Jorian, Tim, and Mike last night? (Yes, I'm in the same place.)

I am no stranger to evil plotting, but I am more used to the giving end. To give can sometimes be far, far better than to receive. :)

Jolene, when you're home you can always take a break from bad Christmas music and hang out with us in Pasadena. It seems like a (non-constant) subset of us is going to be around for virtually the whole time.

Posted by: Mason | December 7, 2005 5:04 PM

On gift-giving:

I don't know what the traditional origin of it, but I think rather than the Magi giving and recieving gifts, the tradition represents more of the Christian Heaven/Hell perspective. Heaven and Hell and consequences are kind of hard to teach kids in simple form, but the basic concept that wrongdoings and sin is ultimately punished and that "good" behavior is ultimately rewarded is a big part of the gift-giving ideology. After all, Santa will leave you a lump of coal (or in some cultures, he'll beat the shit out of you). So while I don't know any parent who actually enforces the punishment side of that spectrum, I think that's definitely a big part of where, at least, the presents and the Santa myth come from.

As for the actual giving of one gift to another, I think that's just supposed to be in the spirit of Christian thought that it is better to give and think about others. America, not surprisingly, has turned the act of giving someone a gift into the act of getting that gift. So when little Timmy opens that XBox 360 that he really really wanted, he can sleep well knowing that the red stains on the box are from when some guy tried to grab it out of Timmy's dad's hands, and Timmy's dad wrestled him to the ground and broke his nose on the packaging in order to buy it.

For Timmy's sake, you see.

Posted by: Josh | December 9, 2005 11:34 PM
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