It's interesting listening to the debate about this, on one hand we have those who talk about Christmas being a celebration of Jesus and on the other hand being that Christmas is merely an extension of pagan celebrations. And in a way they are both right. Christmas is a tradition that is derived from other celebrations that follow the Winter Solstice. There is a reason for it being December 25th after all, and no that is in all probability not Jesus' birth date. There were many traditions kept from those pagan days that have been amalgamated into Christian folklore like gift giving. But the reason we celebrate Christmas here in Australia is almost exclusively because of our historical ties to England colonialism. Of course with the take-up of capitalism, the influx of multiculturalism and not to mention the localisation as is inevitable with any tradition, which brings me to my point: traditions change.
It seems that in an effort to make society a more hospitable for everyone, there is a push to refrain from calling it Christmas, instead using the generic term "holidays". Personally I don't see the point to this, yes it's a more encompassing term, and yes it still probably does reflect all that encompasses what Christmas has come to be, but there is really no use for it. All you do is piss off the traditionalists and give ammunition to those deluded fools who thing there is a war being waged on Christianity. Not one of those real wars, but a phoney one to confirm in their minds how dangerous secularism is. Christian persecution complex at it's finest. The truth is, the label in the end is quite irrelevant. Of course churches are going to push their message about Jesus, people are going to claim that it's a Christian holiday and we are going to be inundated with the same crappy carols as we frantically push through crowds to find gifts that will probably go unappreciated. The point is that really Christmas is only a label, and it is a label entrenched into society so there is really no point in changing it, the term itself has expanded to be encompassing of multiculturalism.
The War On Semantics
A few years ago I was boarding while going to university. One of the people I lived with was probably the closest thing we have to a Fundamentalist Christian in Australia. He complained that people who aren't Christian shouldn't be allowed to celebrate Easter or Christmas, they are just taking advantage of Christian tradition as an excuse to have days off work. While initially I dismissed it as the lunatic ravings of a broken man, it made me think about what Christmas and Easter really mean in these cultures. So now, I think it was the lunatic ravings of a broken man who couldn't separate religion from culture. And I think that in it's essence is the problem. Culturally we have come on in leaps and bounds, and the holiday has changed to reflect that. You're more likely to find a family at the beach having a BBQ in between a game of cricket and swimming than seeing them in silent prayer at a church. Throwing back a few beers and discussing how the Aussies will fare in the Boxing Day test with friends and family while the kids have toys is a much more fitting image than sitting around a table saying grace. But that is just the essence of what I am saying, the reality is very different from the idealist fantasy of respect. We don't need to change the label "Christmas" because Christmas changed for us.
Santa is a more central figure in Christmas preparations than Jesus. Walking through a busy crowded centre reaffirmed just that. Crosses were few and far between while there were children with "I *heart* Santa" shirts on. Being the salvation of mankind pales in comparison to being a fat man bearing toys, or Australia is a Godless country doomed to eternal damnation thanks to the greed of children... If I'm going to hell, I'm blaming that 6 year old girl ;) But to get serious again, Santa is pretty much the ultimate embodiment of Christmas. He transcends cultures, religions and countries. And even though an obese man wearing fur clothing is going to burn up in Australia, he is the perfect symbol for the interfaith multicultural holiday that Christmas is now.
There was a recent article in the times lashing out at Richard Dawkins that I found quite disturbing. It was just one long ad hominem blasting someone for actually taking part in the cultural side without believing in the spiritual side to Christianity, the absurdity can be summed up with the following quote
"But if you loudly and repeatedly make a career of denying any possibility at all of the reality of God, how honest is it to sing?"It's a terrible way to try and undermine a persons point of view. Hypocrisy comes from doing something you preach against. Dawkins is a supporter of the cultural aspect of the Church, anyone who actually reads the God Delusion can see how Dawkins regards religion itself as an important part of our culture. Taking away the supernatural side and being upset at the child abuse and intolerance does not mean that it's all bad. Such an absolutist view, an all or nothing approach that really is trying to reinforce that Christmas is a Christian holiday rather than a cultural one.
In the end, Christmas means a different thing to everybody. For some, it's a celebration of the deity they attribute their life's worth too, for others it's an excuse to drink and spend time with mates. For me personally, it's a day I can spend with my family and just be content with life in general. The consumerism annoys me, though I do like to both give and receive gifts, but the less time spent pushing through crowds the better.
The election result came as a significant but pleasant surprise. It's great to see Howard finally gone and I hope that Rudd can restore some of the international parity that was lost under the Howard years. Though that remains to be seen, but there is an encouraging start with the ratification of Kyoto and the beginning steps to apologising to the Indigenous population for past injustices. It's going to be an interesting ride over the next three years, my hope is that Rudd doesn't screw everything up.
The election itself was quite an interesting spectacle, after the crushing Labor received under Mark Latham, it was going to take a minor miracle for them to win. In the end, the victory was severe enough to force the Liberal party to change their policies when it comes to the environment and work choices, but not enough to restore balance in the senate. Come July 01, the Liberals will lose their majority, but the balance of power now either rests with bipartisan support or a combination of the Greens, Family First and an Independent. Pretty daunting and it will probably ensure that nothing radical will be able to get pushed into law. There is always the chance of a Double Dissolution if the senate is too hostile.
The one sad thing about the election result is the final death-call for the Democrats. I was a huge fan of this party, and it's sad to see a moderate influence on the senate cut away to nothing. It is sad to see voters abandon the party in droves, those on the left disenchanted by the introduction of the GST and those on the right who saw the in-fighting as far too destabilising. My hope is that people will realise what they are missing and the party makes a comeback in 2010, though it's more a fools hope than anything else. Democrats, you will be missed.
Howard's legacy is an interesting one, there is a healthy dose of xenophobia and racism in there. Workchoices and the Environment really hurt him, standing blindly behind the US as the globe warms wasn't the smartest choice, nor was taking away workers rights. But I want to take a moment and single out a few good things he did:
* Gun Control - The Port Arthur Massacre was a national tragedy, something that shocked a nation. And it was a Prime Minister just 6 weeks into the job who decided to place tough restrictions on gun control. It brought the ire of some, especially followers of his own party, but he stuck to it and now Australia has a strong gun control policy.
* East Timor - It was a great step in Australian diplomacy that we stepped into East Timor and ensured the peaceful transition to independence for the former Indonesian state.
Well I've kind of run out of steam and out of time if I want to get this posted before December 25th. So Merry Chrifsmas to all.