I’ve been following with interest the renewed debate on the meaning of Christmas (it breaks out ever year about this time). This past week after The Nativity Story was turned away from Daley Plaza, old-schooler Dennis Byrne wrote bitterly in the Tribune that it was a good thing, for who knows what would show up next? “Covens of Wicca….piles of dead chickens left scattered about by careless adherents of the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye . . . the Inquisition. . .”
The next day Eric Zorn , who knows you can find anything online, wrote sagely in the same paper about the way early Christians actually piggybacked on age-old rites of the solstice, such as the Romans’ Saturnalia, the Persians’ festival of Sacaea, the ancient Babylonians’ 12-day blowout when Marduk, their patron deity, conquered Tiamat, the monster of chaos who was making the nights too long.
Meanwhile, Neil Steinberg, who’s Jewish, was saying in the Sun-Times that the champions of putting Christ back in Christmas wouldn’t seem so creepy if they weren’t the “very same people who try all year long to make this nation even more of a one-faith theocracy than it already is.”
Good solid arguments all around. But this Christmas has taken a troubling — I almost want to say blasphemous — turn. If Christmas isn’t about Christ any more then it’s about Saint Nicholas, and I’m seeing signs that we’re taking Santa Claus out of Christmas too.
I date the first signs of disrespect back to 1994 and the hit movie The Santa Clause, which begins with Santa falling to his death. This was billed as a family film and a comedy. This year I look with amazement at the Home Depot commercial in which Santa appears as a bitter, washed-up old fat man. Mrs. Claus: “Oh, you’re home early.” Santa: “What’s the point. Everyone’s giving all those great gifts from Home Depot this year.” He slumps into his easy chair. “Oh, where’s the remote!”
Any volunteers for a new holiday icon? Maybe the UPS delivery man.