Monday, November 14, 2011

Unleash the Dogs of War!

Somethings never sleep.

At it's height, the British Empire never slept. It spanned the entire globe, and while it might be dark in one place of the empire, it was day somewhere else. The Mongol Empire was like this, too.

Modern businesses don't sleep. If you want to stay ahead in this world, you have to be going 25/8, but because there's only 24 hours in a day (23.24 hours) and 7 days in a week, you have to settle.

Right wing lies never sleep. Christmas never seems to sleep either. And the combination of the two, while it spends most of the year lying low, seems like it kicks into gear earlier an earlier each year. I log onto Facebook this morning and I see a couple of complaints about how we're taking the "Christ" out of Christmas. How we're censoring Christmas, or how we're discriminating against Christians. That's right, kiddos - it's more than just a privilege check. 'Tis the season - JENKINS, UNLEASH THE HOUNDS! THIS MEANS WAR!

Where I work at, they've already started setting up Christmas lights. The private community college (that seems like an oxymoron until you realize the work that the college does to support the community) I work at has been around 100 years this year, so they're celebrating with additional lights (to the tune of some 2,000 additional ones, on top of the thousand some they put up every year). Those take a while to put up. Complicate this with the fact that the groundskeeper who used to manage putting them up passed recently, and you're looking at a mess. It's no wonder they started putting them on Halloween. At the rate they're going, they might not have them done until mid-January.

So this, at least, is understandable.

However, playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving is not. I am not in the mood for glurge or saccharine-overdosed songs by little chipmunks singing to Santa Claus; I can tolerate it for little under a month and that's it. I need my annual ritual of ODing on tryptophan and watching the Lions get their asses kicked on Thanksgiving day. Christmas can wait. I'm not a big fan of Christmas anyway - even though my grandmother did die on Christmas eve, that has little to do with it. I just don't like the holiday; I'm pretty sure the fact that they're ramming it in my face earlier and earlier each year has something to do with it. It's like the commercialized holiday of the year; every business has their budget planned to deal with Christmas and the wealth that it brings.

Christmas brings something else other than sappy, glurged-out, saccharine-injected, diabetes-inducing carols, Black Friday, and a sudden drop in prices store-wide the following week (the best time to go Christmas shopping is right after Christmas). It brings all the lovely lies about how we're trying to censor Christmas - you know, the holiday that's been shoved in your face since the end of October - and take "Christ" out of "Christmas" (which, in theory, would just leave "mas". Now, if you're Catholic, you attend one of those every week, usually on Wednesday. For everyone else, "mass" is either a Dutch last name - Mass or Maas  - or something they talked about in high school physics but wasn't relevant because it had nothing to do with the hot guy/girl sitting in front of you). But no, the claims, like the people making them, are usually devoid of reason.

I think my personal favorite is that "Xmas" is 'x'ing out Christ. Not only is that utterly baseless and removed from reality and linguistics, like most lies, it's the total opposite of what's actually happening. This requires you knowing a little bit about history, language, and culture to completely understand, but here's how this plays out:

Jesus' last name is not Christ. You should know that if you're Christian, or even if you're not. Christ is his title. It means "King," and it comes from the Ancient Greek word Khristos. In Greek, it looks like this: "Χριστός". The letters in there are "Khi", "Rho," "Iota", "Sigma", "Tau", "Omicron," "Sigma." When transliterated, it's Khristós. Now, without doubt, my Greek readers (if I have any), are probably looking at the screen and going "Yeah, so...?" Well, most American Christians, unless they're scholars are not aware of the etymology of the word "Christ." I want to call your attention to the first letter in that name - "X". That's the Greek letter "Khi." Now, if you want that in Russian, it's "Христос". There's no difference (because Cyrillic comes from the Greek alphabet. Anyway, I'm just showing off now). The thing is, you'll notice that "X" is the first letter in both of those. It's not "X" as we know it - the phonetic values are different, but the shape is the same (our 'x' is the 'ch' in loch. Their 'x' is like the 'k' in king. If you say it right, you'll notice the location where the sound is made; the English 'x' is made near the back of the mouth and deep in the throat, while the Ancient Greek 'x' is made closer to the roof of the mouth.). However, because they look the same, "X" is used as a stand in for Khi.

Older scripts often shorten Jesus' name. The Romans were really into it - after all, INRI was them doing just that. Granted, they were mocking him, but still. Modern Christians do it today with the Jesus fish on their bumper. Very few people know that "Ichthys" comes from the Koine Greek "ΙΧΘΥΣ", or "ησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ". For those not fluent in Koine Greek, that's "Iesous Khristos, Theon Yios, Soter", or "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." It was originally a secret symbol for persecuted Christians - they would show the fish so that you would know that they were Christians, and had accepted Jesus as their savior. Once Christianity had moved beyond the persecuted minority phase, a lot of texts written from the period began to spread. The Bible was originally written in several different languages, but one of the first collective versions of the Bible was in Ancient Greek. It's called Biblical Greek for a reason, folks. It's the language that the first real Bibles were originally written in. I bring up the Jesus Fish because I want to call your attention to that second letter - that "X", or "Khi", is used a a stand-in for Khristos. It's Jesus' title shortened to just one letter - Khi. The Greeks did this a lot. It has nothing to do with them trying to remove Christ, and everything for them trying to be economic with what they were working with.

The Greeks started this tradition of shortened "Khristos" to just "Khi", or "X". When the Church formally split, the Romans took the tradition as well; even though it was spelled Christ, not Khristos, it was still shortened to "Chi," how the modern letter is represented. The RCC was really good for it: the monograph Chi-Rho, or "☧", stems from the first two letters of that name when they're carried over - XPISTOS. XP is something more than just what you pick up in video games; you can pick it up in church, too. It has been used as a monogram for Christ since at least 300 AD, if not earlier. Because some things transliterated and some things did not, the Chi-Rho monogram carried over even if Khristos became "Christ". There's a word for these things - the Jesus Fish and Chi-Rho. They're called "Christograms." IHS, ICHTHYS, INRI and XP are all christograms that have a very, very long history, and have been used since the early days of Christianity.

The RCC took their Christograms and they went northward with them. There, they ran afoul the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, who had just settled in England and run the Celts off the island, cornering them in Wales and Scotland. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes spoke a new language, a merger of their Germanic tongues with a dash of Latin and Celtic thrown in called "Anglish," or "Old English." Once the RCC had Christianized the Angles and their allies, the traditions of shortening Jesus name and title to just "X" ("Chi") and other Christograms were passed along to them. But see, there's just one problem - English is removed from Greek. It's a Germanic language, very close to French (especially after 1066). It's used either runes or, more accurately, the Latin Alphabet, ever since it's inception. We had no "Khi". We only had "X". So, because necessity is the mother of invention and the Monks writing it down noticed "Hey, our 'X" looks identical to their 'Khi'", "X" was selected as the shortened version of Christ. I won't necessarily say that it was the Angles who did that - it probably happened in Rome, because they named the Latin Alphabet - but the point is, the tradition of shortening "Christ" to "X" has a very, very long history, dating back to the beginning of Christianity.

Now, for that second part - for all the non-Catholics out there, Catholics (and Orthodox, and Anglicans, and others I know I'm forgetting) attend Mass. Mass is like a church service, but it has a lot more pomp and circumstance to it, because it involves the Eucharist. "Christmas" is literally "Christ mass," or "mass of Christ" (the lost 's' at the end is probably courtesy of English strangeness - it's what happens when you take a language that should otherwise be a Germanic language, merge it with Latin and the Celtic languages, then merge it with Norman French, let sit for a thousand-some years, and then add a built in vacuum cleaner to suck up new words from other languages and remove the verb conjugation, noun and adjective declension, and other parts of speech English no longer has).

So anyway, Christmas means Mass of Christ. If you're shortening "Christ" to just "X" like they did back in ancient Greece, what do you get?

That's right. You get Xmas. You probably saw this coming a few paragraphs back, but hey. I get paid by the word (no, not really, but it'd be nice).

This is not a new thing. Shortening the Mass of Christ to "Christmas" and then "Xmas" has been done for a very, very long time. The first time it was done was by an Anglo-Saxon writer in something like 700 AD. The Victorians were hugely in love with it - they always shortened it down to Xmas. The modern use of "Xmas" is no different from the modern use of the "Jesus Fish" or the "Chi-Rho." It's not an attempt to "x" out Christ. It's keeping in touch with a tradition that's over 1,000 years old and counting.

Speaking of the Victorians, there's another lie about Christmas that I like: Liberals are trying censor Christmas and make it illegal to say "Merry Christmas". While I don't see a lot of this one, let's take a look at the history of Xmas. Christmas was a bit like Chanukah, another holiday that occurs around the same time. That is, it's an interesting holiday, but it wasn't important. For Christians, especially early Catholics, Easter was the holiday that was really important (and what a coincidence - that occurs near Passover, one of the most important holidays in Jewish tradition and one of the High Holy Days). To Christians, Easter represented the death and rebirth of Christ. That's far more important than a holiday that, in the end, represents little more than a marketing attempt to get new converts. I'm pretty sure that the Early Christians knew that Christ wasn't born in the Winter months (Norther Hemisphere winter). If anything, he was born sometime around May or June, in the early summer, and I'd bet quite a bit that Early Christians knew that. Or the Clergy did, anyway. But they adopted the Winter Solstice festivals anyway, because it was a good way to win over converts from the pagans - "Hey, we've got a holiday around the same time, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, just like you! Let's sit down over some mead and have a good talk, and I'll tell you a little more." The best way to put someone at ease is to highlight what all you've got in common, and if you have a holiday about the same time as your neighbors do, it opens the doors to knew discussions and the potential for new converts.

Christmas is very much a Norse holiday. Without getting into to much detail, the tradition of hanging Mistletoe and the use of Evergreen trees to represent the eternal life of Christ are both traditions lifted from the Norse pagans, because, at least in the beginning, I'm sure there were some comparisons between Christ and Baldr. Here's the funny thing about that - the Church knew it, but they allowed its celebration anyway. It wasn't until the Protestant reformation that Christmas became a problem - the Protestants, as you'll recall, wanted to separate themselves from what they felt was a pagan church and go back to the basics of being a "real" Christian. The Church did have a lot of problems with it (it always has. Any institution that's manmade will have problems, but one that's based on divine rules rather than democratic freedoms will by definition have more. Less accountability), and the reformation was a huge nail in the face of the Church, with a piece of Paper detailing 33 Theses on it. The largest "Reason You Suck Speech" in the history of Western Religion.

Protestants took a lot of traditions and threw them out. Christmas was among those traditions. Christmas had never been very important anyway, and early Protestants just excised the whole thing. Celebrating Oliver's name and was half tempted to go with "Cornhole", the first thing to pop into my mind, but I decided to look it up to be sure. I am from Appalachia. I do have both Scottish and Irish blood in me). It was called a "a popish festival with no Biblical justification", and condemned as, get this, "promoting immorality" [1].

That's right. The ancestors of the Puritans who would find themselves booted out of England and sailed overseas because the Dutch wouldn't let hem live in a hermetically sealed, theocratic bubble - the same Puritans who are idolized by the Modern Right today - banned Christmas for "promoting immorality" and being a festival "with no Biblical justification." During the colonial era, celebrating Christmas was punishable with a fine [2].  It still wasn't widely celebrated because of what happened during the English Interregnum, and the harsh crackdowns that the Puritans had didn't help it. Yes, these are the same Puritans that the modern Right idolizes. Probably because they share the same sexual hangups.

It wasn't until an Englishman sat down to write a story about a greedy, cold-hearted old bastard who punished his workers and was basically the archetypical Modern Republican that that Christmas really caught on. That fellow was Charles Dickens. That story was A Christmas Carol. In it, Ebeneezer Scrooge, a man who's name has entered the lexicon as a synonym for "tight-assed bastard" or "greedy, heartless Libertarian" or "the proto-John Galt", has the same outlook on Christmas that the rest of the world had at that time. It wasn't an important holiday, and the notion that his employees would ask for a day off to celebrate it was outrageous. The point of the story was a very progressive one, because Dickens was a liberal - Scrooge was visited by 3 ghosts, showed him what a jerk he was, and then let him go back into the real world. Workers needed to be treated better, the employees needed to reach out and help them, and he was protesting the use of child slave labor in workhouses and the like. Like most of Dickens' stuff, it was protesting classism. Also like a depressingly large amount of Dickens' stuff, the message ignored. The Victorians picked up on this holiday - Christmas - and the old traditions surrounding it, like "Father Christmas", and it spread like wildfire. The early Christmas was a very Victorian holiday because of this. The rebirth of Christmas is a case of "Missing the Point" writ large.

So it took a liberal to spark Christmas (and he didn't even want to. He was protesting something else; this would happen to Upton Sinclair, too, with his book The Jungle. He was protesting the treatment of workers, like Dickens. Like Dickens, the point of his story flew with a clearance of some 30,000 feet over the head of his readers and lead to the founding of the FDA. Not a bad turn out, I imagine, but still. Way to miss the point). It took religious conservatives to ban the holiday.

Black is white, war is peace, up is down and right is wrong. This is nothing new to someone who studies the culture war. But unlike other cases, the cause for this one is because so few people know the actual history of Christmas. Christmas was banned by the Puritans, the ancestors of the modern Religious Right, because it was immoral. Today, the Religious Right complains about Christmas being banned because it's a privilege check for them. This is why they cite small events, maybe two a year, and things that happened two or three years ago, to make their claim.

The biggest one they have is "Happy Holidays." This one doesn't really need explanation - it's really just them throwing a temper tantrum because they can't have this toy themselves anymore. There's more than one holiday that happens around this time of year. I mentioned Chanukah/Hanukkah a few paragraphs north of here, but that's not the only one. Eid or Ramadan also happen around this time of year, Kwanzaa happens this time of year, and the Winter Solstice happens this time of year. For those of us that honestly care about people, and don't want to make religious judgements about an individual based on how they look (he looked Arabic! How the hell was I supposed to know he'd knock my teeth out for calling him that when he was really a Chaldean Catholic!? He even used 'Allah!'), what's easier - "Happy Chanukwanramamas Solstice?" or "Happy Holidays?" The only complaint you can make about this makes you look like a privileged asshole - rather than saying "Okay, you know what, there are other holidays this time of year, and the season is a Holiday Season rather than a Christmas Season, so it's fair to say 'Happy Holidays' and not criticize people for trying to take into account everyone", they say "Well, we should ignore all those people and go back to how I feel. And I feel that we need to say Merry Christmas, because I think that it's removing Christ from Christmas. And I feel attacked because I have to share this holiday season with people other than me."

Congratulations, if you saw nothing wrong with that second sentence, you have the privilege of not seeing your privilege, in addition to being a selfish, spoiled prick!

So anyway, there we have it. My preemptive strike in the Right's war on the Holiday Season. They're fighting back and trying to push all of these other Holidays from view in favor of a holiday that they shouldn't even be celebrating if they're Protestant Christian, because their ancestors didn't, and a holiday that they don't even understand.

So, go forth. Push back against the Right-wing lie machine. Tis the Season to be Giving. So go forth - give them a few bruised egos.


  1. I say Happy Winter's veil, Because I play too much World of Warcraft.

    But even so, My Birthday is on the 24th of November, so I'll start gearing up for Winter's Veil after that.

  2. Great post, thought you might like my machinima version of A Christmas Carol Ho Ho Ho

  3. I enjoyed wat u were sayin (wat I read of it anyway) but can u jus stfu n say it?!?!

  4. That's not even counting the fact that there are several other religious observances for Christians depending on the denomination. 12 days and all that, y'know?

    And that if you go by the standard calendar, there's also the distinctly non-denominational New Year's Day.

  5. I enjoyed your post.

    Quite coincidentally, I recently wrote a song called "Axial Tilt" that you might enjoy. It actually (again coincidentally) covers some of the same material you did. 'Tis the season to think about these things, I guess.