Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Being in Berlin, I missed this year's War on Christmas in America. I do remember, though, when some pundits tried to export it to Germany. That must have been a few years ago. So, a lot of stuff popular in America finds its way to Germany, for instance C.S.I., Star Trek, sneakers, Coca Cola, commercial advertising as we know it, and Jazz. Some things don't, especially things that imply tradition, culture, oldfashionedness, and food (except fast food), because it does not fit the cliché.

Christmas in Germany has a long tradition, much longer than America. Germany invented Christmas as we know it, with the Christmas tree (which goes back to the 16th century), songs like "Silent Night", homemade Christmas cookies, mulled wine, decorations, Christmas markets, and gifts. In America, Christmas was imported, basically from Germany. In the beginnings, when English, German, and Irish settlers were fighting for their place in society, there was even a movement against German Christmas as well (at some point, the Christmas tree was banned in Massachusetts).

But also the American Santa is a remote depiction of the Dutch/German/Austrian Nikolaus, about as remote than Jazz is from tribal music of the West Coast of Africa, even though that's where it originates. Santa's current design goes back to Coca Cola, and it is frowned upon in Germany among, well, normal people. I always used to believe that Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, was invented by Disney, turns out, not true. But when our family celebrated our first American Christmas in California, my mother, who was shocked by Santa and those artificial (and pink) Christmas trees, created a German Christmas island in our apartment, complete with hand-made cookies.

When the War on Christmas in America began, the point was that many other religions had a end-of-the-year festival as well, so they should be included. That turned out to be, well, not true. The only serious religion that has a holiday roughly in the temporal vicinity of Christmas is Judaism, and Hanukkah has nothing to with the birth of a new religion, or rebirth in general. It goes back to a battle between two ancient Middle Eastern tribes, the Israelites and the Maccabeans. For Americans, it would make more sense to celebrate some battle between the Apache and the Comanche.

This year, the War on Christmas is about whether Christians have hijacked the Pagan celebration of the winter solstice, when the days become longer (which is, by the way, December 21, not 25). This is a tradition that goes back to a time when our forefathers have worshiped the Gods of nature in, you guessed it, Germany. So, basically, the current War on Christmas in America is about what kind of Germanic tradition to follow.

For Germans, that does not make a lot of sense. First, that torch-yielding, Thor-adoring culture has been somewhat discredited due to the Nazis, when a fringe movement within the SS wanted to go back to the roots (and even then, normal people could not care less). Second, these are all our roots. Going back to a period where people were worshiping trees makes as much sense than trading a Mercedes for a horse-and-buggy; sure, some people do it, but it will not catch on as a general idea.

Having said that, there is a War on Christmas in Germany as well: It is about Santa Claus. German parents start to ditch the American, Coca-Cola-designed Santa Claus in favor of the German Christkind, which goes back to Baby Jesus (even though it's female; then again, in the original Nibelungenlied quite a few characters were female, yet JRR Tolkin turned them into men). It is called the war against commercialism, and, looking at my nieces and nephews, I‘m afraid it will be lost.

In that spirit: Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to point out some of the constant wrangling of traditions that has resulted in Christmas as we know it but it may be overstating things slightly to call it a war. Also, suggesting that people who worship trees are somehow more outmoded than Christians a tad prejudiced. Spirituality is timeless and if we are going to granting religions credibility based on how rational or modern they are then Christianity and Judaism would be out the door just as fast as paganism. A better way to celebrate the year might be by showing some solidarity with other traditions instead of trying to prove which one is better or more justified in its existence...



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