Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

Illustrating Christ in Christmas

Disclaimer: This is not a religious post. I am not attempting to exorcize any religious figures from any primordially pagan holidays that may or may not have been reified through fourteenth-century religious traditions. I am not in any way interested in taking on the “War on Christmas.”

 

Keep Christ in Christmas.

 I was driving near the Texas State Capitol building yesterday, and as usual, there were protestors hovering at the end of the mall, some gossiping, some marching in halfhearted circles with signs that read “KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS!” I didn’t have time to snap a photo, but they looked something like this:

 Christ in Christmas Kids

Image Credit: Herald-Zeitung

I’m not sure how the idea of retaining an “original” message of Christmas connects to the Texas State Capitol, or what the protestors wanted the state government to do about it, but the signs were striking. Of course, they emphasized the root-word, as though the visual cognate of “Christ” and “Christmas” functions for a kind of epistemological argument, the implication being that Christmas came from Christ. Of course, we could go on and on about the transmission of Roman pagan holidays into Christian ones through the reign of Richard III, but I’m not particularly interested in crafting that kind of history here. Instead, I was fascinated with these signs’ implicit claims to originality. The highlighting of the root-word seems to suggest, like some of the other signs, which read “Christ IS Christmas,” that the cultural holiday never changes, that cultural syncretism is a myth or a twenty-first century phenomenon. In this way, the signs allow the religious right to perpetuate the idea that Christianity is a primordial Truth that has been perverted. The signs themselves embody the narrative of decay over the fact of cultural amalgamation.

From there, of course, I did some brief Googling, steeling myself for polemics.What I found were not so many rants (although, of course, there were a few) as self-help memes, blog posts for religious families, and decorating ideas. For example, this series of internet banners offers a series of ways for families to “keep Christ in Christmas”:

Christ in Christmas Fireplace 

Image Credit: Women Living Well

 I like this one, because although I do write often about religion and science, I am not a religion-hater. The banner seems to suggest intimacy—literally, a domestic hearth scene. Despite the fact that this loaded message can be seen as a political one, this series and others like it pull focus inward to family activities. Without getting too cliche about the “spirit of the season,” I do think that these tips tend to function more productively than something like the protest; if conservative families feel that the focus of one of their primary holidays has shifted, this series pulls focus back on a microcosmic level. Notice the proliferation of posts like this one:

Christmas 30 Ways 

Image Credit: We Are That Family 

 

 

Christmas 8 Ways 

Image Credit: The Joys of Boys

Each of these posts offers suggestions on the domestic level—classed and coded with gender, of course, but not carried to the level of political activism meant to trouble the separation of church and state. Each of the images focuses on a single family home, on children and their play, and, in many cases, the literal hearth of the family. Sure, there’s an argument to be made for their indoctrination, but I won’t touch that one (okay...maybe I will touch it in my dissertation). Overall, these lists, while reifying the originality thesis for Christmas, do so within the private sphere.

Others, of course, went for the political heart right away. In an image that might strike a chord with the Capital protestors, here we have Duck Dynasty’s patriarch, Si Robertson:

Christmas Si

Image Credit: Christmas 4 U 

I’m a little late to the party on the Duck Dynasty controversy, and I won’t rehash the suspension of Phil Robertson and his reinstatement on A&E’s show, (although I will point out that the “good fight” and the slogan “Tolerance goes both ways,” which was used to support Robertson’s reinstatement, insert a degree of warlike animosity into the rhetoric). I do think, though, that the pairing of these same slogans against the backdrop of the multi-millionaire conservative speaks to the center of this issue. 

Of course, Robertson plays down his economic status—he and his family consistently package ungroomed facial hair, blatant sexism, and deliberately derogatory statements toward education and educated people as family values. Still, the fact that Duck Dynasty’s stars have reached the kind of political platform—gained followers—is only possible because of their economic success. In short, they have become speakers through becoming commodities.

 Capitalism Christmas

 Image Credit: The Inclusive

Here was have Jesus in all his groomed, blue-eyed glory, but this blog post, written by Brian Happ makes a solid point. In fact, maybe we should just rechristen (see what I did there?) the whole damn season: 

  Happy Consumption Day

Image Credit: Soap Box Suds

 

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