Saturday, December 5, 2015

Erasing History

The idea for this post came to me while reading the Globe and Mail. Around this time of year they have a special section titled "Holiday Guide" which seems innocuous enough. ("Innocuous" is the Globe and Mail's basic modus operandi--they like to conceal their dispiriting agenda behind a cloak of niceness.)

Let's have a look at that "holiday" guide: best holiday songs, holiday films, holiday greeting cards, party food, holiday health, holiday travel and even a holiday survival guide. We're all ready! But ready for what? Reading the Globe and Mail you would have absolutely no idea what holiday we might be talking about as the word "Christmas" appears nowhere! Is that word illegal now? Or just distasteful? Perhaps they are actually referring to hanukkah instead? Or Chinese New Year?

"Holiday" is of course a combination of the two words "holy" and "day" so etymologically it refers to a religious observance. You may not know this, apparently the Globe is unaware, but for a couple of thousand years Christendom, that is that part of the world that includes Western Europe and the Western hemisphere, has celebrated this time of year because of the birth of Christ. Yes, that's right, and even though the season has been largely secularized into gift-giving, feasts and parties, there is still a religious subtext to the season. Not to me personally, mind you, I was raised an atheist. But I am aware that Christmas exists and that it has a long history--not to mention a lot of great music. But for the Globe and Mail, a deep and thorough amnesia has set in and, like those villagers in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the name itself has disappeared entirely. Go ahead, try and search for "Christmas" on the Globe and Mail site. Or even "hanukkah".

The erasing of history is a favorite tactic of revolutionaries, ostriches and other idiots. If we just never say the word "Christmas" then we can never be accused of being biased towards, or even knowing, our own cultural history. It is no longer enough for religions like Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism to be allowed to freely celebrate their traditions. No, the dominant religion of Western Civilization, Christianity (and Judaism as well) has to be actually suppressed, removed from any presence in the public sphere--at least in places like Canada. In Mexico, all the Christian traditions seem to be going strong.

Bear in mind that, as I said, I was raised and seem still to be, an atheist. My recognition of and understanding of Christianity is largely as a historical and cultural force, not as a personal faith. But it is absurd to the point of inanity that the Globe and Mail would erase the existence of Christmas in favor of a bland, neutral, featureless "holiday" season. I hope they choke on their crostini.

So, in the spirit of punching back twice as hard, let's listen to Bach's Christmas Oratorio (or do I mean "Holiday" Oratorio?). Here is Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Wein with the first part:


Marc Puckett said...

Frankly, I prefer that they just ignore Christmas rather than present vacuous sentimentality (to cover their inordinate buying and selling) as the 'meaning of the season'. When I worked in the public school system, there would always be someone who raised an eyebrow when I said 'Merry Christmas' instead of the approved 'happy holidays!'. Many people in fact ignored the ukase, but not all. Since I had realised very early in that long, long year that I wasn't going to return for a second one my not very charitable (interior voice only!) response was always a two word phrase, each word of which is one syllable, the first beginning with a voiceless labio-dental fricative and the second with the letter that was adopted by the Latins to render the Greek letter υ, Υ.

Have been listening with increasing pleasure to that Dutilleux Tout un monde lointoin.

Marc Puckett said...

And to Bach's Cantatas 36, 61, and 62, because those were the ones I found looking about (i.e. searching Spotify) that were for the season of Advent and not for Christmastide. 61 ('Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland') 'premiered' at Weimar 300 years ago the 2nd.

Bryan Townsend said...

I tend to make a point of saying "Merry Christmas" or "Feliz navidad" (with José Feliciano's version running in my head) and in Mexico these are perfectly acceptable seasonal greetings.

I like the delicacy with which you shared that very useful two word phrase--just right for many occasions!

Yes, Dutilleux really has something and rewards repeated listening.

Christine Lacroix said...

Here in France everyone says 'Bonnes Fêtes', which basically means Happy Holidays. I asked a French friend about it this morning because of your post. Her explanation was that the 'fêtes de fin d'année' include New Year's Eve, along with Saint NIcolas and the Epiphanie (celebrated in certain regions) so people just say Bonnes Fetes to include all of those holidays, but mainly Christmas and New Year's. People generally say 'Joyeux Noël' or Bonne Année only on the specified day. There hasn't ever been any polemic around it, it just evolved that way. Would it bother you, Bryan, if Happy Holidays were used not to be inclusive of other cultures, but to include other 'Christian' celebrations? Or is it just the politically correct police that annoy you?

Bryan Townsend said...

You know, it is not the inclusiveness, whether of a number of Christian events or non-Christian events for that matter, that is an issue at all. It is the total suppression of even the word Christmas for fear that it might offend someone. Did you go to the Globe and Mail section? Have a look and you will see what I mean.

Christine Lacroix said...

I just had a look. Didn't know the paper. What's with you Canadians? When you click on Holiday Songs you get only Christmas music and when you click on Holiday Cards you get only Christmas Cards. I guess it is a bit peculiar to use the word holiday in that case. There were some great crostini recipes there and a terrifying article about Donald Trump in the newspaper section!

Bryan Townsend said...

Canada's National Newspaper™

Well, yeah, that's because the holiday we are talking about is "Christmas" not Festivus!

That terrifying Trump article is reprinted from the New York Times. Notice how they use the "dark power of words" to do an effective hit piece on Donald Trump for his use of, ahem, the "dark power of words".

I quite taking the NYT seriously long ago, when they started politicizing even the travel and food sections.

Marc Puckett said...

Christine, The French usage evolved organically, as it were, to encompass the Christian feasts from Christmas to Epiphany: but in English there is no similar greeting; although I suppose one could argue that 'happy holidays' serves that purpose for some people, it is a mid- to late 20th c innovation used chiefly (because so many have abandoned the actual practice of observing the Christian faith/liturgical year) to be inclusive of shopping, Thanksgiving Day, shopping, shopping, and also Hanukkah and shopping and Kwanzaa and shopping.

The locution I've noticed just recently is one that is meant to replace 'homeless people': 'the unhoused community' is the proper term henceforward.

Christine Lacroix said...

Marc, am I right in understanding that you don't enjoy shopping? I had to google Kwanzaa. A new holiday? Why not? I am guilty of importing my favorite religious holiday, Halloween, into my French village much to the delight of the children and the horror of the local priest!

Bryan Townsend said...

Speaking of Halloween, here in Mexico the really important holiday is not Thanksgiving (which is not celebrated) or Christmas (which is, with lots of traditional ceremonies, though Three Kings Day on January 6 is more popular as that is when presents are given) but rather the Day of the Dead, Nov. 1 and 2 (yes, I know, it should be Days of the Dead, but, tradition...).

Rickard Dahl said...

I've been very busy recently and thus haven't had the time to read this blog (sorry about that). However, I need some help dealing with a philosophical question, namely: My friend/classmate argues that there is no aesthetic standard and I argue that there is but my arguments fall short. I don't know how to make a convincing argument that for instance classical music is in fact aesthetically superior to popular music. It is so obvious but yet hard to explain/argue for.

Bryan Townsend said...

Welcome back, Rickard. It certainly is a very tricky question and I hope you came to the right place. A lot of people seem to just give up and cave in to aesthetic relativism which is, like moral relativism, and easy place to end up. But if you do give in then you are forced to say that the music of J. S. Bach and the music of Justin Bieber, for example, are equally valuable aesthetically. So that doesn't seem like a very good answer!

I would refer you to a series of posts I wrote a while back, taking some advice from David Hume. Here is an essay by him "Of the Standard of Taste"

Here is the first of my posts (and you can find the others in the right hand column):

It is fairly easy to poke holes in the idea of an aesthetic standard, especially since the idea has been under constant attack for the last hundred years. It is rather harder to defend the idea. You have to make a subtle argument. And be careful! If you say that classical music is aesthetically superior to classical music, you will find yourself hard-pressed to defend that! For one thing, it is easily shown that there are pieces of pop music that are high quality and pieces of classical music that are low quality. Just labelling something "classical" doesn't guarantee quality.

But it is pretty easy to show that there are pieces of music that have been regarded by a large number of people over a long period of time as being of high aesthetic quality. That in itself shows that there are degrees of aesthetic quality.