By Gail Collins and David Brooks
December 24th, 2010
The New York Times’ columnists Gail Collins and David Brooks talk about Christmas and where do you stand on the all-encompassing, retail-sales-enhancing holiday season?
Gail Collins: David, I know you’re a big fan of community-building activities. How do you come down on Christmas? I don’t mean the religious feast but the all-encompassing, retail-sales-enhancing holiday season. In which Americans of all stripes celebrate the winter solstice with family gatherings, exchanges of gifts and cards and the singing of really terrible seasonal songs.
Actually, the songs are the one part that I think cannot be pulled off without religiosity. That Mariah Carey thing, which is apparently the most popular holiday song in the nation, is worse than “A Holly Jolly Christmas”.
David Brooks: I am so glad you asked me about Christmas. I am not a Jew for Jesus but I am definitely a Jew for Christmas. Christmas is one of the best things you Christians have given us, along with mac and cheese, Bono, croquet and politeness.
I’m sort of worried about the overshadowing of the terrible old Christmas songs (I dated a girl named Holly Jolly in high school), but my main worry about Christmas is this: the quality of the holiday deteriorates the further one gets from Manhattan. In the city, you’ve got trees for sale on the street. You’ve got the vendors selling hot chestnuts. You’ve got the Christmas windows, the Rockettes, that huge lighted star over Fifth Avenue and the big tree outside the Today studio. Christmas in Manhattan is great, but it gets diluted where I live now, out in mall-ville.
In fact, I think New York Jews should all volunteer to trade places with people in Milwaukee or some other Christian-heavy city for the month of December. This would allow more room for Christians to enjoy the holiday in the Big Apple. It would yield the greatest good for the greatest number.
Gail Collins: You’re right — there’s a Christmas tree vendor on my corner and I do love feeling as if I’m walking through a forest on my way home from the subway. A forest of entirely dead trees, but still kind of nifty.
But about Christmas. “The holiday season” has pretty much uncoupled from the feast of Christmas and I’m surprised religious conservatives don’t find that to be a blessing. When I was a kid, living in a very Catholic part of the country, people worried about the commercialisation of Christmas. They were afraid the story of the Nativity was getting lost amid the purchasing of toys and small appliances. Secular Christmas songs were looked down upon. Singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in my Catholic school was as unthinkable then as singing the First Noel in public schools is today.
Now, the march of the Santas has so completely run over the month of December that it should be easier for people to focus on the religious aspects of the 25th. Particularly since they’re very likely to be having their actual present-exchange on some other day, when the relatives can all be assembled. I say that as a person who will be on a plane on December 25, flying to Ohio for a family Christmas that is actually scheduled for December 27.
David Brooks: Wait a second, you’re celebrating on the 27th? Are you trying to find a third-way triangulated compromise between Western Christianity and Eastern Orthodox? I find this a disturbing slide toward moral relativism. Do you celebrate the July 4th on the 8th? Or New Year’s Eve in February? Once you start fooling with the calendar where does it stop? Moreover, you shouldn’t be able to do your Christmas shopping on the 26th, when the sales start. It’s bad for the economy.
I say celebrate Christmas for its importance in the Christian religion, but admit that the two-month-long public festivity during which it occurs is a multicultural holiday season.
Gail Collins: If Christmas is for families, what do you do when there are families scattered all over the country? I am pretty sure God wants to make sure I touch all the bases, even if I spend his actual birthday with Delta Airlines.
David Brooks: As for the loss of the Christian integrity of the holiday. I am militant. There’s a security guard at a building I visit a lot. He’s Muslim and I’m Jewish. We both wish each other a Merry Christmas when we see each other. None of this vacuous Happy Holidays crap. We’re taking a stand for religious substance.
This is where cultural conservatives split ways with economic conservatives. The latter are happy to see Christmas diluted so it can reduce psychological friction in the marketplace. People like me want to increase social friction, stickiness and commitments.
I’m for Nativity scenes, Passion plays and every explicit Jesus hymn you can think of. As it stands now, the holiday season is turning into a second helping of Halloween, with candy
Gail Collins: This is now a celebration that begins before the last leaves have fallen from the trees and ends with the final Christmas party, sometime in January. You can’t have two months of nonstop public displays of religion. It sounds nice in theory but it’d drive half the country crazy in real life. And my own childhood has convinced me that the folks trying to excise the crass commercial side are always going to lose.
So I say celebrate Christmas for its importance in the Christian religion, but admit that the two-month-long public festivity during which it occurs is a multicultural holiday season. Including the tree. The idea of putting a “holiday tree” in the town square seems to drive conservatives particularly nuts. But everybody loves that tree, and since the pagans thought of it first, I don’t think one group can claim a patent.
I am militant about keeping the Christian integrity of the holiday; none of this vacuous “Happy Holidays”.
David Brooks: I hate to sound holier than the pope, but it’s a Christmas tree. You Christians stole it from the pagans fair and square and there is no reason to give it back. That cultural appropriation was a great advance, adding depth and moral content to mere nature. Now we are devolving to vacuous barbarism.
A sign of this decline, by the way, is the number of Christians who feel free to go to the movies on Christmas Day. It used to be the cineplexes were like half-empty synagogues on Christmas. Now you can barely get a ticket. When Christians start eating Chinese for Christmas dinner, the end of civilisation will really be at hand.
Gail Collins: I get the last word, and it’s: Merry Christmas, David.
Source: Asian Age