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Can We Criticize Christmas?

By Wen Guan M.A. in Sociology, Geroge Washington University


Almost everyone loves Christmas. Children delight in finding gifts each Dec 25th morning brought by an overweight man from the North Pole and adults are busy with preparing family gatherings, foods, and drinks and rush in massive shopping. When we’re talking about Christmas, what indeed are we talking about? Huge Christmas trees and dazzling decorations in the shopping malls, overwhelming commercial advertisements and holiday songs occupied all of our attention, time and space. Celebrating Christmas emotionally, ritualistically, pragmatically and financially, is a global collective practice at present. Christmas is no more an inherently Christian festival but has been exploited by capitalism, imperialism and commercialized teleology.

Christmas has been celebrated by almost every country in their own way, regardless of geographical locations, or religious or ethnographic background, however, seldom critique against Christmas. It somehow has an undefeated token across the world. Everyone should embrace it because Christmastime represents joy, togetherness and love. Therefore, I will list some confusions instead:


Christmas and child discipline First of all, the gift part of Christmas is a creepy power display from parents towards the children. The rationale is that if the kids want to get what they desired most, they need to behave well, go to bed as the parents asked and do not doubt the existence of Santa. The result, the gift, is not from the pervasion, negotiation, or hard work, rather, it comes as a reward of your obeyance. Beyond its religious meaning as a Christianity festival, Christmas enacts social control by portraying the ‘good kids vs bad kids’ framework. Does the Christmas gift really a symbol of love? There is a difference between ‘love over others’ and ‘love connecting with others’. In this case, the love (or the gifts) with conditions from Santa is not healthy love. Being subordinated and well-behaved has been implanted into kids’ minds when they are young, as the premise to obtain a gift, Santa’s love and parental recognition. Social-constructed traditions have a long-term effect on individuals. We learned and followed those traditions not only in our own generation, but also pass them to the next generations. Society is able to produce the means of social control effectively once there are particular traditions formed and social control will be maintained automatically. Once there’re traditions, there’s deviance.

Christmas and commercialization Adults also cannot get rid of the social control from Christmas. The central feature of Christmas is way beyond its original religious values. For the modern Christmas, its secular and commercial force is more prioritized. As described, for most people to practice Christmas traditions is associated with shopping. Commercial advertisements seize every second to come across into your sights. Where’s media, where are advertisements. Plus, not only do they appear on all your screens, the big data, order tracking information system and behavioral targeting technology ally with all the companies to provide you customized advertisements. Probably you can resist once, but no one can resist this kind of one-to-one marketing. The definition of personal desire is blurring, because we can’t tell whether this is what I want, or this is the desire the market created for me? As Yahoo SmartAds designed, “the right advertisement shows to the right person at just the moment that he is about to pull out his wallet to make a purchase.”


Christmas and cultural imperialism Another interesting phenomenon is that Christmas is superior to other festivals across the world, why? None of another religious festival could have a chance to be celebrated on a worldwide scale as Christmas. Ideologically speaking, Christianity is a right arm of imperialism and the ‘holiday season’ is a mine field of unequal social status for non-Christians. When people greeting each other, ‘Happy Holiday’ during December, whom are they actually greeting? Since none of the non-Christian major holidays fills in December. This holiday hegemony narrative is one part of the imperialism cultural domination. The promotion of the larger Christian norms, celebrations, values, and beliefs excludes the Jews, Hindus, Muslims and non-believers. The other heritage and cultures are still oppressing by hegemonic Christianity. There is still a long way to go before most societies could truly commit to multiculturalism: we can learn about and value other peoples and others’ customs and cultures, ways of knowing, and ways of viewing the world, and only in this way can we raise our intercultural awareness and treat every culture equally.

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