Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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The opposite of Christmas

I posted a while back my idea that Halloween is the opposite of Easter. At opposite ends of the year, Easter is the celebration of birth and generation, Halloween a celebration of death and extinction.

I got to thinking: It's Christmas. Does Christmas, too, have its opposite holiday?

Of course. Look around to the other side of the year. The opposite of Christmas is the the Fourth of July.

The imagery of Christmas has a distinctly pre-modern, feudal flavor to it. It's full of kings: evil Kings like Herod, from whom you have to flee, good Kings like the Three Wise Men who give gifts, and the supernatural King, God, whom you're supposed to obey and adore: "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and He shall reign forever and ever..." "...born the King of Angels, Oh, come let us adore Him..." The Fourth of July, on the other hand, is about the overthrow of kings, and the institution of democracy. Nobody reigns forever and nobody has to adore anyone if they don't damn well want to, and you don't have to flee to Egypt on the Fourth of July.

Christmas foods are expensive, heavy and complicated, big meat dishes and pastries, the food of the rich and the aristocratic. Fourth of July foods, hot dogs and fried chicken and potato salad, are simple, inexpensive and republican, the food of the common people.

Christmas traditions as we know them are the product of the medieval world, a world of travel by horse -- sleighs and even post horns still show up on Christmas cards. It was a world with more forests than factories, and Christmas decorations, wreathes and boughs, tend to the vegetal. It was a time of the veneration of saints (Santa) and folk superstitions (his elves). Christmas is a holiday of faith, belief, and supernatural happenings: a god incarnated as a man. The Fourth of July is a product of the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Romantic Age, which overthrew the medieval world. There is nothing supernatural about it. It is a celebration of the rational individual, who doesn't reject the world for God and Heaven, but who engages the world, and deals with the world's vicissitudes not through faith and prayer, but through reasoned action. Its symbol is one of technology and science: fireworks. Christmas symbols look to the past, but fireworks look to the future: the practical application of physics and chemistry in the service of excitement and beauty, fireworks hint not only at the glory of humans borne by rockets entering the heavens, landing on the moon, and exploring Mars, but also presage the horrors of modern warfare.

I don't mean to beat up on Christmas too much. I like Christmas, despite its dark side. And one element of the Christmas mythos that everyone can appreciate is its emphasis on peace and good will to all men, which also is sort of the opposite of the Fourth of July. The Fourth isn't about peace and good will even a little bit. Fourth of July music is the raucous bandstand music of military brass bands. The Fourth has a strong flavor of strident nationalism, echoes of a young and testosterone-pumped nation, cocky with self-esteem, ready to pursue its Manifest Destiny with arms. That's the dark side of the Fourth of July.
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