Sunday, December 27, 2020

Who Has Been Warring Against Christmas?

 Where I am the Third Day of Christmas is just finishing with the news that Grinch Trump has ended his own brief War on Christmas and is signing the Covid-19 relief bill, thereby reinstating unemployment benefits for 14 million people although they'll miss a week of payments, as well as preventing millions more from being evicted from their rental housing units, along with the Omnibus spending bill so the government will not shut down after tomorrow.  There has been less noise this year about the War on Christmas by the usual gang of right wing media types who like to whine about merchants and others saying "Happy Holidays!" rather than "Merry Christmas!" during the runup to Christmas, probably because so many of them have been caught up in whining about Biden supposedly stealing the election from Trump.  But this somehow draws my attention to another group entirely who have been at warring on Christmas for a long time.

So according to most of the major Christian denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church, and the Episcopalians, and Lutherans, and others of that ilk, the official proper Christmas season actually is the Twelve Days of Christmas, the first of which was Christmas Day itself, with the twelfth day of Christmas being Jan. 6, the Epiphany, the day supposed the Magi (Wise Men) visited the Baby Jesus. But for many they are not even willing to wait until New Year's day, the official seventh day, to bring it to an end.  There I was on Facebook yesterday, the second day, also known as Boxing Day in UK and some other places, and an FB friend posted about being "glad it is over," with a commenter on that thread getting even more worked up and declaring to have "taken down out tree and put away all the decorations, I could hardly wait for it to end!"  Yikes! Along these lines for some years now around here there is a rock/pop radio station that begins playing cheesy commercial "Christmas" music like "Frosty the Snowman" all the time starting almost immediately after Halloween, but reverts immediately to its usual fare starting December 26, the Second Day of Christmas. Sheesh!

Yes, it looks like that old bugaboo, the commercialization of Christmas and those pushing it have been the real Warriors on Christmas, shutting down the Christmas season the minute after it truly officially starts. They have been at pushing it earlier and earlier into the year, so of course gobs of people are totally sick of it by the time Dec. 25 comes around and are ready to toss it all out the following day.  Hooray! Nor more Christmas!  For a long time there were no commercials before Thanksgiving, or at least so it seemed when I was young, although the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade had long been the unofficial beginning of the commercial Christmas season with it ending with the arrival of Santa Claus to be followed the following day by the Black Friday of Christmas shopping.  Indeed, that parade and Macy's and other stores in New York played a major role, along with the Coca Cola company in the early 20th century, in creating that modern image of Santa Claus, out of the image in the Clement Moore "Night Before Christmas" from the 1820s, which in turn drew on some versions of the Dutch Sint Niklaas who was celebrated by New York Dutch. All this was crucially at the heart of this vast commercialization that overcame the old Puritan resistance to any celebrating of Christmas.

But somewhere in the last several decades that Thanksgiving boundary was broken through.  The Christmas ads, and then the cheesy movies and music, all began earlier in November and proceeded to creep ever earlier, egged on by radio stations like the one near me that gets it going the minute Halloween has passed.  And in more recent years even the Halloween barrier seemed to begin to get broken, with ads appearing here and there even in late October.  No wonder so many have gotten so sick of it by the ostensible "First Day of Christmas" they are ready to toss their trees and purge their homes of any shred of decorations still lurking about.

Some have objected to all this.  One curiously has been the Jewish comedian, who came up with calling Dec. 23 "Festivus" to recognize this commercialized version of the holiday.  But not only has this not really caught on, but some have even accused him of engaging in "the War on Christmas" with his suggestion.  A quite religious colleague of mine who was a journalist once upon a time wrote a column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal of all places some decades ago in which he proposed that, like Seinfeld, we create an alternative celebration, which he said should be called "Excessmass," to be when the commercialized version of the holiday could be celebrated, so as to leave the good religious Christians like himself to have their proper holiday left alone.  That proposal has gotten even less far than the "Festivus" one by Seinfeld.

S o there we have it, folks.  The warriors on Christmas have been its commercializers, lot these many years.  Have a happy what is left of the Christmas season!

Barkley Rosser

Long Addenduem, next evening:

In may family when I was a kid, raised Presbyterian with a quite religious mother and a much less so father, we did not start celebrating Christmas until Dec. 1, the beginning of Advent, and did keep it up through Jan. 6.  Did not watch the Macy's parade on TV or otherwise recognize Black Friday or any of the rest of it prior to Dec. 1.

So I shall note how widely varying this is across countries.  In Russia Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7 by adherents of the dominant religion, Russian Orthodoxy, although areas in the western part of the former USSR were dominated either by Catholics or Lutherans and thus celebrated it on Dec. 25.  As it was under Communist Party rule, public celebrations of Christmas itself were largely suppressed, although during most times were allowed to some degree to happen in the churches with services.

However, another much celebrated holiday had been celebrated since the time of Peter the Great that took on many aspects of Christmas we see in the West, trees, lights, and gift giving within families, as well as celebratory eating and drinking, with gifts being given by a Santa Claus-like figure known as Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz) who is accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden.  They are derived from pre-Christian pagan figures.  Anyway, this holiday is New Year's Eve (Snovem Godem), which is a much bigger deal than either Dec. 25 or Jan. 6.  It should be noted that Grandfather Frost is kept clearly distinct from Saint Nicholas, who is the patron saint of Russia.  In icons he is usually portrayed as beardless and with a long face, which fits his traditional appearance as thin and kind of grim actually, not a jolly old elf at all.

Then we have Catholic Mediterranean nations, with me having observed this period in particular in more than one year in Florence, Italy.  In this part of the world Christmas celebrations make a big deal about Mary and her role in it all.  So in Florence public Christmas decorations, especially lights, do not go up until Dec. 8, Mary's birthday. Most of those decorations come down after Jan. 6, but certain ones remain longer, most especially Nativity creches, which remain in churches until Feb. 2, yes Groundhog Day in the US.  But in the Roman Catholic Church this is Candlemas, coinciding with a pagan Celtid holiday, but known ad Candlemas and also marking 40 days after the birth of Jesus, when supposedly Mary entered the Temple to be purified, making it also the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin.  So there, for all those who want to get over Christmas on Dec. 26, take that!


Not Trampis said...

I share your colleague's sentiments

Anonymous said...

The Epiphany was traditionally Jan. 6, but I believe since Paul VI's revision of the Catholic liturgical calendar, it can also fall on the Sunday between 1/2-8.

If only people in the US other than in New Orleans waited until after the Epiphany for the traditional Carnival season as celebrated in South America and across Europe, with Rio de Janeiro's and Venice's coming to mind. They'd be in for a treat!

kevin quinn said...

OK Barkley, let's see if I've got this straight:

Christmas Day: Celebration of the fact that many stores are closed -- you can still buy scratch-offs though!

Epiphany: Celebrates the day the wise guys arrive to shake-down the manger.

Candlemas: Mary emerges from the Temple. If she sees her shadow, we'll have 12 more days of Christmas. If not, Grandfather Frost will commence nipping at our noses.

coberly said...

well, i have been wondering if ancient astronomers could tell that Jan 6 is the day the sun stops rising later and later and starts rising earlier and earlier. or is it just a coincidence?

i think they were capable of doing it, but i don't know if they actually did. my theory is that they were perfectly capable of dividing the sky into equal intervals (degrees) and then noticing that the sun appears to move through more degrees at some times of the year than at others. but they would have had to have had a way to keep track of sun during the night. i am sure they could do that too, but i don't know for sure.

any ancient astronomers (wise men) out there? said...


Good one on Mary and her shadow.


You are right on that one about the sun rising, although that shifts a bit from year to year, but tends to be around then. This year earliest sunset was on Dec. 6.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Wikipedia: ... Given that Earth's own axis of rotation is tilted 23.44° to the line perpendicular to its orbital plane, called the ecliptic, the length of daytime varies with the seasons on the planet's surface, depending on the observer's latitude. ...

Although the daytime length at the Equator remains 12 hours in all seasons, the duration at all other latitudes varies with the seasons. During the winter, daytime lasts shorter than 12 hours; during the summer, it lasts longer than 12 hours. Northern winter and southern summer concur, while northern summer and southern winter concur.

In the tropics
The tropics occupy a zone of Earth's surface between 23.44° north and 23.44° south of the Equator. Within this zone, the Sun will pass almost directly overhead (or culminate) on at least one day per year. ...

Around the poles, which coincide with the rotational axis of Earth as it passes through the surface, the seasonal variations in the length of daytime are extreme. In fact, within 23.44° latitude of the poles, there will be at least some days each year during which the sun never goes below the horizon. There will also be days when the Sun never rises above the horizon.

At middle latitudes, far from both the Equator and the poles, variations in the length of daytime are moderate. In the higher middle latitudes where Montreal, Paris and Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina) are located, the difference in the length of the day from summer to winter can be very noticeable: the sky may still be lit at 10 pm in summer, but may be dark at 5 pm in winter. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Why does the earth have its axial tilt?

The story of the Earth and its moon has traditionally started with the “big whack,” a collision between proto-Earth and a Mars-sized planet about 4.5 billion years ago that nearly vaporized them both and knocked enough debris into orbit to form the moon. Now, new evidence suggests that this impact also sent Earth into a very tight spin with a very sharp axial tilt, nearly perpendicular to the equator. ...

The new model is a lot more complicated, but it explains things that couldn’t be explained by the previous one, especially the moon’s orbital tilt. In this story, after the big whack, Earth spun around every two hours and was tilted a dramatic 70 degrees. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Why is the Earth tilted?

coberly said...


how much shift from year to year?


now yu need to look up analemma.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

'Anathem' (Neal Stephenson) is a personal fav. Does that count?

'Analemma' - In astronomy, an analemma (/ˌænəˈlɛmə/; from Greek ἀνάλημμα analēmma "support") is a diagram showing the position of the Sun in the sky as seen from a fixed location on Earth at the same mean solar time, as that position varies over the course of a year. (Wikipedia)

I recall understanding what's behind the peculiarities resulting from
earth's axial tilt in my junior high science course, which turned me
on to physics generally. I admit that it is harder to understand now
than it was then. As one ages, it becomes easier to believe the sun
revolves around the earth.

But the path of any given spot in the higher northern latitudes
(or lower southern ones) is longer during the night hours than
in daytime in winter, due entirely to the axial tilt. said...


Can shift as much as solstice, which can occur anywhere between Dec. 20 and 23.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Is this anything?

As Understanding of Russian Hacking Grows, So Does Alarm

NY Times - January 2

On Election Day, General Paul M. Nakasone, the nation’s top cyberwarrior, reported that the battle against Russian interference in the presidential campaign had posted major successes and exposed the other side’s online weapons, tools and tradecraft.

“We’ve broadened our operations and feel very good where we’re at right now,” he told journalists.

Eight weeks later, General Nakasone and other American officials responsible for cybersecurity are now consumed by what they missed for at least nine months: a hacking, now believed to have affected upward of 250 federal agencies and businesses, that Russia aimed not at the election system but at the rest of the United States government and many large American corporations.

Three weeks after the intrusion came to light, American officials are still trying to understand whether what the Russians pulled off was simply an espionage operation inside the systems of the American bureaucracy or something more sinister, inserting “backdoor” access into government agencies, major corporations, the electric grid and laboratories developing and transporting new generations of nuclear weapons.

At a minimum it has set off alarms about the vulnerability of government and private sector networks in the United States to attack and raised questions about how and why the nation’s cyberdefenses failed so spectacularly.

Those questions have taken on particular urgency given that the breach was not detected by any of the government agencies that share responsibility for cyberdefense — the military’s Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, both of which are run by General Nakasone, and the Department of Homeland Security — but by a private cybersecurity company, FireEye. ...

coberly said...


i think that "shift" is entirely a matter of the calendar year not being exactly a solar year...i.e. not a real, for example, the precession of the equinoxes..

there is probably a whole lot more to it than i know about. i was wondering if the ancient astronomers could detect it without accurate clocks. i think they could, but i have the same problem as Dobbs and can't prove it to myself..
I think...sorry if i have said this all before... they coud measure very accurately the position of the fixed stars, and by repeated measurements could also fix the position of the sun against that background and note that its rate of movement is not constant,... with accumulated position "error" very measurable with their instruments. if they noticed that and thought about it they would have (might have) realized that sunrise and sunset were not entirely a matter of the seasonal change in the length of the day.


no. i understand about not being able to do math and physics as one ages...for whatever reasons. but you need to read more about analemma. it is not "entirely" a function of axial tilt. to save you a little time: the earth's orbit is elliptical, resulting in earth being closer to sun at some times of the year than at others, this results in the speed along the orbit changing during the year. the rotation of the earth (daily) is regular as clockwork. with a clock you can detect the variation in the time of solar noon relative to that regular clock. draw a picture. or google analemma.