December 22, 2004
The Lileks That Stole Christmas
Here is something bizarre. James Lileks thinks that Christmas comes from a store--and that America's stores aren't pulling their weight. There's something very wrong here. There's something very wrong with the soul of somebody who thinks that Christmas is diminished because shopping malls don't put up MERRY CHRISTMAS in six-foot high letters. He needs to go watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", or read the the first three chapters of the Gospel of John, or start taking his meds again, or do all three:
Wednesday Dec 22: [C]lerks... seem flummoxed when you say “Merry Christmas”... the curious way the Post Office titled its “holiday” stamps... it called the Christmas stamp “Holiday Traditional.” I thought this was... unusual. Of course I meant so much more, but I dasn’t let on what I really feel. I did write a long, angry paragraph about how I blamed this webpage on sodomite penetration of the venerable postal service... and I warned you all, warned you, that unless we put CHRISTMAS atop the page in 72 point type we are doomed to go the way of ancient Rome, lost in a swirl of sybaritic vapors and unable to resist the Huns with thier hordes of gay Jewish trial lawyers, or something like that. But I took it out. The truth may set you free, but it gets you called to the editor’s office, too. I’m on shaky ground as it is, coming out with a Brave Defence of Christmas in a major newspaper....
If they’re saying Merry Christmas on the Upper West Side, then obviously my first-hand observations in Minnesota shopping malls are baseless. I stand covered with chastenedness.... What amuses me, if that’s the term, is the way retailers and large media have shied away from saying “Merry Christmas” because it might offend the prissy little busybodies who spend their life like a dental filling in a tinfoil blizzard. It’s not because these organizations have great red flaming antipathy to Christianity; they’re just taking the path of least resistance. Quietly scuttling Columbus Day sales doesn’t mean they are opposed to 15th century Iberian seafarers; it just means they don’t want protestors on the sales floor throwing blood on the Calvin Klein hosiery in the name of the anti-imperialistic cause.
It’s been a long time coming.... Ads in ’44 mentioned Christmas a great deal; it was one of the things we were fighting for... the announcer gave a list of things for which the audience should be grateful, including “our God-granted victories in the war.”... I suspect that if a Fox anchor ascribed the conquest of Fallujah to God’s will, [James] Wolcott would erupt in hives so great and so lurid his cats would scuttle under the sofa, and would not come out until he’d coaxed them out with a crab cake from Dean and Deluca....
The balance began to shift in the 80s; by 2002... it’s all Seasons Greetings.... And if the term has faded from the common language of advertising, then it reflects something in the culture. Or rather the overculture – that twitchy, cheery, idiot blare produced by a stratum of coastal types who think the rest of America truly gives a shite whether Lindsay Lohan lost her Blackbird at a party last week, and who actually know who Anna Wintour looks like....
[I]s it possible that some people in the overculture lack an elemental understanding of what this holiday means?... I don’t think people in the Evil Coastal Godless Baal-Loving Media hate Christianity.... [they] hold it in disinterested contempt, the way they view NASCAR and Simplicity dress patterns and those giant salad forks some people inexplicably used as kitchen-wall decorations. But for many -– yes, the dreaded inexact “many” -– religious ideas don’t register at all, so they don’t know how their actions might seem to those who take the whole God thing seriously.... 98.025 of the population has no trouble with Merry Christmas shouted long and loud and clear this time of the year. Why, then, do the retail giants and big corporations seem to get a frozen Joker-smile when you bring it up?... Southdale, the nation’s first enclosed shopping mall, hung MERRY CHRISTMAS in six-foot tall letters in 1963. This year? Not a word.... If you don’t think that’s an interesting development, or wonder why it happened or what it means, fine....
Note: in one of those classic little asides meant to endear him to the chic upper-left-side Mo-Dowd demographic whose uteruses have turned to something indistinguishable from papyri rescued from Herculanuem, [Wolcott] refers to me as a “blogger beloved in the daycare community.” Whether this is a swipe at my infantile politics or tendancy to write about my child, I don’t know.... Everything about his work suggests that he has cats... a soul whose incessant pissy hauteur is best expressed at the moment when they dump a stinky disk of fish guts into the bowl and mutter something clever to the elegant creatures feasting at their feet. The fact that the cats don’t quite get what you’re saying is irrelevant....
Posted by DeLong at December 22, 2004 08:24 PM
Amongst other things, this post makes Lileks eligible for two of Andrew Sullivan's Malkin awards (explained, without generating hits for Sully here: http://sullywatch.blogspot.com/2004_12_05_sullywatch_archive.html#110253895382540643 -- basically it recognises the most cliche-ridden polemical sentence), with:
I don’t think people in the Evil Coastal Godless Baal-Loving Media hate Christianity.... [they] hold it in disinterested contempt, the way they view NASCAR and Simplicity dress patterns and those giant salad forks some people inexplicably used as kitchen-wall decorations.
in one of those classic little asides meant to endear him to the chic upper-left-side Mo-Dowd demographic whose uteruses have turned to something indistinguishable from papyri rescued from Herculanuem, [Wolcott] refers to me as a “blogger beloved in the daycare community.”
Posted by: P O'Neill at December 22, 2004 08:51 PM
"[they] hold [Christianity] in disinterested contempt"
That's so unfair. I hold it in very interested contempt.
Posted by: Strange Doctrines at December 22, 2004 09:17 PM
"with thier [sic] hordes of gay Jewish trial lawyers, or something like that. But I took it out. The truth may set you free, but it gets you called to the editor’s office, too. I’m on shaky ground as it is, coming out with a Brave Defence of Christmas in a major newspaper...."
Though this is written as humor, it does seem that Lileks feels that a homophobic anti-semitic phrase is the truth. Paging Glenn Reynolds, paging Charles Johnson, paging Dennis Prager, paging Roger L Simon, ...
Posted by: jerry at December 22, 2004 09:20 PM
1Hey, Lileks, Felicissima Saturnalia tibi
Posted by: Brian Boru at December 22, 2004 09:46 PM
Roy Edroso has also taken note of this bleat, and he's a tad more acerbic than our host:
Posted by: Linkmeister at December 22, 2004 09:58 PM
"I don’t think people in the Evil Coastal Godless Baal-Loving Media hate Christianity.... [they] hold it in disinterested contempt, the way they view NASCAR and Simplicity dress patterns and those giant salad forks some people inexplicably used as kitchen-wall decorations."
He's poking at the condescension toward middle America exhibited by a significant portion of the Left, obviously. I wouldn't have mentioned the wooden salad fork decorations, though - those things really are goofy.
[It's not "poking fun": it's deeper than that. A lot of it simply isn't funny: "chic upper-left-side Mo-Dowd demographic whose uteruses have turned to something indistinguishable from papyri rescued from Herculanuem"?
I would have said that he is showing the bizarre hatred that many right-wingers have for New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles--for two and a half centuries, after all, conservatives have been condemning cities as centers of finance, deviancy, and uppity women. Lileks is simply following this old pattern.]
Posted by: Alan K. Henderson at December 22, 2004 10:08 PM
Brad: There's something very wrong with the soul of somebody who thinks that Christmas is diminished because shopping malls don't put up MERRY CHRISTMAS in six-foot high letters.
The question is not whether Christmas is limited to shopping. The question is whether an opinion of the small obnoxious minority affects "mass culture". Uniqueness of this case is that it plays in bottom line. The first time someone big enough (say, Walmart) makes a big deal out of it (Macys that stole Christmas) everybody else will realize that being *too* generic is a non-survival trait and they will turn around.
Posted by: a at December 22, 2004 10:15 PM
Yes you're right a! Obviouisly they should cater to Lilek's obnoxious minority! That would make more sense!
Posted by: Rob at December 22, 2004 10:18 PM
Rob: Obviouisly they should cater to Lilek's obnoxious minority!
Yeah, yeah. You are so funny. Brad's point is that the spirit of Christmas is not shopping till you drop. You on the other hand are just torturing poor old Santa Claus, taking his gifts, breaking his arms and legs and elves.
Posted by: a at December 22, 2004 10:53 PM
See, a radical might say that the culture of consumption surrounding what we know as Christmas is just a sign of decadence, a sign of the emptiness of the holiday and the shallowness of the people who perpetuate the myth of consumption by linking it to holiness.
A radical might say all ads during this season should be forced to bear the headline "Merry Christmas", so people can associate their actions of indulgence with a ritualized behavior that once celebrated the grace of a born human, and now celebrates shopping.
I'm too old to be radical, so I ain't gonna say it.
Posted by: wunderdog at December 22, 2004 11:28 PM
I wonder if Lileks may have a point. I just caught a news story on ABC early morning news about a California town that permitted the display of a Menorah, but not a Nativity creche, because the Nativity display was a religious symbol. The town rep owned up to this with a straight face.
Posted by: Steven Rogers at December 23, 2004 01:22 AM
Judging by his columns, Lileks lives his entire life by driving in his minivan, shopping at Target, and eating at Chili's. It may be that he has no other prism to view the world except through than the rituals of consumption observed at middle-class chain retail establishments. To Lileks, Macy's celebration/non-celebration of Christmas really IS the reason for the season.
>>>in one of those classic little asides meant to endear him to the chic upper-left-side Mo-Dowd demographic whose uteruses have turned to something indistinguishable from papyri rescued from Herculanuem, [Wolcott] refers to me as a “blogger beloved in the daycare community.”<<<
I like how Lileks, whose entire shtick is snotty little asides at coastal elites, reacts with such umbrage that someone should make snotty little asides at his expense. Apparently, only Lileks is allowed to play the roll of sharp-tongued critic - all others must bow before him in supplication. Wolcott's unwillingness to take Lileks' comments lying down really infuriated Lileks, didn't it? Where did that line about Mo Dowd's crinkly papyrus uterus come from? Lileks can dish it out but he sure can't take it.
Lileks desperation is pretty evident. He wants so badly to be celebrated by the coastal cultutal elites (see his account of his unsuccesful attempt to become a regular host on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" for big laughs) - the same cultural elites that he lambastes day in and day out. They (predictably) respond with indifference or scorn (as in Wolcott's case), which just makes him angrier and crankier, and the cycle continues.
Posted by: FMguru at December 23, 2004 02:12 AM
Gospel of John? The Christmas story is in Matthew and Luke, not John which starts with the baptism of Jesus.
[Oh, John starts *long* before the baptism of Jesus...]
Posted by: aiontay at December 23, 2004 05:04 AM
I note that in today's entry (12/23) Lileks avoids the C-word himself: "Enjoy this little bit of holiday cheer from us to you." "Holiday cheer"?!
Posted by: BayMike at December 23, 2004 07:13 AM
(blogwhoring=on)Pudentilla explains why the Red Christian insistence on "Merry Christmas" at the malls isn't particularly Christian. (blogwhoring=off).
Posted by: Pudentilla at December 23, 2004 07:25 AM
"I suspect that if a Fox anchor ascribed the conquest of Fallujah to God’s will, [James] Wolcott would erupt in hives so great and so lurid his cats would scuttle under the sofa, and would not come out until he’d coaxed them out with a crab cake from Dean and Deluca...."
Well, that's exactly what I would do. Except I don't have cats.
Posted by: Oberon at December 23, 2004 07:25 AM
As far as I'm concerned, the U.S. Christmas holiday celebration owes everything to Charles Dickens and his story "A Christmas Carol". All else is pretty much dross. It is worth mentioning that G-d and Jesus aren't the focus of said story, it's Scrooge. Who still keeps his Christmas very well, indeed...
Posted by: David W. at December 23, 2004 07:31 AM
"[they] hold [Christianity] in disinterested contempt"
-- I think he means "uninterested contempt". I'm not sure that disinterestedness and contempt are simultaneously compatible, but if they are, it's certainly not the insult Lileks is reaching for.
Posted by: JO'N at December 23, 2004 07:48 AM
Yes, let us do return to the wonderful days of yesteryear when Christmas was truly a thing to behold and the White Protestant majority treated Catholics, southern Europeans, Muslims, Blacks, Hindus, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and assorted other groups with utter contempt. After all, nothing could be worse than the snobbish elitism of New York (Jewish, I presume) elites who look upon Minneapolis-based loons with "disinterested contempt" for not having a f*cking clue what a joyous place Manhattan is during the Christmas season.
I wonder how he'd fill if the remnants of a certain other Roman religion were bleating on about how we had to put Mithras back in Christmas? (see http://republicofheaven.blogspot.com/2004/12/put-mithras-back-in-christmas.html )
Posted by: Lee Scoresby at December 23, 2004 08:04 AM
Everybody who demands to be "Merry Christmas"'ed, should get the phrase forcibly tattooed to their forehead for easier recognition.
Then I'd abide by their wishes. Probably.
Posted by: Felix Deutsch at December 23, 2004 08:16 AM
Lileks is not only spectacularly wrong, he's also brazenly lying. I live in Nordeast Minneapolis, and undoubtedly shop at many of the same malls he does. Not only do the shopkeepers wish you a Merry Christmas, Rosedale has been playing very traditional Christmas carols over its PA system for the last month, complete with lyrics about the birth of Christ, even.
Posted by: J. Michael Neal at December 23, 2004 08:21 AM
the chic upper-left-side Mo-Dowd demographic whose uteruses have turned to something indistinguishable from papyri rescued from Herculanuem
What exactly is the maroon trying to say here. I know its an insult, but I'm trying to figure out how it fits into Lilek's idiotic rant. Somehow, the fact that women in Manhattan have uteruses is supposed to be insulting? Seems to me a uterus was a fairly important factor in that very first Xmas, wasn't it?
[He's saying and women in Manhattan have shriveled-up uteruses: that they are unnatural creatures whose crimes against nature have caused them to become infertile, unfeminine, and contemptible. It's a standard anti-feminist trope.]
Posted by: flory at December 23, 2004 08:30 AM
The evil, godless, and Baal loving is all over, not just on the Coasts. They don't like lots of water.
Posted by: cloquet at December 23, 2004 09:01 AM
Wrong about Lindsay Lohan.
Sales of People and US weekly, not to mention the real tabloids, are just as good in the heartland as on the coasts. Lileks reveals himself as the elitist with his claim that "the rest of America" doesn't care about Lindsay Lohan. Lileks may be speaking to Curmudgeonly America here but the sales figures show that he entirely fails to speak for "the rest of America".
Of course in the same sentence he uses the construction "gives a shite" revealing himself as a hopeless anglophile and such a great wanker that he can't even use as simple a word as shit without dressing it up.
Wrong and a silly fop.
Posted by: retief at December 23, 2004 09:12 AM
"Here is something bizarre. James Lileks thinks that Christmas comes from a store..."
This is why you guys lost the election.
[But he does. His gripe isn't that Americans don't go to church on Christmas. His gripe is that big corporations don't put up enough "Merry Christmas" signs.]
Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan at December 23, 2004 09:43 AM
Isn't it basic business ethics or corporate identity, or something I slept through at college, but...
As an individual (Catholic) I can wish someone Merry Christmas, that the primary lessons of Jesus are peace, compassion and taking care of the less fortunate. That's my faith, so I impart my good wishes on you in honor of the holiday.
How can a corporation or business hold to a faith or religion? It's not an individual with a soul. When K-Mart dies, does its soul go to heaven? No, "it" doesn't have a soul, "it" doesn't hold a religion, "it" can't comprehend the spiritual meaning of Christmas, so how can it wish Merry Christmas to me?
Now, the president of a company can wish me Merry Christmas (and I'll consider if the wish is sincere or a marketing ploy), or Happy Hanukah if the CEO is Jewish (thanks for the blessing), but a corporation can't do these things.
Posted by: Brendan at December 23, 2004 10:16 AM
The Huns of the Fall of Rome fame were also Christians. So that analogy doesn't work so well.
Posted by: Dale at December 23, 2004 10:35 AM
Steven Rogers: I believe that's well-established Supreme Court precedent. In the test cases in Pittsburgh a while back, Christmas trees and menorahs on public property were upheld as symbols of the season or suchlike, but Nativity scenes were struck down as just way too religious. I'm not a lawyer and I haven't looked that up, so check for yourself; but I think this can be basically laid at Sandra Day O'Connor's feet.
Jerry--yeah, there's a lot of anti-Semitism swirling around this issue. Check http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2004_12_19.php#004288 from Josh Marshall, wherein he points out that some of the fuss about "Christian-bashing" is being stirred up by William Donohue of the Catholic League, who also (http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2004_12_05.php#004195) attacks Hollywood for being controlled by secular Jews who favor anal sex and hate Christianity.
Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 23, 2004 10:45 AM
I say put Mithras back in Christmas! Let's go back to a pre-Dicken's Christmas, which was a hold-over from the Roman Saturnalia. Let all the poor and all the wastrels (God bless them, everyone!) wander from one wealthy household to another, all over this great land, demanding presents and lots of neat stuff, in general. Or there might be a very rowdy, noisy joyous, spirited and gay Holiday Season celebration (in the course of which things might get broke, inadvertently -stuff happens, you know.)
I would like to see this guy's column about that.
Posted by: jml at December 23, 2004 11:29 AM
Brad: [But he does. His gripe isn't that Americans don't go to church on Christmas. His gripe is that big corporations don't put up enough "Merry Christmas" signs.]
This is very elitist. We can complain about and try to reduce the influence of mass culture. However we have to live with it. Christmas cheer and gift-giving is good-natured and widespread. Objecting to it on the grounds that Christmas is an invented holiday is silly - all holidays are invented. For a business it is also non-survival trait, at least once the public catches on.
[So you're arguing that the message of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"--that Christmas *doesn't* come from a store--is elitist and anti-American? How sad.]
Posted by: a at December 23, 2004 11:40 AM
Merry Christmas, dammit
and everyone who does not believe should be murdered in the lords name.
i.e.: check history past 2000 years!
Posted by: Dave S at December 23, 2004 01:55 PM
DeLong: "Here is something bizarre. James Lileks thinks that Christmas comes from a store..."
Pat Sullivan: "This is why you guys lost the election."
Ah. So Sullivan is now agreeing with those liberals who think that Kerry lost because of religious bigotry? Fascinating. (Never mind that it isn't what the voting patterns show.)
As for Christmas: it was ruined a long, long time ago, and not by the Godless Non-Christians And Liberals -- but by the merchants. C.S. Lewis, than whom there was no more committed Christian on Earth, wrote a bitter little essay back in the late 1950s about the total replacement of Christmas by what he called "the racket of Xmas" -- the endless, exhausting, joyless, morally meaningless routine of adults running around frantically buying presents to exchange with each other (and straining to guess what the other person might like, instead of simply asking them) not out of affection but out of ritualistic social obligation. As for the kids: the only spiritual value Christas has inculcated in them for a very long time is greed. So why isn't Lileks attacking that giant, insted of straining to find a gnat and artificially enlarge it to huge size in order to bash liberals with it? The question answers itself.
Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 23, 2004 02:35 PM
Brad: [So you're arguing that the message of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"--that Christmas *doesn't* come from a store--is elitist and anti-American? How sad.]
Not entirely fair.
First of all I said nothing about anti-American.
[Nonsense. To be "elitist" is to be "anti-American" in right-wing code: that's been the point of the attack ever since Spiro Agnew, if not Adlai Stevenson.]
Second, I said your comment was elitist. [But he does. His gripe isn't that Americans don't go to church on Christmas. His gripe is that big corporations don't put up enough "Merry Christmas" signs.] I still think it is - mass culture needs symbols but we have to recognize them for what they represent. Merry Christmas signs, Christmas cheer and gifts represent good feeelings.
[And "happy holidays" does not represent good feelings?]
The stores "genericizing" the Christmas signs do not do that to teach the true meaning of charity and goodwill. They do it in response to stink raised by the small group of people who hate everything Christian.
[Ah. The mask drops.]
Posted by: a at December 23, 2004 04:05 PM
[Nonsense. To be "elitist" is to be "anti-American" in right-wing code: that's been the point of the attack ever since Spiro Agnew, if not Adlai Stevenson.]
That has nothing to do with me. When I say elitist I mean elitist, not anti-American, left-wing or right wing. You have legitimate arguments - why are you demeaning yourself by accusing me of saying things I did not say?
Posted by: a at December 23, 2004 04:19 PM
[Ah. The mask drops.]
Posted by: a at December 22, 2004 10:15 PM: The question is whether an opinion of the small obnoxious minority affects "mass culture".
What's up with you - bad day at work?
Posted by: a at December 23, 2004 04:23 PM
How many entries and no one has mentioned "It's Christmas in Heaven" by Monty Python? Is that sad or is it more sad that I brought it up? Damn.
Posted by: bigfoot at December 24, 2004 01:01 AM