The Holidays

A Christmas season think piece: Why pass on the beloved lie that is Santa Claus?

A Christmas season think piece: Why pass on the beloved lie that is Santa Claus?

It happens almost every year during the week before Christmas.

Someone sends an email to a list of friends (usually veteran parents and grandparents), or posts an item on Facebook that raises this old question: Is anyone else getting uncomfortable with the whole Santa drama?

There is always a second question that flows naturally out of that: What is the purpose of this elaborate and dramatic lie? What are we trying to teach our children by doing this and what do we say to them once the charade is up? After all, in families with many children the old ones have to help sustain the lie for the little folks.

A confession from me: My wife and I, even before converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, decided -- primarily based on my work in mass-media studies, with a lot of reading about advertising -- to skip Santa Claus and tell our children that St. Nicholas of Myra -- as in the 4th-century bishop -- was a real person. The also noted that people have long honored him on his feast day (Dec. 6th on the Gregorian calendar) with gift-giving traditions that eventually, in culture after culture, morphed into something else. We told them not to play that game with other kids, but not to mock them or, well, tell them the truth, either. The key: In our faith, saints are real.

Journalists, if this subject interests you -- especially the secular, materialistic side of this equation -- then you should read and file an essay at The Atlantic by Megan Garber that ran with the loaded headline:

Spoiler: Santa Claus and the Invention of Childhood
How St. Nick went from “beloved icon” to “beloved lie”

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Crucial religion info still missing in updates on holiday wars at University of Tennessee

Crucial religion info still missing in updates on holiday wars at University of Tennessee

We have some interesting news here in East Tennessee about the University of Tennessee holiday wars. I call them "holiday wars," as opposed to "Christmas wars," because it appears to be very hard to fight Christmas here in the valley framed by the Cumberland and Great Smoky Mountains.

As I mentioned the other day, UT's Office for Diversity and Inclusion posted very specific guidelines on how to make sure that official "holiday" party held on campus did not turn into, as the memo put it, a "Christmas party in disguise." The memo also instructed UT folks to use "non-denominational" holiday cards and said those attending holiday parties "should not play games with religious and cultural themes -- for example, 'Dreidel' or 'Secret Santa.' "

The news is that the memo that ticked off Tennessee Republicans -- the dominant party here in the hills -- is gone. Also, the diversity office's leader, Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall, now has a UT communications officer screening his website. The new memo -- text here -- contains zero instructions about how to edit Christmas out of campus parties. Here is a large chunk of the "new" memo, which apparently is a memo that was used in the past:

Recognizing a wide variety of cultures and beliefs, we should note that people choose to celebrate in different ways and on varying days of the year.
While there are many joyous occasions and special opportunities to gather, employee participation in any celebration should always be voluntary. While it is inevitable that differences will appear in how people celebrate, everyone is encouraged to have an open mind and to approach every situation with sensitivity.

Alas, there are all kinds of facts we still don't know about this drama, almost all of them linked to religion.

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Concerning 'holiday movies,' 'Christmas movies' and the civil religion found in shopping malls

Concerning 'holiday movies,' 'Christmas movies' and the civil religion found in shopping malls

It was one of quieter moments in the Christmas classic "Home Alone," tucked in between the church-pew chat with the scary next door neighbor and the open warfare between young Kevin McCallister and the "wet bandits." Do you remember the line?

Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen.

As prayers go, it wasn't much. However, this iconic moment also featured an heroic America child making the sign of the cross as he blessed his food. That's not your typical Hollywood gesture, either.

It caught my attention and it also intrigued the conservative Jewish film critic Michael Medved, especially when the film became a (surprise!) runaway hit with a US box-office gross the came close to $300,000,000.

I talked to Medved about the film back in 1991 -- pre-WWW, so no URL to that full column -- and he told me that "Home Alone" was a perfect example of a typical "holiday movie" that, with just a few nods of respect for faith and family, turned into a box-office smash that is also known as a true "Christmas movie."

I've been interested in this phenomenon ever since and, this week, that served as the hook for the latest GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Now, there is much that can be said about that "holiday movie" tag.

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