This Christmas Carol Kills Fascists

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, love, peace; a time to set aside differences and celebrate together. But what do we do with that hope of peace in a time that seems so utterly broken, when hate is so strong, and the powers of oppression and racism are on the march. What does Christmas even mean in a time like this?

In 1973 against the backdrop of Vietnam, the Yom Kippur War, Pinochet and the Troubles Madeleine L’Engle wondered the same thing. “This is no time for a child to be born/ With the earth betrayed by war & hate” she wrote that Christmas in “The Risk of Birth”.

A hundred years earlier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wondered as well, in the poem that would become the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. His wife had died two years prior, and his son had been grievously injured in the American Civil War. What good was Christmas two years to the day after South Carolina left the Union in order to protect chattel enslavement of Black Americans. How can you celebrate when “hate is strong and mocks the song of ‘Peace on Earth, Good will to men’?”

You hold on to hope. You recognize that the incarnation of Jesus — God becoming man — that Christians celebrate at Christmas, is a protest against the status quo of humanity. Longfellow reminds himself that “God is not dead, nor does he sleep.” L’Engle reminds herself that while “The inn is full on the planet earth”, “Love still takes the risk of birth.”

A few decades before Longfellow, Adolphe Adam put Placide Cappeau’s Christmas poem (and Christian socialist anthem) to music. Reworked into English, we know it as O Holy Night:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Hear the Angel’s voices: the joy of Christmas is a call to arms. It is a rejection of everything the powerful hold dear, everything that separates.

The century before that John Wesley wrote in Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! that Jesus was “Born that man may no more die.” A rejection of the status quo so great that it stands to turn the entire cosmic order on its head.

Christmas is good news to the poor, and bad news to those who oppress those poor. And that sentiment goes back to the very first Christmas song: The Magnificat, Mary’s Song, as recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke just after the Angel told her not to be afraid. She wasn’t:

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

No wonder in his 1968 musical adaptation of the passage Fred Kaan named his tune Sing we a Song of High Revolt.

Keep the Christ in Christmas:
x out oppression
x out out fear
x out death itself.

Well tonight thank God it's me instead of you.

The other day I said a somewhat inflammatory thing on Twitter, not that anyone who follows me on twitter would have been especially inflamed by it:

Now I said this based solely on a single trailer I'd watched, not having seen the actual film.

Tonight I went to see the Kirk Cameron's Video Christmas Card in actuality, and that tweet was so far off it's hard to defend. Saving Christmas isn't just applying Just War theory to materialism, it's applying it to avarice, gluttony, consumerism, cultural appropriation, and materialism.

You see, while Mr. Cameron pays lip service at the onset of his film to the idea that people who say "happy holidays" are trying to destroy Christianity, he's not trying to save Christmas from them. Kirk Cameron's saving Christmas from the Christians who see the current state of the holiday and think we've lost the plot. Kirk Cameron's saving Christmas from me.

During the late 90's there was a fellow traveling around American Evangelical churches calling himself Gen. Vycheslav Borisov, or General War. Borisov, or whatever his real name may have been, claimed to have been second in command of Russian forces in Afghanistan, a $1.5 million bounty on his head from the CIA. A helicopter he was riding in was shot down, and during the crash he cried out to God. Being the lone survivor he was now traveling around the US with a translator raising money to send Bible's to the no longer Soviet Russia. Communist turns in Red credentials and becomes warrior for God. A great story.

Part of the framing structure of Saving Christmas is talk of stories, of using stories for good, of framing stories properly to point in the right direction. My father allowed Borisov to speak at our church. I remember a conversation we had afterward where Dad acknowledged that the supposed Russian was probably a complete fraud. I asked him why he let it happen then. Dad said that at least in his fraud the man was spreading good news. 

Kirk Cameron's firmly in the camp Dad was in that night. Through emotional manipulation, obfuscation of facts, and outright lies Kirk Cameron's out to convince the only named character in the whole movie, his brother-in-law Christian (played by director Darren Doane), that all that stuff at his wife's Christmas party that isn't from the Bible is still holy.

That's right, to further twist this saccharine sacrilege of a morality play, our producers shout out to John Bunyan. Except this Christian isn't the everyman searching for Mount Zion, but a strawman who Cameron saves from the Giant Despair not with the key of Promise, but with blinders. I hope that's the most obtuse reference I make for awhile.

Christian takes issue with Christmas trees, which Cameron says aren't the pagan idols he thinks but are actually symbolic of Eden and the Holy of Holies and God's cool with worshiping symbols as long as they're symbols for Him. Christian isn't down with mountains of presents, but Kirk says materialism is good if it's used to celebrate a God made Material in Jesus. Christian doesn't like that Santa has surpassed Christ, but Kirk's down with that because the real St. Nicholas was a defender of the faith.

St. Nicholas! Goodness. Even ignoring the fact that modern Santa Claus just isn't a representation of the historical St. Nicholas we've got so many problems here. Cameron goes out of his way to misrepresent the beliefs of Arius as denying the divinity of Jesus. Without getting too deep into early church theology, Arius actually believed that Jesus was God, but a sort of lesser form, he viewed the Trinity as hierarchical, with the Father above the Son. Ironic that in the film Nicholas chastises Arius with John 1:1 ("In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was God") since Arius's whole argument is based on Jesus's own words recorded later in John (14:28) where he says that "The Father is greater than I." What is recorded in history as a slap an incensed Nicholas delivers to Arius's cheek at the Council of Nicea is then presented as an epically violent beatdown ("Lord of the Rings-y") with a walking cane in a tavern. Kirk's Nicholas isn't some "soft" "politically correct" nambypamby, but a deliverer of divine justice! But then the truth is nuanced, and there's not room for nuance in this movie.

With nuance one could argue that there is good in Christmas, and you can ignore the bad and still celebrate. With a little more nuance one could argue that there is good in Christmas, and you can acknowledge the bad and move on. Or you can go the Saving Christmas route and just claim that the bad is actually good, since it's done to glorify Jesus. I wonder what other sins Kirk will sanctify if you say you're committing them in Jesus's name. (Answer, middle-aged white people performing hip-hop dance to a remixed version Angels We Have Heard on High.)

I seriously wrote seven pages of notes while watching this. I'll have to leave out that Cameron seems to confuse Ebenezer Scrooge and Scrooge McDuck. And I'll never have time for the fact that while Kirk tells Christian that not everyone in the nativity story should "have light skin and clean clothes" every actor in any flashback, from the Palestinian Joseph and Mary, to the Libyan Arius and Turkish Nicholas, are played by incredibly light skinned actors. Even the animated opening has hundreds of white Wise Men.

Kirk tells us that "the early church had good reason to celebrate on December 25th" but never bothers to share what that reason was nor what qualifies as "the early church" considering Origen mocked Roman birth celebrations as pagan, Clement of Alexandria pegs the date of Jesus' birth as May 20th, and it's not until the 4th century that anyone's celebrating on a normal basis, and even then there's two dates: December 25th in the West and January 6th in the East. When your lack of nuance becomes outright lies you think you'd stop.

Well we can't stop! We've still got to get through the feast that reminds us that gluttony is also golden as long as we're fattening up for God! Be sure to invite "neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family" to your bacchanalia, enemies and the poor can wait outside. Please don't stand in front of the window, we gave to charity already thanks.

"All of this is what it's ALL about," says a man who's never seriously considered the ramifications of the words coming out of his mouth.

Just about the only respite in the whole film is the portion toward the middle where secondary characters are presented as idiotic conspiracy theorists for believing in the War on Christmas. Also these characters specifically cite FoxNews as their source for information. I'm really no longer sure who Cameron and Doane think they've made this movie for.