Well, I did it, beloved. I made it all the way through Advent without talking about Christmas once (okay, so maybe I mentioned once or twice, But, still…). But, now that the Christmas season is here, I can yammer away as much as I want and not worry that some damn high-church liturgy freak will try to “educate” me about church seasons. At least, I can until January 6th, which is the Feast of the Epiphany. After that, it’s time to prepare for LentOh boy!, which marginally better than Advent because at least there’s the promise of decent weather at the end. It’s not easy being a curmdugeon at Christmas, but someone has to do it.
Now that Christmas has finally gotten here, let’s talk about something that is usually swept under the rug: racism in our celebration of the holiday. And, if you don’t think this is a thing, you really need to open your eyes because even a cursory look will reveal the racism is evident in Christmas. From art to music to Jolly Old Saint Nick, himself, we have whitewashed this holiday so completely that very little of the original people involved remains.
Let’s start with art. Take a look at Gerard van Hanthorst’s painting of the Nativity:
Now, what do you see? A group of people gathered around a manger in a stable, oohing and ahhing over 8 lb 6 oz new born infant Jesus? Sure; but, look a little closer. Notice anything about those people? Like, maybe they’re all white, European folks? That’s interesting since Jesus was born in 1st century Palestine and, at that point, most white European folks didn’t even know that Palestine existed, much live there. To steal from paraphrase a current meme, perhaps Jesus’ greatest miracle was being born a white guy in 1st century Palestine.
Next, there’s music. There are many excellent African-American carols, like this version of Children, Go Where I Send Thee:
If that doesn’t give you the chills, something’s wrong. But, most of us only know about Mahalia Jackson singing Go Tell It On The Mountain. And, even you do look for these songs, good luck finding a version that isn’t performed by white artists.That’s a problem and not just because you’re cheating yourself out of some excellent music by excellent musicians.
Lastly, there’s Saint Nicholas. These days, when you say St. Nick, the first image that pops into people’s minds is of a jolly fat man in a red suit who just happens to be whiter than sour cream, i.e. Santa Claus, probably because Saint Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving. While that reputation seems to be based on legend and folklorewhich is still cool since it inspires people to be a little less shitty to others, if only once a year, we do know some things about the real Saint Nicholas: like the fact that he was born into wealthy Greek family in the Roman province of Lycia et Pamphylia, which is now part of Turkey in 270 CE. In other words, St. Nick was one of the brown people, not a lily-white pagan god who ultimately morphed into the jolly fat guy we know today. Here’s an interesting side note: Sinterklaas (a Dutch holiday figure who contributed his name to the current dude) had a sidekick named Zwarte Piet, who just happens to be a black guy. While Sinterklaas has pagan rootssee “lily-white pagan god” link above, Zwarte Piet’s origins are little later, sometime around 1850. But, even here, people of color get screwed because Zwarte Piet is traditionally played by a white person in blackface. Isn’t that nice?
Like everything else in this world, Christmas wouldn’t be what it is without our brothers and sisters of color. Maybe it’s about time we realized that and did something about it.