Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The battle of the holidays on social media (warning: contains Elf on the Shelf)

(this really cracked me up. I love Grumpy Cat! Photo courtesy of SlapCaption)

With the advent of the season of the holiday, my social media networks across the board explode with people spouting off about the various holidays, presence or lack thereof of religion, and the creepy factor of various holiday traditions. (sorry this gets a wee bit long...)

Case in point: 
Thank you Melissa Hillier for a much cleaner photo of the little Elf than I've seen! 

There's some debate about him. Evil? Not evil? Preparing children for a police state? Creepy? Not creepy? And goodness gracious, the stream of pictures from all the folks that have to move this elf once a day in order to play by the rules of the game as written. (though I do think some of the more adult ones are kind of funny, like this one!)

Here's the thing. When I was young (which was not that long ago!), I was taught that Santa is a representation of the spirit of generosity. He might not be a real person, but as a spirit of generosity he represents the idea that we all should give to one another. I mean, even the bad kids get coal, which can be used to warm one's house, so life is not all bad! 

It was your job to honor the goodness in the world all year long or you would be put on the coal list. There was nothing in these lessons about religion, about all year long stalking, or even a requirement to call him St. Nick and not Santa Claus / Kris Kringle. So you can be Jewish or Muslim or Atheist and still enjoy festivities and just don't bother with the "Christmas" name for the holiday. 

It wasn't until I was older that I even realized that there was a religious component to Christmas in the name and the motivation behind the holiday. As usual, it is because the Christians tried to borrow from various Pagan celebrations in an attempt to gain more converts. Pieces of the holiday belong to the Romans (Saturnalia and Kalends), Druids (mistletoe sacrifice), Norse Mythology (Balder is killed by a mistletoe poisoned arrow while fighting over a female), the Asheira Cult (Christmas trees), German and Celtic pagans (the cult of Nicholas), Asian culture (Nimrod, the fire god, was nicknamed "Santa"), the Irish (the "Yule Lads" left presents and played tricks on people), and even some work in the holiday belongs to marketers (i.e. Coke's depiction of Santa Claus). This muddled mix of sources thrown together into a holiday makes it easy to pick and choose which pieces of the holiday you choose to observe. Celebrate Santa but not poison or Christ's birthday or a celebration of the slaughter of thousands of Jewish people? Absolutely you can! BUT...you can also celebrate Christ's birthday. And you can also sacrifice a goat to Balder or pagan gods. That's the beauty of living in modern culture - unlike the 4th century CE when the Christian church borrowed Saturnalia to form the basis of Christmas, we have CHOICE. 

So getting me back to this little guy:


The tradition of the elves actually starts a LOT later than Christmas itself. It wasn't until the 1800s that the elves of the world were demoted into only existing to help Santa Claus do his work. Prior to this, elves were a sort of fun little creature that could help you or harm you - in Germanic and Scandinavian literature, elves were guards against evil and bringers of light and magic but if they were mistreated or you were a bad person, the elves would play tricks on you. But again, the sources get mixed. In the Netherlands, Santa travels with a sidekick named Zwarte Pieter (Black Peter), and in France, there's Père Fouettard (Father Whip) for Santa's sidekick, both of which are characters of very mixed good and evil. 

The Elf on a Shelf idea sort of brings back that idea of the "little people" or the "Wee folk" that can be good to you if you're good and bad to you if you are bad. And yes, I've always found that idea creepy. That someone or something is watching me 24/7. No person is ever going to be perfectly good 100% of the time - even sleeping people sometimes kick people in bed! So do I find Elf on a Shelf creepy? Yep. I wasn't even surprised when a Washington Post article proclaimed "The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns"

You've probably all already seen the arguments, so I'll skip to the good part - the comments. They are a lively bunch of folks who have a range of opinions, but the most interesting delve into the WHO is buying these things. You see, there's a strong belief that its mostly young mums out there buying these because they want to validate that they are good mothers just like their friends who are posting their "Elf on a Shelf" pictures on social media. It's all a scheme for validation, and in some cases, they even do it after the children are scared off by the "Elf". 

The thing I think young mums are not remembering is that they have a CHOICE. If you are bullied into using "Elf on a Shelf" and its other overpriced products than you are in the same situation people were in the 4th century CE - being told how to behave and how to validate your celebration as legitimate. There are wonderful young mums out there who don't tolerate this nonsense and have great kids. There are wonderful young mums out there who find the whole thing entertaining and do it for fun without the "rules" and involving their children in the process. 

You always have a choice in what you choose to buy and celebrate (unless you're in a totalitarian country like China or North Korea, then...I apologize). Don't let your social media feed bully you into needing validation just like others or trying to argue for "Putting the Christ back in Christmas" or "Banning Happy Holidays" or any other such nonsense.
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