Two days in one

I can’t quite wrap my head around how to locate Christmas in American culture. It seems to have two completely different meanings.

As far as I can tell, the two meanings of Christmas are only tenuously connected with one another, at best. In my head I have started to think of these two meanings as “Jesus Day” and “Santa Day”.

Jesus Day is an important Christian day of religious observance, celebrating the birth of Jesus. In that sense it is, for many millions of people, a highly solemn and spiritual occasion.

In startling contrast, Santa Day is a time when America is gripped by a kind of feverish need to be jolly. Catchy songs play round the clock in shopping malls and airports, people dress up like Santa Claus or one of his elves, and lots of people drink way too much.

In addition, retail outlets do a huge chunk of their yearly business around Santa Day. Without Santa Day, the American economy would be much the poorer.

Non-Christians have no real connection to Jesus Day, but everyone in America seems to be involved in Santa Day. I’ve seen Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Athiests all wish people a “Merry Christmas”. Everybody understands that they are talking about Santa Day, not Jesus Day.

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