rn: On Christmas, racism, books…


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

I cannot help but kind of love this time of year, even though I am
distraught by all the consumerism. Ideally, we take time to look for beauty
(eg. cards, trees, snow...) and also to think of the people (and other
beings too!) we love and how we might show them we love them. 

Anyhow, one thing I would like to share with you is a book recommendation.
_THe Education of Little Tree_ by Forrest Carter. Unlike some books I love,
which are out of print by now this one is in its 19th paperbound printing
(!) and hopefully is widely available. I will quote from its foreward, by
Rennard Strickland, which itself begins with a quote from the book:

[begin quote]
        Gramma said when you come on something good,
        first thing to do is share it with whoever
        you can find; that way the good spreads out
        where no telling it will go. Which is right.

In reissuing Forrest Carter's _The Education of Little Tree_, the University
of New Mexico Press is doing exactly what Gramma advised young Little Tree....

Upon publication in 1977 _The Education of Little Tree_ was widely reviewed
and universally acclaimed. Reviewers as diverse as _The New York Times_ and
local mountain weeklies saw in _The Education of Little Tree_ an
inspirational and autobiographical remembrance of a young Indian boy which
might provide a fresh perspective for a mechanistic and materialistic modern
world. Thus _Little Tree found its first and most loyal readership among
those who cared about the young, about "growing up", about the Indian, about
the earth, and about the relationship of man and the earth.
[end quote]        

And now, in the spirit of sharing, here are two postings about Christmas
that I am glad to have received and thought you might find interesting.

all the best, Jan
From: •••@••.•••
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 17:57:38 EST
Subject: Fwd: Origins OF Christmas


 Paula Peterson

The following bit of history is not intended to discredit nor distort our 
beloved Christmas traditions.  Rather, it is offered as illumination which 
may shed light on some significant issues and hopefull enrich your experience 
of the Christmas Season. It is a piece of information, although brief for 
sake of space, that few people are exposed to, largely because it has the 
potential to cause a major upset to the status quo (and, indeed it has in the 
past).  Fortunately, more of the truth is being made available to all.

Most people, regardless of their religion or lack of it, accept the idea that 
Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Jesus the Christ.  The truth 
of the origins of Christmas have been well suppressed for centuries, for 
reasons of converting non-believers, or pagans, into the Christian faith.

More than a thousand years ago, in old Europe, the Catholic Church realized 
that it could not force the common folk or pagans into accepting the new 
Christian church or its doctrines by taking away their cherished ancient 
rituals of celebration that honored various gods and goddesses during 
specific dates throughout the year.  Gradually, the Church replaced the old 
pagan rituals and celebrations with Christian versions, strategically placing 
the new rituals and celebrations on or near the same days of pagan 
celebrations.  It is important to note here that pagan simply means
"country folk" or "country dweller" and was never regarded as anything evil 
or heathen until the Christian era.

Jesus the Christ was known as the Son of God.  When modern day researchers 
delved deeper into the matter, it was found that reference to the birthdate 
of the Son of God had relevance to the pagan "Return of the Sun" celebration 
which began on the Winter Solstice (December 21 - longest night of the year) 
with the Return (or birth) of the Sun commencing on the fourth day (December 
25), the first sign of the days became visibly longer once more.

The Return of the Sun was a powerful symbolic celebration.  And it still 
holds much power for us today.  It profoundly symbolizes the death or ending 
of a cycle (ending of the growing season; completion of the harvest; letting 
go of that which no longer serves us - as in the elimination of destructive 
behavior patterns, bad attitudes, overindulgence, attachment to material 
possessions - giving rise to the New Year's Resolution tradition) and invites 
in the purifying Light of the Sun which bestows Illumination, en-Lightenment 
and calls forth new life. Not only can we continue to honor Jesus the Christ 
on Christmas day as one of our most powerful and loved world teachers, we can 
also honor the Christed Spirit, the Light, or the Sun within each of us, 
being born again.
Letting go of the old and heralding in the new.  Out of the darkness there is 
now Light. This is how I have preferred to honor the Season of the Holy Days 
for fifteen years now.  I find that this practice of celebration increases my 
experience of peace, joy and true Spirit of Christmas.  It's not about the 
presents under the tree, nor is it about shopping 'til we drop nor eat 'til 
we explode, although there can be much enjoyment in moderate engagment in 
these activities!

The Christmas Season is about honoring the deeper meaning of the Holy Days 
and to celebrate our renewal through reuniting with the profound, infinite 
life & joy-giving properties of the Divine Light of the Sun - the God 
Presence or Holy Spirit  - that eternally shines and illuminates our lives- 
if we invite it in!  And one of the most powerful ways to invite in the 
Divine Illumination of the Sun - God/Holy Spirit - is through ritual and 
celebration, whether you do it alone in privacy or sharing openly within a 
group gathering.

Here is a comment by beloved Father Charley Moore (Catholic Priest and Elder, 
recently heard regarding a different topic on the Mike Siegel Coast to Coast 
radio show):

"Solstice means "sunstand".  For four days, the nights are the longest of the 
year.  But the day does not become visibly longer until the 25th of December, 
the birthday of the sun.  This day was observed in ancient Canaan, when the 
fruit was harvested, as the death day of Rimmon, the god of the Pomegranate 
("Out of One, Many"). It's seeds and pulp were consumed as bread and wine.  
The body and blood of Rimmon would rise again at Pesach Easter) in the spring.

"When the precession of the equinoxes was rediscovered by Hipparcus in 225 
BC, a "God of gods" was suspected who came to be called Mithra, after an 
Iranian diety of the same name, born on December 25.  His Mithraeum on the 
Vatican Hill in Rome was his greatest shrine and December 25 his greatest 
feast.  Christians, who did not know the birthdate of Jesus, came to 
celebrate it on December 25 to compete with Mithra, the god of the Roman 
army.  Hence it came to be called Christ Mass to celebrate the birth of the
Son of God.  Jesus was probably born in May, near Wesak, the day of the 
birth, illumination and death of Siddhartha, Buddha, and Bodhistva, the 
Buddhist 'trinity'". - Father Charley Moore.



PO Box 3395
Santa Cruz, CA  95063 USA
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2000 11:54:00 -0800
From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
Subject: A White Christmas

>White Christmas: Holiday Cheer, Christian Iconography, and the Symbolism 
>of Racial Supremacy
>By Tim Wise
>Well it's that time of year again. Time for all good Americans to focus on
>what really matters. Not family, community, or world peace, but that
>national sacrament of late-stage capitalism known as Holiday shopping.
>Whether you do it online, or drag yourself to the mall amidst the sea of
>humanity scrapping and fighting for the latest must-have gizmo, rest assured
>that your actions are vital to the national interest. In fact, the annual
>consumer bonanza unleashed in the last fiscal quarter is so central to
>defining life in the U.S. that the economy's strength in the beginning of
>the following year is literally tied to how much stuff we buy. So get out
>there and do your duty: Buy American. Be American. Shop till you drop, and
>remember, this is what it means to be a patriot!
>Now, being one who doesn't like to give advice that I myself am unwilling to
>follow, I must say that I too have been making the pilgrimage to the
>shopping centers lately, both to purchase desired items, and also to observe
>others in the process of this sociologically fascinating ritual. As someone
>who regularly writes about racism, you can probably imagine that I have long
>been especially intrigued by the way in which Holiday symbolism replicates
>notions of whiteness as rightness, and acts to reinforce, however subtly,
>racial supremacism. Yet, the full force of this process never really hit me
>until last week.
>It was then that I found myself at the mall, passing a line of parents and
>their children, waiting to have a few seconds alone with Santa. You know
>Santa, right? The big white guy who only works one day a year and yet no one
>calls him lazy; the big white guy who exploits elf labor in a sweatshop for
>no pay while his wife does all the housework, and yet no one calls him a
>slave master; the big white guy who invades millions of homes on Christmas
>Eve and yet, no one arrests him for breaking and entering. Yeah, that one.
>Though there has been an attempt to make use of Santas of color in malls
>around the country lately, I think we can all agree this is pretty absurd:
>if Santa were black, there is little question he'd have been shot dead years
>ago in the vestibule of some New York City apartment by the NYPD's Street
>Crimes Unit. After all, how could the cop be sure that toy gun he was
>bringing to the child inside wasn't real? Better safe than sorry; and
>anyway, that bright red suit would make him a logical target, seeing as how
>red is the color favored by members of the Bloods street gang.
>But it wasn't this kind of irony about a black Santa that animated the
>comment I heard while strolling through the mall that day. No, it was pure
>racial resentment and nothing else leading the white woman, child in tow, to
>say to her friend, "don't you think it's silly to have these Black Santas?
>Everybody's trying to be so P.C. I mean, come on, a Black Santa? Everyone
>knows Santa is white."
>Her friend of course agreed. Everyone knows Santa--a make believe entity for
>those who haven't figured it out yet--is white. The insistence on the racial
>purity of this entirely fictional being, as if this was a real person,
>struck me as hilarious, and right up there with the folks who send get well
>cards to their favorite soap opera characters when they fall ill on the
>shows. Ronald and Nancy Reagan are reported to have done this once. Fantasy,
>reality, ah screw it, who cares? I'm starting to realize the awful truth:
>white people are certifiably insane.
>It all made sense though once I passed the woman and noticed the holiday
>stationary and cards in her bag. The ones with the calming, soothing face of
>Jesus staring back at me. You know the Jesus I'm talking about right? The
>one with the pale skin, blue eyes, and rock-star good looks? Yeah, that one.
>The same Jesus that has occupied the minds of Western Christians for the
>last five centuries, ever since Michaelangelo was commissioned to paint his
>image, and used his lily-white cousin as the sitting model.
>Oh shit, I've stepped in it now. Questioning the ethnic heritage of Christ
>himself. And you thought this was just gonna be a cute little diatribe about
>the commercialization of the Yuletide season? Au contraire, mon frère.
>My wife and I have received many a Christmas card this season, and as
>always, the representations of Jesus that adorn so many of them cast the
>Christian Messiah as nothing if not European. Now I know my gentile friends
>have that song, "A Child is Born in Bethlehem," but I never realized until
>now that they had meant Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Silly me, but I always had
>thought the Christ child was born in that part of the world we call the
>"Middle East," which, if we were being honest, we would easily recognize as
>basically a part of Africa, separated from the continent by the man-made
>Suez Canal. As such, the odds of him looking the way he does in churches
>across America are pretty much slim and none. But don't tell that to most of
>his followers: especially the ones who are white like me.
>The suggestion that Jesus would have been dark-skinned (black in the
>admittedly non-scientific racial taxonomy of the United States), is about as
>blasphemous to most Christians as anything one could say. Of course, no one
>wants to admit their indignation at the notion, so they typically couch it
>in ecumenical platitudes like "it doesn't matter what Jesus looked like; it
>only matters what he did." OK, fine. I'm down with that. Although not a
>Christian, I've always been one who thought Jesus said and did some pretty
>exemplary stuff, unlike what so many of his modern disciples say and do. So
>then, if it doesn't matter what he looked like then why not make him black?
>I have asked this question when giving speeches on racism at religiously
>affiliated colleges, and let's just say, there's nothing like it if you're
>looking to see how fast you can get folks to start clearing their throats.
>Again they insist, "no you don't understand, it doesn't matter what he
>looked like, it's what he did." And again I repeat, O.K., fine, if it really
>doesn't matter then let 's make him black, just for a year. Then you can
>change him back again if you really want to. No biggie.
>No dice, and no takers. We go round and round, as white folks check their
>watches and try to figure out how they can leave the room without seeming to
>be rude.
>But let's be clear: the white iconography of Jesus that predominates in this
>culture makes absolutely no sense, except as an artifact of a white
>supremacist worldview. First off, the earliest representations of Jesus,
>Mary, and Christ's disciples appear in the catacombs of Rome, where the
>first Christians, known as Essenes buried their dead. All of these
>portrayals picture a dark-skinned Messiah. In addition, during the time of
>Roman Emperor Justinian II, the Empire minted a gold coin that pictured
>Jesus. This coin, which today can be viewed in the British Museum, shows a
>man with clearly non-white facial features and tightly curled hair,
>consistent with the description of Christ offered in the Book of
>Revelations, wherein it is noted that Jesus had hair like wool, feet the
>color of burnt brass, and resembled jasper and sardine stones: both of which
>were brown in color.
>Now I don't much care about the scriptural references myself, and far be it
>from me to insist on the infallibility of the Bible; but if the folks who do
>swear that every word of it has to be accepted as literal, don't also accept
>these descriptions--which clearly contradict the imagery on the Christmas
>cards, or that of the nativity scenes one sees everywhere at this time of
>year--then they are nothing if not hypocrites.
>And don't forget, according to Biblical lore, when Jesus was born, Herod
>sent search parties out to find him and slay him as an infant. To hide the
>Christ child, his family absconded with him to Egypt, and if there is one
>thing we can be absolutely sure of, it's that one would not have been likely
>to try hiding an Aryan baby and family in pre-Arab Egypt, of all places.
>This was, after all, a society of dark-skinned Africans (as evidenced in
>their own hieroglyphs); one that had referred to itself as Kemet (the Black
>land), for thousands of years, and themselves as "Kemetcu" (the black
>humans). The "father" of modern history, Herodotus, himself acknowledged as
>much when he said "the Egyptians, Colchians and Ethiopians have thick lips,
>broad nose, wooly hair and are of burnt skin." Elsewhere, he actually
>referred to them as "black." If Jesus had been white, Mary and Joseph would
>have put him on a slow boat to Canada, not trekked to Egypt where finding
>them would have been like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel.
>For those of you still reading, you'll either be laughing or fuming: if
>laughing, it's because you realize how silly the whitening of Jesus has been
>in this culture, and yet, how wedded we really are to that imagery; if
>fuming, well, it's because you think that somehow I'm being sacrilegious, or
>absurd. But I'm just reading what the good book says, and applying a little
>common sense and anthropology to the process.
>If you want to really see absurd, go pick up Volume One of the Robert
>Maxwell Bible Stories Series, which I assure you is sitting on a table in
>your doctor's office right now. There you will find Adam and Eve depicted as
>if the Garden of Eden had been in Norway, despite the fact that Biblical
>scholars all agree the Garden--whether viewed as a literal place or as a
>fictional metaphor--was bordered by two rivers, the Biblical description of
>which only fits that of the Blue Nile and White Nile: neither of which, last
>time I checked were to be found in Scandinavia.
>Some may ask what the point of all this is though frankly, it ought to be
>obvious. So long as our culture pictures Adam, Eve, Moses, Jesus, Mary, the
>Apostles, and even God "himself" as fair-skinned folk, despite the obvious
>preposterousness of such representations, we will continue to plant the
>seeds of racial supremacism in the hearts and minds of millions of people.
>After all, to believe that divinity is white like you leads one to easily
>assume that others are somehow less complete, less than human. If God
>supposedly made man in his image, and God is always portrayed as a bearded
>white man (kinda like Santa without the suit), how hard a leap is
>it--especially for children whose introduction to religion is always
>nine-tenths forced propaganda anyway--to assume that persons of color are
>somehow not full and equal "children of God?" Not to mention the sexist
>aspect of the male sky-God imagery, of course, which is a whole different
>can of worms.
>So now that I have managed to piss everyone off, here's wishing you all a
>very merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Resplendent Ramadan,
>and Super Solstice. Now get out there and shop! And take that damned
>Swedish-looking angel off the top of your tree for God's sake.
>Tim Wise is a Nashville-based writer, lecturer and activist. He can be
>reached at •••@••.•••