This past Christmas seemed whiter than usual, despite there not being much snow. With “Merry Coffee” on every cup of Starbucks coffee and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” playing on the radio constantly, Christmas has become deeply ingrained in white American culture. You might say, “Well Christmas is a Christian holiday, as the origins of Christmas relate back to the birth of Jesus Christ.” However, only 46 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas celebrate it within a religious context, which means that there is another significant reason as to why we celebrate Christmas (Huffington Post). Celebrating Christmas equates to joining in with the rest of the nation and enjoying the festivities that so many other Americans do. In some ways, celebrating Christmas is celebrating being an American.
When one dissects our jolly Christmas traditions, there lies a darker truth behind this “American” holiday. When I was a child, I was told that only kids on the “good” list would receive gifts. This led me to work extra hard when the Christmas festivities began to near. I would wash the dishes, vacuum the floors, and make my bed each morning—doing anything to prove my “goodness” to Santa. When I finally received my presents, I never questioned why some people got different gifts than others or why some didn’t receive any gifts at all. Doesn’t this concept of hard work as an equivalent to direct rewards and material goods resemble another “American” ideal? The American Dream has revolved around the idea that working hard ensures success, and is still used as an explanation for the success of people such as Abraham Lincoln and Bill Gates. It refers back to the equal capability and right to success, prosperity, and happiness defined in the American Declaration of Independence but offers no sphere to explain another fundamental aspect of America: privilege. Both the American Dream and ideals behind Christmas support the same idea of meritocracy, yet refuse to acknowledge or question the presence of systemic privilege. We do not question who can afford to buy these gifts, what receiving gifts actually mean, and the associations between America and Christmas. What message are we really communicating to our children when we celebrate their “good” behavior on Christmas by rewarding them with gifts?
There are dangerous ramifications with this holiday representing “America.” How does accepting and celebrating a fundamentally Christian holiday as a commercial and cultural norm accurately representing a country that is increasingly more diverse? I watched Christmas classics, iconic movies such as Home Alone and Love. I couldn’t help but notice that almost all of the characters were white. In 2017, only six of the 86 new Hallmark movies had actors of color as romantic leads (International Business Times). Even if you choose to associate Christmas with the beauty of giving and family bonding, there is a prevalent association between whiteness and the commercialization of the holiday. As a person of color grows up watching these films and unconsciously makes these connections, what does Christmas and celebrating Christmas entail? If Christmas is an “American” holiday, is this right to celebrate Christmas only reserved for white people? Does a merry Christmas only exist for those who have the money and privilege to do so?
I’m not trying to ruin your Christmas. It’s not my mission to demonize Santa or kill all Christmas spirit. The moments with your family on Christmas Eve, celebrating the times where everyone comes together, are so beautiful and so sparse. I love snow and Mariah Carey and gifts and eggnog as much as the next person. However, practicing this art of questioning seemingly harmless and innocuous ideologies is an essential part of how we grow more aware and conscious of the way we perceive the world.