This week, the hosts gather around eggnog lattes and hallmark movies (and some other classics) and chat about all things festive, Christmas, and holiday-esque. After getting nostalgic about their own traditions, they question; is Christmas a religion of its own? Is it only a Christian holiday? Or is it completely areligious? Listen in to find out the verdict!
Disclaimer – we may be on the edge of “mythbusting” when it comes to some favourites like Santa Claus. If you don’t want your little one to hear that, then wait until they’re sound asleep on Christmas Eve to listen to this episode 😉
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This week on Nearly Numinous, we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty about Christmas, we are talking about how Christmas has become a religion of its own. We get into some theoretical stuff like Clifford Geertz, but also chat about our favourite traditions, holiday films, and why Christmas has meaning for each of us. Most of you, and maybe all of you know that Christmas is traditionally a holiday surrounding the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who is seen in Christian traditions as the Son of God. There’s some extremely interesting history, but we don’t have enough time to go in-depth on all of the nuances of Christmas. But there are a few interesting points we thought we’d give you before diving into the bulk of the episode.
Okay, so mostly, I just want to talk about my favourite history surrounding Christmas. And that’s the history of the Christmas tree. So before it was brought into the Christian celebration of Christmas, evergreen trees were symbolic across a lot of different cultures, especially throughout the winter. This was because they would stay green all year round. So in the winter, when everything was dead and gray, the evergreen provided a way to liven up the home and put a bit of warmth and light into the grayness of winter. People would often place them in windows above doorways and just throughout the house. So what’s interesting about that is it was not only for decoration, but many people actually had superstition surrounding it. And some people believed that having evergreen trees and boughs around their house would ward off evil spirits. From more of a significant religious standpoint, many cultures that went through deep winters where many plants died would often view that as symbolic of the death of a god, or even the sickness of a god. So for example, in Egypt, they believed that through the winter, their sun god Ra would either be sick or dying. So at the turn of the solstice, when it was seen that the god was recovering from his sickness, they would use the evergreen tree to decorate as symbolic of life winning over death. This was also common with the Romans during Saturnalia, which we often associate with the traditions Christians adopted for the celebration of Christmas, but we also see it with Druids and the Vikings.
So we all know that Christmas is a religious holiday, but is Christmas also a religion of its own? To help us consider this we’re going to consult the definition of religion as theorized by Clifford Geertz, who was an American anthropologist that passed away in 2006. So his definition of religion goes like this. “A religion is a system of symbols, which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods in men…”
and women. And a non-binary folks
(laughs) True. “…by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence, and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” So there’s a lot there. So we’re gonna break it down, but looking specifically at Christmas, and how it may fit into this framework.
Yeah, it’s a bit of a mouthful. So for the first part of Geertz’s definition of religion, it states that religion is “a system of symbols.” So if we’re applying to this to Christmas, what are some of the symbols that you guys associated with Christmas?
I think of Christmas decorations and lights and the Christmas tree which Steph talked about.
The tree! I think of all of the rituals associated with Christmas, so I think this is different for every person in every family, but in general I see dinners, giving gifts, putting up your stockings, Christmas baking, watching Christmas movies together and things like that.
Obviously Santa Claus, reindeer, Rudolph, any other mythological Christmas figure like Krampus, he is a new favourite of mine. I don’t know if you guys have heard of him
A little bit. Tell us more though.
So Krampus is sort of seen as the antithesis of Santa Claus. So he, well, Santa gives coal to bad children, Krampus sort of actually punishes them, and in some traditions, like eats them whole or like take them down to hell or something. He’s kind of like a really hardcore Christmas mythological figure. And there’s some really great movies about him that I might mention a little later on.
But the second part of Geertz’s definition states that it builds off the system of symbols which he says “acts to establish powerful pervasive and long-lasting moods in men, [women and non-binary folks] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence.”
Yeah, so this makes me think, like, specifically the long-lasting mood. I think of, you know, Christmas cheer and giving and caroling. I also think about the effect that Santa Claus can have on the behaviour of children throughout the year, although I think most children tend to forget about being good for Santa until like, maybe like November.
Well, you mention Santa, not being in the minds of children all year round. But actually fun, fun little anecdote is I, my aunt and uncle, their grandchild, they kind of like ham it up for him throughout the year. So if, you know, my cousin’s child acts up, they’ll actually like kind of message my aunt and uncle and my uncle will like, get on the phone and like impersonate Santa.
and remind him that he needs to be a good boy, or else he’s not gonna get any gifts for Christmas. It’s actually quite hilarious. And he like calls him on his birthday, which is like in September.
Yeah, so they use this to kind of like keep him from misbehaving.
Oh my god, that kid is gonna grow up and feel so betrayed by his family. So the final aspect of Geertz’s definition says that these symbols “clothe those conceptions with such an aura of actuality, that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” And that’s a bit of a mouthful. But pretty much what I get from that, if we’re talking about this in the context of Christmas, and especially Santa Claus is that these symbols of Christmas become so pervasive and realistic that things like Santa Claus seem so real, especially to children. And they become such a concrete part of a yearly tradition, and even everyday life for some people.
So just like how we presented Durkheim’s theory of religion in our episode on Harry Potter, this is just one more perspective on how we can kind of categorize and classify religion. In Geertz’s definition of religion, we’re missing classic things like a supernatural element, or feelings of euphoria that often come with transcendent experiences. But even some of those things can be found throughout Christmas traditions.
So part of what makes Christmas so special for me is pretty much how pervasive it is in our culture. Like it literally seeps into all aspects of life during December, and you can’t escape the music or the lights or the food. And rather than just being a family tradition, it becomes a culture-wide tradition that everybody shares and indulges in at the same time. And I just think that’s so special. And that’s part of why Christmas is just such a happy time for me. What about you guys?
I think the thing that makes it so special to me is pretty similar to yours. But I think beyond the culture-wide thing, I even think that there’s certain emphasis on things like giving and loving others and spending time with family. So that’s maybe something that’s cross-culture, but when it comes down to it, it’s a way to kind of reaffirm your own community and feel connected to your own community. Even if you aren’t religious, you know, even if you don’t participate in the quote, unquote, the Christian Christmas.
Yeah, something else Steph mentioned, the whole thing about giving, and that’s definitely, like, that’s probably why Christmas is so prevalent in our culture is because we’re a capitalist, consumerist culture and so
Tell us how you really feel!
And so the whole gift-giving, obviously, like with, with stores really amping up those hose decorations, it really, really adds to the Christmas season. My mom would always talk about when she was a kid, she would go to the Bay. And that was really huge thing because… was it the Bay or is it Sears…
The Sears catalog?
No, it was um, well, the Sears catalog. Yeah, that’s true, but Eaton’s
Oh, the Eaton center!
Yeah, so my mom would go to Eaton’s and it would be all decorated. I think the Bay too, but like Eaton’s especially.
Yeah, I used to go every year with my mom in Toronto to the Eaton center and they would always like to decorate it over the top. It’s beautiful.
Yeah, there’s something about that when, I don’t know, like when those big department stores just have all the decorations everywhere, and it’s just so beautiful. So that definitely helps you get into the Christmas spirit as you’re Christmas shopping. Um, yeah, I don’t know.
And sometimes you get to meet Santa there too.
Yeah, Santa’s there
The whole like experience of going to the mall at Christmas time. Maybe getting some hot chocolate at Timmies or something too really adds to that like outing.
Especially a peppermint hot chocolate
Oh yeah, that’s very true. I just like had a flashback, though, like parking at the mall at Christmas time. Like, ugh! Once you’re in the mall, it’s fine. But getting to the mall, maybe gets you a little bit out of the Christmas spirit. But then you get into the mall, and then it comes back again. But I also think about like Christmas units in school, especially in French class, where you would learn the vocab of like Buche de Noel, or just like, you will learn about Christmas traditions in other cultures. I remember there’s this one unit, maybe in grade eight that I did where like we all chose the country and chose a specific tradition from that country, and then we would give a PowerPoint presentation. And we were also supposed to bring like baking or something if there was baking from that country that was traditional. And it was just like, you know, it’s just, there’s something special about that too. Like, at school. Largely because the food. Yeah.
I think too, though, on that note, you know, every single school and like, in Canada and most workplaces, you get time off for Christmas.
You know, it’s very symbolic of like, time to like, sit back, rest, take a breath, you know, reconnect with like, things that aren’t your job or your schooling or whatever, right? So I’m curious about some of the specific symbols or traditions that are really important to each of you guys, because I think there’s there’s something so, you know, despite the fact that this is a culture-wide thing, everyone has their own personal traditions, and they’re things that they really connect with over the holidays.
For me, I mean, obviously, like the Christmas tree, the baking, carols sung by Bing Crosby. He’s a classic Christmas singer in my house. Something we never really did in my house but I remember a lot from school when I was younger was advent candles. So like lighting up the purple candles for the first few weeks of Christmas, I believe it was and then the pink candle for the last one. I think that’s how it goes. I just loved seeing that each year in school. And then do you guys know the 12 days of Canadian Christmas song?
No? Okay. So it goes like instead of like in a partridge… “And a partridge in a pear tree” goes like, “and a beer.”
Oh, no, I have heard that!
And then also, like I mentioned earlier, there’s Krampus. If you haven’t seen it, there’s this amazing movie called “Krampus the Christmas Devil.” It’s just hilariously bad. Though pretty much all Krampus movies in general are just hilariously bad. So you should definitely check those out. Well, what about you guys?
So Christmas books have always been really important to me. So my mom bought Jan Brett’s Christmas Treasury when I was younger. And so for those that don’t know, Jan Brett is this author and illustrator. And she wrote “The Mitten” if you know that story, so in that story, I don’t want to like spoil it. But I guess it’s a fairly short story. So I guess I wouldn’t be like, spoiling too much. But essentially, this kid like loses on mitten. And these animals… It’s a white mitten and it’s winter and this child’s grandmother, I believe, was like “No like, like, be very careful. It’s a white mitten, like you can’t loses it in the snow.” And then of course, the child loses it. And it’s wool. And so it expands and so like, like a mouse goes in there and like it grows. Then like a fox goes in there. I’m missing some animals for sure. And then like a bear goes in there too. And like so it’s just like a massive mitten and then like it explodes. And then the mitten’s like floating up in the sky and the child sees it and like, finds the mitten again. So that’s a pretty, like classic. Have you heard that story?
I have not
Really? Um, okay, and so she writes a whole bunch more like that. And what’s really unique about Jan Brett’s books is that they’re super detailed, they’re super beautiful. But then also there’s usually panels on the sides or at the bottom that might show like, I think in “The Mitten” it shows like what animal is coming next like like it’s like walking by. But then there’s also another one where, I don’t know there’s just like there’s like a little, there’s a detail that happens on each page in this separate panel so I think in one there’s like a burrow where a hedgehog is like, living its life in the burrow like moving around it’s little apartment, and taking naps and stuff and it’s just so cute. Um, so I would read that every Christmas because there would also be a, yeah, that like “The Mitten” one isn’t necessarily like Christmas centered, it’s winter centered, but there’s also ones that are like, like about Christmas. And so I’d always read that book, I also had this really cute Christmas pop up book, um, that you could like, pull out. It had four rooms and so you could like, like, bend the cover back and like tie it and then like it would be like Santas workshop.
That’s so cool!
Yeah, it was my favourite. And I had like little, oh like paper, like, what are those called? Like paper…
Paper cut-outs, yeah. Yeah, um, there was like paper figurine cutouts of like, if there was Santa, there was a polar bear. And there’s a penguin and you could kind of like, play with them and like, move them about, and I would always, I always needed to do that, like, at least once every Christmas, just like pull them out.
Just because I was a weird kid. But it was super fun. And another like, really important Christmas tradition for me was my mom was like, she had this recipe from my Oma, my Oma is my grandma. And we call them oma cookies, which isn’t actually what they’re called. They’re, they’re essentially molasses cookies with translucent icing, but what’s really significant is like, um, it was it’s just like one of those recipes that’s passed on through the generations. And so we would always make that and some other cookies and listen to Point of Grace Christmas, like the Christmas album while we baked cookies, while we baked cookies. And it was just like, yeah, like we always needed to listen to that album while baking, so I still what like when I’m baking Christmas cookies, I’ll pull up that album around Christmas time, just because it like really gets me in the baking, the Christmas baking spirit.
Well, I’m sure the cookies wouldn’t taste as good if you weren’t making them while you were listening to this album.
It’s very true!
It’s all part of the process.
And like singing in the harmonies, that’s another thing is like, there’s four-part harmonies. And so clearly,
Do you hit all four of them?
I can’t quite like go do like the tenor voice. But I would definitely, yeah, I would. I would just sing in a different octave.
Very necessary! You need to jump around the harmonies to, Yeah, to really have that full experience. My mom would like, like we would trade harmonies and stuff.
Yeah. Have either of you ever gone caroling?
I’ve always wanted to, but I’m, I’m not an outgoing person. So so that’s not gonna happen.
That’s a lie!
I also can actually sing very well. So that’s the main thing.
I’ve done lots of caroling. Especially in high school, I was part of a jazz choir. And we actually like, like, we rehearsed different Christmas hymns and carols and we would get paid to sing like different events, which was really fun. Um, and also, like, I’ve definitely, I can’t remember if with that group if we went door to door, but I’ve also done that as well. And that’s fun, too. People tend to give you cookies.
Good to know. I don’t think this is the year to try it. But maybe next year, I’ll do it
Well, like with distancing, you know..
Yeah, but then you aren’t going to get cookies.
No, you’re not going to get cookies. That’s a downside.
Yeah. Anyway, um, some of my favourite traditions. I think one of the big ones for me is Christmas movies. So I have kind of like my standard lineup. I always watch White Christmas, which is a classic. It’s like the classic of all classic Christmas movies, I think. I also love the Polar Express. I’m such a sucker for the music in that. Yeah. Also, like the whole storyline is just beautiful. And Elf.
Um, I actually got like, quite emotional at the end of Christmas movies, especially like the Polar Express and Elf, the whole thing is like, “believe in Santa and you’ll make his sleigh fly.” And I always tear up. I’m such an emotional wreck about it. But I think too, you know, like eggnog lattes, I love or boozy eggnogs depending on what time of the day it is. Sometimes I mix it if it’s Christmas day and time doesn’t matter. You know, like, twinkle lights, stockings. You know, I always remember when I was a kid, my parents had a rule. So me and my brother are about five years apart. And then my sister is much older so we wouldn’t really bother her because she was a grumpy teenager first thing in the morning but my parents said to me and my brother, they’re like “you can’t wake us up before 7 am on Christmas Day.” And then as we got older, like shifted to like 8 am. But what we would do is when I was like a really little kid, I’m talking like four or five, we would… my parents would, or Santa would put our stockings at the end of our bed. And so me and my brother would like wake up at like four in the morning and just be so excited. And like, we’d hang out in like one of our rooms and like, go through our stocking, and then we’d like repack it and then at seven we’d go wake up my parents and like we’d all sit on their bed and we’d like go through our stocking as if we hadn’t seen it yet. Like they knew we had, they weren’t dumb. But yeah, it was pretty funny. So those are some of my favourite traditions. Um, but I don’t know if so if anybody seen my last name they probably know I’m of Dutch heritage. Only the Dutch people like to throw J’s where they don’t belong. But there’s a tradition, have you guys ever heard of Sinterklaas?
Only a little bit.
Yeah. So basically, Sinterklaas is you know, the kind of Dutch version of Santa Claus, the name’s very similar. And so my, my immediate family doesn’t participate in this as much but like my extended family does, and we still kind of like, enjoy the traditions. But um, they’re celebrated on, Sinterklaas Day is celebrated on December 5th and 6th, rather than like the 25th. And so on December 5th children put out their shoes by the fireplace. So instead of stockings, they put out wooden shoes because they’re very Dutch and they need to do everything very Dutch all the time. So then Sinterklaas will come and you know, fill the shoes. But he also has an assistant called Zwarte Piet, who has been a lot in the news lately. I even actually found an article that even Kim Kardashian like put her two cents into the argument about Zwarte Piet.
Is she Dutch?
So anyway, if you haven’t heard, Zwarte Piet, it’s Dutch for Black Pete. And this tradition has come under fire for recent years because Zwarte Piet is typically depicted wearing blackface. So, you know, some of them contemporary apologists like to argue that he’s actually covered in soot because of going down the chimney and working in the coal mines, etc. But it’s, if you google pictures of Zwarte Piet, it’s pretty obvious that it’s blackface and not just him covered in soot and chimney dust.
Well, there was a few that we found that, that he was actually just covered in soot but it was definitely in the minority of the depictions, yeah.
Yeah. And also his name is Black Pete. So anyway, you know, I love my Dutch heritage for some things. But that’s, that’s a questionable one, for sure. Especially because, like, it’s pretty common for Dutch people to dress up, like Zwarte Piet. So like, there’s parades, where it’s just like a bunch of people in blackface. And it’s question.. it’s questionable. And that’s the nice way to put it. It’s questionable. So we’ve been talking a lot about how Christmas can kind of be seen as its own religion based on you know, it kind of has those features that Clifford Geertz defined as being, you know, intrinsically religious. And so I’m just wondering, you know, how does that play into then, we’ve got this narrative lately that there’s this war on Christmas, especially from, you know, the Christian right-wing, and the US a lot, a little bit in Canada. But you know, it’s this idea of like, well, if you don’t say Merry Christmas, you’re taking Christ out of Christmas. But you know, I’m curious if you guys have any thoughts on this? Because, to me, if you use the argument that Christmas is kind of expanded beyond the Christian tradition, then does it matter if we say Merry Christmas, or is it still so linked to Christmas? It’s like, or is it so linked to Christianity itself? That there’s no way to take it away from its Christian roots.
So I mean, obviously Christmas has become sort of secularized in that it’s a lot less about specifically, like Jesus Christ, it’s more often seen as a celebration of like Santa and general like gift-giving and charity, which can be seen as Christian values, but aren’t necessarily specifically linked to Christmas so much anymore. And I mean, now it’s like a government holiday. People from all religions get it off. Um, so I can see why some people would say that it is sort of secularized. But, I mean, there’s still that religious element to Christmas like songs on the radio people will play during Christmas time, like what is it like, “Silent night”? What are other super Christian Christmas songs that you can think of?
I was talking to another friend recently, she was listening to the version of “Oh, Christmas Tree” done by Aretha Franklin. And that song has some kind of Christian stuff in it. But I guess Aretha just like takes it away and just talks about like, Jesus, the birth of Jesus and stuff, which makes sense for Aretha because I think she was pretty outspoken about her Christian faith. But anyway, my point is, though, is you know, you even get non-religious celebrities doing renditions of these, like very highly religious Christmas carols that, you know, and it’s not even just like, oh, “Silent night, holy night.” It’s like, “Jesus is the King,” “Jesus has been born” and like that is, in, you can’t take that out of like a Christian setting at all.
“Mary did you know”
Yeah. And Rachel, um, you were saying that Christmas has largely turned secular. And then that makes me think about, that makes me think about how various values that would maybe be seen as being like Christian ethics, but obviously aren’t exclusive to Christianity, but how at Christmas time, there’s this all focused on joy and peace and love, and how those too have become secular, secularized, a little bit on to, to make Christmas more accessible to those that aren’t Christian. And so there’s this almost religious fervour that comes to just, yeah, like Christmas cheer, for example, that isn’t necessarily religiously linked, but still kind of has that sort of fervour that is, is very important at Christmas time. Like it does, it almost wouldn’t feel like Christmas, if there wasn’t Christmas cheer, or emphasis on caring for others or donating. That’s a big part of Christmas, too. So yeah, I’m not sure. Um, we have been saying Christmas throughout this episode, instead of like, happy holidays, obviously, at this point.
I think, though, what I’m interested in getting more into is Christmas movies, specifically, I’d really like to talk about Hallmark movies, because I think it’s such this like, I call it a microcosm, but there’s thousands of those movies. So it’s not micro. But it’s like a microcosm of this like, Christmas debate, right? Because technically, these are secular movies, quote, unquote. You know, most of these hallmark movies that I’ve seen, at least in the past few years, they don’t talk, like they may be mention going to church, but it’s usually in passing, but for the most part, they aren’t talking about Christmas as a religious holiday. Like no part of religion gets brought into the discussion.
Yeah, Christmas itself becomes a sacred holiday, even when it’s detached from Jesus and Christianity and church and all that.
Exactly. Um, but I do think that there’s a lot of these like you were saying, Jacqueline, like, religious elements that are kind of brought into the secular, you know?
Hallmark movies are so, they have such this strange feel to them. And while I was researching for the episode, and going through the eight thousand articles, which talk about how the eight thousand Hallmark movies out there, they’re all the same, I found this really good quote, which says, “Hallmark Christmas movies feel nostalgic for something half-understood, like those episodes of The Twilight Zone where somebody travels back to the 1890s, or the 1910s in hopes of chasing some America that has been lost to the mists of time, except where the Twilight Zone traveller eventually realizes the error of his or her ways, a Hallmark protagonist comes to love living in the bubble, or the snow globe, if you will. And when these movies are done well, their most fervent fans are right there ready to embrace that snow globe themselves.”
I think that’s especially interesting with so, there’s one thing I’ve specifically noticed that I think lends itself to this, and that every single Hallmark movie that I’ve watched, promotes this idea of small town, small businesses being run by family. So usually, I find that either the woman or the man comes from this big bad corporate background and they’re coming in, either because they’re going to buy the small business or they used to live there and they have to come in like do something for the community that they don’t want to do but there’s always that they’re coming from this like big corporate background and like New York or Chicago. And so but then they go through this process of like feeling this nostalgia that you were talking about. And then, you know, by the end, they’ve quit their job to work at this small local business that they were trying to bulldoze. And it’s always like a bookstore, or a bakery or a hotel, you know, and it’s always like these very family-run, and family-owned things. So they get brought into this family as well, even if it’s, they’re not their own biological family. Typically, they end up like falling in love with one of the owners or the owner’s son or whatever. And I think this sort of idealization is what can be so special about Christmas too. And even though it’s maybe, you know, very kind of, like, “Make America Great Again” kind of vibes of like, old and small businesses, and this is always better. You know, there is some sort of nostalgia about feeling connected to your community and being part of your family. And it’s something that’s very idealized about Christmas, you know, you even think of all the songs like, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” or “Making it home for the holidays,” and that kind of theme.
So yeah, Steph you were mentioning, like there’s always like a bookstore, or a bakery, some small-town business. There’s like a big city girl or guy like, it’s just so interesting that they reuse a lot of the same tropes in these Hallmark movies. But they also tend to like amplify these stalk or token characters or tropes by like a thousand Christmas movies. So one of the things that I’ve noticed when I’m watching Hallmark movies, especially Hallmark Christmas movies, is usually everyone is white, except for the secondary character who usually only serves as like a foil for the main character, or a plot driver. Usually they’re sometimes they’re like a best friend or a wise old local. And Steph and I were talking about this a bit when they’re not white, they’re usually Black. You never really see any other, any other races, like no Asians, Hispanic, Indian; it’s either you’re white or black. And you’re mostly going to be white in these movies.
Yeah. And I find too, most of the Hallmark movies, even if there is a Black character, it’s usually put into this kind of like white idealized, you know, 1950s society, too.
Hmm. That’s a very good point, yeah.
Well, then on top of it, it’s almost exclusively straight couples. And I do know that they’re apparently premiering their first gay lead couple this year. Um, so I mean, small progress is progress, I guess. But it’s still very, it is reminiscent of the kind of society that we were talking about in our American capitalism episode where we talked about that kind of idealization of small business, working hard, you know, that kind of theme.
So I don’t actually watch a lot of Hallmark movies. Um, but I was just thinking, um, there are some friends of mine who have to watch Die Hard every Christmas. And so I was just wondering, what makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie? Does it have like, is it just… is it a Christmas movie just if it takes place over Christmas, or does there have to be something else about the movie that makes it a Christmas movie?
I only realized a couple of years ago that people think that “The Holiday” with like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz is a Christmas movie, because I used to just watch it all year round, because to me, it’s not very Christmassy, but like it takes place in winter, but I didn’t find it Christmassy, if that makes sense.
Yes, that makes sense. That’s actually I’ll be talking about the movie a little bit later. Because that is to me, the only Christmas movie that I like, need to watch every year.
And see I would watch it in the middle of the summer and have no problem with that.
Yeah, that’s fair. Like it does take place in LA, I guess. So it can also have more of a like a warm weather summery feel. But ya. No, for me, um, I’ll probably talk about this a little bit later, too, but I don’t really like like cheesy movies. Um, they’re very hard for me to watch after, like, I don’t know, I can only take so so much of them in Hallmark movies.
Do you suffer from secondhand embarrassment?
Yeah, that’s a real problem with me too. Makes it hard to watch them.
Really, yeah. I had that problem with the “Christmas Prince” specifically, like I could only get 15 minutes in. I did, the second time I watched it, I was able to watch it. But the first time I like I just, that’s not a Hallmark movie, but just kind of like that certain cheese that a lot of Christmas movies have, um, I can’t deal with a lot of them. So for me, “The Holiday” is like, the main Christmas movie that I watch.
Is your inability to deal with the Christmas cheese because you’re lactose intolerant?
Good one! So I personally don’t care if “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie or not. But if we’re going back to the definition of religion, that we were talking about by Geertz earlier, then I would say like, yes, even if it weren’t for the fact that “Die Hard” is set on Christmas Eve, I believe. Um, if we’re using Geertz’s system of symbols, and his understanding of religion, I would say that just the fact that we even have to ask this question, that it’s become such an iconic part of Christmas, whether or not you think it is a Christmas movie means it actually is a Christmas movie. If we’re just… And that’s just going by the Geertz definition of religious.
Rachel, before you mentioned that certain values of Christmas kind of end up having a sacred value, even though they’re largely secular, but there’s still the sacredness associated with them. And that makes me think of what I like to call Christmas evangelism that I see in a lot of Christmas movies. So in like Christmas movies for kids, often that’ll center around discussions of keeping the faith in Santa Claus, I think of the Holiday Express where like
Do you mean the Polar Express?
Yeah. So I think about the Polar Express, and that whole theme about, yeah, believing in Santa Claus. But then there’s also like the sleigh bell that the boy gets, and if you can hear the sleigh bell that means that you still believe in Santa Claus. And so there’s this, this glorification of childhood innocence in a lot of these Christmas movies for kids that I think about, um, but then for Christmas movies for non-kids,
Like adult Christmas movies, is that what you’re saying, Jacqueline?
Adult Christmas movies.
I love adult Christmas movies. I watch so many of them.
We’re gonna have to put the explicit rating on this episode.
Yeah, so Christmas movies for non-Santa believers. Um, there’s also this kind of Christmas evangelism that that happens and Steph mentioned this a little bit before about the whole like corporate kind of evangelism maybe to the like the family-owned businesses but then there’s also very much this evangelism of, yeah, maybe this like corporate Scrooge that comes into the small town without Christmas cheer and then falls in love with this really happy Christmas spirited love interest. And so there’s this kind of evangelism that happens there of like, converting the like the Scrooge to the Christmas spirit and showing them the true nature of Christmas or um, so then by the end of the movie very often this person will be a be converted to Chris… Christmas loving…
Okay, what if Christmas is a religion? What should we call it?
It needs to be like an -ism, right? Like it should be an -ism.
Like, by the end of the movie, often they’re converted to Christmas-ism.
TM. We’re trademarking that.
And it reminds me of I’m not sure if this has happened to anybody else. But I have this problem sometimes where I go on Netflix and I pick a random movie, and I think it’s gonna be the small indie movie and ends up like, but then 30 minutes in all of a sudden the love interest that is in this movie, you find out, oh, they’re actually Christian. And the movie becomes not just about this love story, but also about converting like this grumpy corporate person to Christianity. And so Christmas movies kind of remind me of those, the tropes that happen in those bad Christian movies. I don’t really like Christian movies.
Yeah, I still remember when “God’s Not Dead” came out. And there’s this whole like buzz about it because it was like one of the first Christian movies that was in theaters in a really long time. And I went to go see it. And I was like, that’s just poorly made.
Yeah. That’s the main thing.
Like, it’s okay that it’s poorly made because we’re trying to get a wholesome message across and you’re like, “No, you still need to make a good movie, buddy.”
That’s really true. Yeah, the best thing in Christian media is the original VeggieTales.
This is true. You are correct. I stand behind you on that one.
Then there’s Christmas VeggieTales, too, I will have you know.
No, I’m standing behind “Christian Mingle” as the best Christian movie.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.
It’s amazing. You guys need to watch it. There’s the most white thread love interest. There’s like a finding yourself story. There’s of course, like lots of promo for the site, Christian Mingle. It’s just amazing. You got to watch it.
And you said it was rebranded as a Christmas movie?
Yeah. So every so often, they rebrand it as like Christmas Mingle, at least that I’ve seen.
Even though it’s got nothing to do with Christmas at all. But they rebrand it as a Christmas movie as well. So you know, people can watch it at Christmas time again.
So I’m curious. We’ve mentioned our favourite or least favourite Christian movies. But I’m curious, what are some of your favourite Christmas movies? Hey, Jacqueline, what’s your favourite Christmas movie?
So I already mentioned this before, but yeah, The Holiday is, is it for me, it’s a bit cheesy, but not too cheesy. Cameron Diaz sometimes it gets on my nerves, but the rest of the characters are prime. They’re just amazing. And I love the picturesque little English cottage that Cameron Diaz’s character goes to, like a Christmas card.
Okay, but it’s also super fulfilling, fulfilling, because you’ve got the quaint little cottage in England, but then you also have the really rich mansion, and you kind of get to enjoy both of those things.
It’s really true. Yeah, I really like Kate Winslet’s character as well. She’s, like, just a very endearing character. And then her friendship with Arthur Abbott.
Oh my gosh!
Like my heart! Oh, and then Jack Black’s character is just so funny. I love that scene where they walk through the movie store and he’s just like, singing the songs at the movies. And then this famous like, like this other famous… I don’t know how to explain that. This, like famous actor from one of those movies walks by and like, makes kind of like awkward eye contact with the camera, you know? Did you notice that?
I don’t think I’ve noticed that.
Yeah, so it’s like somebody from one of those movies is like in the store while he’s singing these songs for like, like the opening credits or whatever of the songs, I don’t know. It’s just so… but yes, back back to in England like Jude Law is the love interest. And then he has these two cute like, they’re so cute, little girls
Mr. Napkin Head!
I love that scene with Mr. Napkin Head! Ah, ah, that’s just Christmas for me. Just hot chocolate and cute children. I guess this is true because I have nieces and nephews and we drink hot chocolate.
That’s fair. Side note. I feel like we should host a Christmas movie. Like we should watch The Holiday and host it on Netflix party and see if any of our listeners want to, like come in and chat with us.
I’m so down for that!
Honestly, we, like I just want to watch the movie so might as well make it more fun. Anyway. What about you, Rachel, what’s your favourite Christmas movie?
Um, I haven’t watched The Holiday in years. But now that you brought it up, Jacqueline, I’m really going to have to watch that again. But my mom and I are at least, I usually always watch the Sound of Music so even though it isn’t like strictly a Christmas movie, I’ve come to think of it as one kind of like what I was saying with Die Hard earlier.
I don’t think you’re alone in that argument, though, I’ve seen a lot of other people that say that the Sound of Music is actually a bit of a Christmas movie.
How, I like I wonder why that it’s become like sort of a Christmas movie because even though like Die Hard is set on Christmas Eve like I said, do they, is there Christmas in the Sound of Music? I don’t remember.
it feel like there’s one scene.
Yeah, so it’s just like sort of so irrelevant, but it’s become like, it’s associated with Christmas in my mind, and it’s it just reminds me of Christmas. I have to watch it every year. And then back when I lived with friends, we would always watch Elf. So even though like I’m not, or at least I didn’t used to be the biggest fan of Will Ferrell, I’ve come to love that movie over the years and like I have to watch that every year because it’s just it’s Christmas to me. Then of course, “Love Actually” is a classic.
True, true. I actually hate that movie though. I think I watched it too much.
What’s that one about?
Love Actually, it’s like the first like vignette movie. So you know how they came up with like “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve” and like all those like vignette movies are “He’s just not that into you.” That’s a great movie by the way. This one is all about, it’s like Christmas themed, but it’s got like an all-star cast. Um like Martin Freeman’s in it
So many big names. Liam Neeson.
So they’re like separate stories?
Mr. beam. Yes. They’re all like different stories that kind of like intertwine at different spots, but like, they’re all like separate stories. Um, oh, shoot, who was that Natalie Portman?
Like I probably watched it.
Um, yeah, you might it’s like one of the most like, classic. It was like, what the first movie of that style, but now it’s been overdone.
Oh, then Krampus the Christmas Devil isn’t yet a yearly tradition for me. But I’m 100% going to make it a yearly tradition. Because that’s some awesome good Christmas cheer if I’ve ever seen it.
Yeah, I’ll have to check that one out. I’ve never heard of it before. I’ve like vaguely heard of Krampus. But I didn’t know about this movie. I’m excited to check it out.
Do you think that Christmas is Christian, secular, or its own holiday that is its own religion and is kind of like, snowballed — get it? — into its own thing.
I vote for option C.
Yeah, the way I and my family celebrate it is it’s kind of its own thing. We’re not very, I mean, we’re not really Christian, and we don’t celebrate it as a Christian holiday, we celebrate it as something itself.
Like, I’m Christian and I, for me, I see Christmas as two separate things. Like I never grew up, going to like a Christmas morning service, because we lived in the country and just be like too much of a hassle to, like, drive in for that. We would sometimes go to the Christmas Eve service. But, um, for me, I think that was later in my childhood anyway, because I think we went like a couple times when I was younger, and we would just like cry. And so my parents just avoided that for a really long time. And so for me Christmas, there’s this like, there’s a separation. On the same day, though, I’m not really sure how to explain that. So like, they happen simultaneously. But for me, they’re separated in my head. So like Christmas isn’t necessarily about Jesus’s birth, but it also is, but it’s also like
No, I get it.
Yeah, does that makes sense? So it’s about Santa Claus and Jesus. And they don’t necessarily commingle.
but they happen at the same time.
Are you saying that Jesus and Santa aren’t homeys?
They’re both into giving
No, they’re BFFs for sure. Jesus, actually, when he rose again, he went to the North Pole, and has just been like chilling out with Santa Claus.
Literally. No, but I totally get that. I think to me, Christmas both exists as a religious holiday and a secular holiday. But they’re not two separate things, nor are they the same thing. I think it’s way too complex to kind of try and make an overarching decision on, even though I was the one that asked the question.
No, I agree. Yeah.
All right. Well, thanks everyone. This is going to be our last episode for 2020. So thanks for tuning in this year while we started this, this fun project and a nice big ol’ Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, to everyone that tunes in listens.
Merry Christmas, ho ho ho
Ho ho ho
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Thank you for listening, everyone.