The Not-So-Very-Merry Melding


During the dog days of graduate school, a group of Tarheels sat around scheming. Whatever would we do if this plot line came to incompletion? Where would all this data (religious and analytic, holiday and humdrum) be put to admirable devotion?

The plan we landed upon was capitalist: Thresholds. This would be our business. Clients would come to us lost and bifurcated by their intermarriages and agnostic daily lives, seeking combination ritual packages. We would supply coming-of-age parties for boys lacking bar mitzfahs, multi-day marital processes for the Ganesh-worshipping non-Hindu, and time-sharing funeral rites for the man who was baptized Catholic, toyed with Zen, and loved well a Quaker. We would transform our encyclopedic morsels into American assimilative specificity: a made-to-order melting pot.

Unfortunately for consumers everywhere, each member of this fantasizing posse found happy employment and productive situation in the (somewhat) less mercantile academy. Yet, an article in last Thursday’s New York Times reminded me of what an awfully craven and perfectly profitable idea it would have been.

The article, “A Holiday Medley, Off Key,” would make for great end-of-semester talk in American religion classes (if your semesters haven’t ended, or you’re looking for final hour extra credit options), especially if paired with critical studies on the formation of these holidays (Schmidt 1995 or Forbes 2007). Several couples are profiled in their wrestling efforts to offer inclusive December holidays for their gift-seeking spawn. Interfaith experience has never been so combative. Words like “guerrilla”, “revenge”, and “assault” are used to describe wheedling manipulations of Santa Claus, menorahs, and present practices. Even silky-voiced Diana Krall makes a cameo as a crooning Christmas sales(wo)man.

Perhaps most delicious about this just-in-time-for-the-holidays report was the following comment, from Micah Sachs, the managing editor of, a Web site that encourages interfaith couples to observe Jewish traditions: “The world is full of all these symbols: it’s full of Santa, it’s full of trees.”

Such a world, indeed (full of Santa, full of trees)! A world where scholars labor (mightily, for little profit, and much cost) to convey a world of diversity and abundance all while kinda-holy holidays are pressed into “festive” competition. The next time someone tries to sell me on the meaning of seasonal merriment (even you, Charlie Brown!), I am going to tell them the magical tale of the Minata Family’s Nintendo Wii. And to all a good night!

P.S. I'll pause from my humbug to offer one real reason to be merry: Edward Blum's W.E.B. DuBois: American Prophet received honorable mention from from the Gustavus Myers Book Awards. These awards are given to "authors and books that speak with great clarity, insight and creativity about rights and compassionate responsibilities within community." Congratulations, Brother Blum!


Tracy said…
Honorable MENTION? Who fell down on that one? (Congratulations, Ed)
Phil said…
I echo the congrats to Brother Blum, and share the surprise about honorable mention--there's no question _W.E.B. Du Bois: American Prophet_ is award worthy.

Seems to me (per criteria for a GM award) few books have dealt with the ways that religion both informed bigotry and inspired criticism of it, and fewer still offer the analytical depth or display lucid prose Blum provides in his latest work.

No humbug here, but in this sense it is surprising that religion made little appearance on the list of award winners and honorable mention this year. Anyone else notice?