Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, December 25, 2021

Like our fearless leader, I try to be a uniter, not a divider. It’s in that spirit that I present Adam Cohen’s look at how current “Merry Christmas” crusaders du jour are actually eroding the season’s spirituality, in much the same way American culture has done for over a century.

The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens’ wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas “by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way” a crime.

The concern that Christmas distracted from religious piety continued even after Puritanism waned. In 1827, an Episcopal bishop lamented that the Devil had stolen Christmas “and converted it into a day of worldly festivity, shooting and swearing.” Throughout the 1800’s, many religious leaders were still trying to hold the line. As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because “they do not accept the day as a Holy One.” On the eve of the Civil War, Christmas was recognized in just 18 states.

Maybe this is why megachurches closed up shop for Christmas this year — they’re going back to strict interpretation.

Or, like I originally thought, they just can’t compete with the commercial trappings of the holiday:

Christmas gained popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration, after the publication of Clement Clarke Moore’s “Visit from St. Nicholas” and Thomas Nast’s Harper’s Weekly drawings, which created the image of a white-bearded Santa who gave gifts to children. The new emphasis lessened religious leaders’ worries that the holiday would be given over to drinking and swearing, but it introduced another concern: commercialism. By the 1920’s, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring annual ceremonies to kick off the “Christmas shopping season.”

Religious leaders objected strongly. The Christmas that emerged had an inherent tension: merchants tried to make it about buying, while clergymen tried to keep commerce out. A 1931 Times roundup of Christmas sermons reported a common theme: “the suggestion that Christmas could not survive if Christ were thrust into the background by materialism.” A 1953 Methodist sermon broadcast on NBC - typical of countless such sermons - lamented that Christmas had become a “profit-seeking period.” This ethic found popular expression in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”…

This year’s Christmas “defenders” are not just tolerating commercialization - they’re insisting on it. They are also rewriting Christmas history on another key point: non-Christians’ objection to having the holiday forced on them.

The campaign’s leaders insist this is a new phenomenon - a “liberal plot,” in [Fox News anchor John] Gibson’s words. But as early as 1906, the Committee on Elementary Schools in New York City urged that Christmas hymns be banned from the classroom, after a boycott by more than 20,000 Jewish students. In 1946, the Rabbinical Assembly of America declared that calling on Jewish children to sing Christmas carols was “an infringement on their rights as Americans.”

It’s indicative of our cultural mindset now: We expect, even require, validation in the form of commercialized/consumer co-opting. If you can’t find it in the mall, it’s not that important. Unless we can take action upon it, in the form of a commercial transaction (buying it, taking in the marketing pitch, etc.), it’s too abstract to keep top-of-mind.

But that’s the world we live in. So hoist up your store-bought eggnog and savor the flavor!

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 02:57:07 PM
Category: History, Society
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I dunno about you, but it ain’t a holly jolly Christmas unless I can invoke Chico and Groucho Marx bantering over contract terms in A Night at the Opera:

Driftwood (Groucho): It’s alright, that’s in every contract! That’s what they call a “sanity clause.”

Fiorello (Chico): Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… you can’t fool me. There ain’t no sanity clause!

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 02:12:38 PM
Category: Comedy
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I seem to recall a general rule of thumb from back in grade school that a paragraph must consist of a minimum of three sentences in order to be fully-formed.

Of course, I break that rule all the time (see above). And others think that three is too low-ball of a number to create a “real” paragraph. And in this post-modern digital landscape, where short attention spans call for short wordbites, I’d say most (not all) rules from the past century are null.

So if you clock some time at Paragraph, an abode for writers seeking quiet writing time in the heart of the Big Apple, feel free to make your grafs as long or as short as you want.

You might think that it’s daft to pay for such writing space when you could just go to, say, the library. But I can see the need to get to a non-bustling environment where you don’t have to tune out constant distraction. And a hundred-odd bucks a month for 24-hour access to simple office space in NYC is a drop in the bucket.

Finding your muse on 14th Street… Go figure.

(Via Apartment 47)

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 11:43:46 AM
Category: Creative, New Yorkin'
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no. 8 with a bullet
Oh well, no shiny new iPod for me. But Population Statistic clocked in at No. 8 in the Feedster Feed of the Year competition today, and blog-wise, it’s the nicest Christmas present I could ask for.

I’ve pretty much ignored such best-of-blog contests in the past. I’m not against self-promotion, but all the competitions I’ve seen amounted to little more than limited-scope circle-jerks that, ultimately, amounted to nothing. In this case, I didn’t have to do anything (thus appealing to my laziness, a definite plus), and the results depended upon qualitative peer judgement (rather than buddy-buddy voting). So, to me, this means a little something more.

Thanks to the judges for their comments. Here’s Russell Shaw’s:

Fascinating feed fuses demographic and marketing trend info into live information that explains the cultural zeitgeist. You never know what is coming next. Regularly updated with balance of entertaining and “Hmm, that’s fascinating” info. Helpful to know who is behind this site, and how to contact him.

(That “Write” link in the upper-left corner of this page, right below the feed links, should suffice for contact information, I think. I like the “cultural zeitgeist” tag, though.)

Dana Blankenhorn’s:

“A personal blog, well written, with a wide range of interesting subjects. Jump from “America’s Next Top Model” to the NHL, or a poster from the movie “Metropolis.” A cool head to get into. Feed is complete.”

(I’m nothing if not random. Also glad the feed passes muster, as I really don’t give it much exclusive consideration, despite the seeming trends; but I suppose it’d be pretty weird to be on this list if the feed somehow sucked.)

Betsy Richter’s:

can be fascinated by the unlimited minutiae of cultural artifacts that taken individually or collectively, comprise life in our times. She gives Population Statistic 9 of 10 points for uniqueness, freshness, usability and community

(I’ll take 9 out of 10 any day.)

It was a fun, if brief, ride. The Finalist button will be planted into the sidebar in short order. And I’ll continue checking the Feed of the Year Countdown to see who wins the whole enchilada.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 11:13:29 AM
Category: Bloggin'
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