This Is What the Tribune’s Christopher Borrelli Has Wrong about Christmas

In a semi-recent piece from the late November 2017 issue of Chicago Tribune Magazine, columnist Christopher Borrelli proudly proclaims he has begun a “war on Christmas” and explains his reasons for it. A prior film critic now writing on topics including art, literature, and video games, Borrelli discloses that he is also a Catholic, a fact which is drawn attention to numerous times throughout the column.

His love for pop culture certainly comes out in the opinionated article as well. He mentions Charles Schulz, Elf, Hallmark, and Moby Dick, among other big names and titles associated with popular culture. He has made some valid points as will any reporter or any human being that looks at the world and the people around him.

At a first glance, the writer might come off as a bit of a Scrooge, but he gradually takes the reader into a much more complex personal view. Like anybody, he has tastes; he has things he enjoys and things he doesn’t. In the early hours of Christmas morning, he takes a slow, smooth drive to gaze upon all the splendid lights which beautify so many homes this time of year.

Though soon after this relation, Borrelli is found quoting George Bernard Shaw as stating the various vices which are often seen around this solemn feast day. The Catholic journalist, philosopher, and theologian Gilbert Keith Chesterton is noted for writing similarly with an air of sorrow on the people that fill the stores around this time of the year: “I do not know whether some of them disappear for ever in the toy department or simply lie down and die in the tea-rooms; but by the look of them, it is quite likely. Just before the great festival of the home the whole population seems to have become homeless.”

I understand the disappointment that this can cause an outsider looking in. Humanity has become obsessed with possessions, with the shortlived joy of getting. Unfortunately, this time of year and all of the celebrating people prepare for makes for an ample opportunity for salesmen and large stores of every kind.

They take advantage and feed off what many people see as a necessity. What many of us need to embrace is some contentment and self-restraint. I know all the buzzing shoppers can become aggravating, but a person ought not to let this annual uprising get under their skin. As hard as it might be, we should grin and bear it. It is befitting of the spirit of the season.

The reporter and war-starter seems to exude a character more potent than the Scrooge. For Mr. Scrooge only wished to not be bothered by Christmas. No, Borrelli in a sense pictures himself more as a Grinch, a person who desires Christmas to disappear entirely, at least in name and (in part) tradition. But in another sense, Borrelli is nothing at all like the Seussian Grinch. The Grinch hated Christmas through and through while Borrelli does state, “…I am not a monster. Christmas provides warmth and comfort for many; it can be meditative and spiritual…”

He really likes listening to Christmas music on the radio (as do I!), but at the same time, he forces other traditions upon himself which he deems not as desirable as the Christmas radio. Such traditions filed under this not-so-highly praised category include attending midnight Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and then watching “difficult foreign films” while slowly wrapping the Yuletide gifts for the family to be opened only hours later. He admits he continues to perform these actions out of habit or out of tradition. (I am glad that he still goes to Mass; it’s a positive sign.)

Borrelli mentions an incident during his childhood in which he actually found his presents before Christmas, opened them, played with them (one of them being a video game), and rewrapped and replaced them. This small insight showcases from an early age Christopher Borrelli was impatient, a little deceitful, and did not really appreciate Christmas for what it stands for and the gift-giving of Christmas for what it symbolizes.

The columnist, though he ends up using the term “Christmas” countless times in his brief op-ed piece, also introduces us to some of his unique anti-Christmas lingo. Apart from liking the use of “X-mas,” he says he will continue to fight to have the phrase “Happy Nondenominational Celebration!” on to-go coffee cups. This concept is just wrong.

In what can be taken as an attempt to not exclude any holiday celebration, this greeting would be melting all the holidays down to one. This is terrible! I don’t care if you don’t celebrate Christmas. If you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something different; I respect that. And because I respect that, I do not feel that all those unique observances should be squished together and entitled something entirely different. It would, in fact, be a disrespect toward every religious/cultural tradition held in the month of December.

He also has created the new term “Decorative Secular Holiday Flora.” (He does not like “Christmas tree.”) And if he did some research, he would find that the modern Christmas tree has its origins in Christian tradition and a historical event which involved St. Boniface chopping down an oak tree dedicated to a pagan god. Thus, this is a religion-based tradition which has become secularized via mass production and sales marketing. Yet, it is by no means a necessity to have a Christmas tree or any holiday decorations for that matter. They are just considered more festive and appealing.

Herein lies the primary problem upon which Borrelli and I will disagree. Clearly and concisely he declares, “Tradition matters,” and he is not wrong there. The short sentence does not present a falsehood at face value. But it is in tradition that Borrelli becomes confused. Early on in his column, he tells us he “will not be upholding Judeo-Christian values, because frankly, the details are vague – love thy neighbor? Unless they vote differently?”

True Christianity teaches to love your fellow human beings no matter how they treat you or what they do; this does not mean you have to love what they are doing. As far as Catholicism goes, I can tell you (being a Catholic myself) that the only religious tradition or obligation that is required of Catholic for Christmas is for he or she to attend a Mass on Christmas day or the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

That’s it. We are not held obliged to take part in any other traditions that are personal, family-orientated, or part of the culture, though many are fondly esteemed. Drinking soy eggnog is not a sin; it’s not anti-Christmas. So long as a tradition based on the culture does not interfere with (inhibit) your attending Christmas Mass, it is acceptable. I hope Christopher Borrelli will come to understand that and to enjoy Christmas, and all the joy which accompanies it, for what it truly is.


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