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Mondays Mean More: Christmas

There are two types of grammar: prescriptive grammar and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar examines and defines how things should be, while a Descriptive grammar looks at the reality of what is.

An example:

Prescriptive grammar looks at the sentence "Who dat?" and says that the correct and appropriate way to communicate this question is to ask "Who is that?" Descriptive grammar looks at the same sentence and then tells you who is likely to use that phrase, how it evolved and the significance it holds. There is great tension between the two schools of grammar (in my mind, I am picturing near-brawls breaking out at grammar conventions) because of the implications of this very major difference. Prescriptivists look at maintaining language, restoring the purity of language* and stopping the "destruction" of language. Descriptivists are more interested in following how language continues to evolve, because evolution is inevitable, and studying the significance of these changes.

(Wait! you say, I thought this post was supposed to be about Christmas?)

It is. Because in this week leading up to Christmas, I am torn between two schools of Christmas. Christmas the way it should be, and Christmas the way it is. Every time I talk about Christmas, or think about Christmas, I struggle with the guilt of a good grammarian - saying things like "whatevs" and "true dat" when I know they're not correct.

Confession: when I think of Christmas, I think mostly of family, good food, gift-giving, and snow.

Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus. I love Jesus a lot, and I like the idea of celebrating His birth. As recent TV shows have reminded me (Bones & Community & maybe 30 Rock?), Jesus was actually born in early spring. But early Christendom decided to place their holiday around the same time as a pre-existing pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice. (Which is today. Hooray for lengthening days!!!)

Fast-forward almost two millenia and jump over to North America. Christmas is a frenzy of Santa-loving extravagance and indulgence, celebrating the always-loved values of Family and Deserving Good Things. It's a fact.

I feel like there isn't much middle ground. On one hand we have the people crying for a return to the way it should be (by which they mean high religious content and focus) and people who are rallying for a move beyond the old and embracing the new.

If I see Christmas largely as family fun and grand goodies, does it mean I love Jesus less? If I greet my friends with, 'Sup?, does it mean I don't respect the beauty of language?

Is there some place in between? Can I break the rules and yet respect them? Can I let Jesus' birth be only one part of why I love the holiday season?

I really hope so, for everyone's sake.




*in the same way that Christmas was originally tacked over a pagan holiday, many of the grammar rules we've all come to love were falsely imposed on English in an attempt to Latinize us - people used to think that English was derived from Latin, which it is not. So if we want to be really technical and proper about it, we should move Christmas to March and throw out a lot of grammar textbooks.

Comments

Rhianna said…
I feel your dichotomy, I also look forward to cookies, Christmas lights and dare I say gifts... both giving and receiving... but I won't tell if you don't... How do you remember Jesus and celebrate him when it seems to be about so much other stuff.

PS I hope you don't mind my cyber-stalking you.
Sarah said…
Like, like, like! You do such a good job of putting my thoughts into words. Kind of suprising when it's not even something we've talked about. (I'm refering specifically to the Christmas part.) If you and I have similar thoughts at this time of year, I wonder if more people think this way than we might realize.
Beth said…
rhianna - you are more than welcome to stalk. especially since you leave comments! then it isn't stalking.

this year, i tried incorporating elements of a traditional advent into my Jesus-focus efforts, but it didn't go so well. although the same thing happened with lent, so maybe attempt 2 will be better.

sarah - i think lots of people feel this way. the friend i went for coffee with tonight does. she was saying that having kids makes you really have to think through it all.
francy said…
I like the way your brain works.

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, after Charlie Brown wrestles with the ugly commercial face of Christmas, Linus reminds everybody that Christmas is about Jesus. That ultimately leads to everybody holding hands, full of holiday cheer, singing together with love. Without going too deep into theology, I think community, laughter and charity are all things Jesus is down with.
So, when it comes to the way we feel about Christmas (I feel the same as you) ... I don't think Jesus would have it any other way!

umm ... courtesy of the Gospel of Charlie Brown. :)
Rhianna said…
I am going to use that, the Gospel of Charlie Brown:)
Beth said…
francy - can i admit that i've never seen Charlie Brown's Christmas? but now that you've told me this, I will.

and i like how you say that "community, laughter, and charity are all things Jesus is down with." true that.

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