Last year at this time I wrote a post about Christmas that asserted-if I can compress it just a bit-that Christmas is at once a holiday in the Christian calendar and in the consumerist system that defines many of our most important values (like the value of material wealth). Discussions about "the true meaning of Christmas" miss the point. The fact is that in our society the true meaning of Christmas is two somewhat contradictory things at the same time: Christmas is the central ritual of consumerism and the celebration of a religious figure who, according to the inherited sacred texts, was rather skeptical about the value of wealth.

In fact, lots of ideas in our society do two somewhat opposite things at the same time. Take, for example, Sarah Palin. Palin is loved by many conservatives in part because she advocates strong conservative values: she thinks abortion should be illegal, that taxes should be low and government limited in its powers, she abhors gun control, and so on. However, many people endorse these values without getting much attention. Palin also happens to be very good looking, charismatic, and media-savvy. In short, Palin is both very conservative and very entertaining. These may not be her only virtues, but surely both her supporters and her detractors would agree that these are an important part of her appeal.

If you think about it, strong conservatism does not necessarily fit too well with contemporary entertainment culture, because many of the values endorsed through entertainment aren't very conservative. Just to take an example or two, entertainment often pushes the boundaries of sexual license and presents the notion that fulfillment is linked to riches and consumption. In short, it isn't necessarily easy to put conservatism and entertainment together in one package.

That's what makes Sarah Palin special, she's that package. And to return to my yuletide theme, it's pretty much the same deal with Christmas. Christmas manages to be both an endorsement of Christian values and of some values that are specifically warned against in the New Testament. It's usually kind of difficult to put Christianity together with an orgy of over-consumption focused on material goods, but Christmas pulls it off.

Christmas and Sarah Palin are hybrids, they are like successfully crossing a grapefruit with a cow. Their very existence proves to us that aspects of our lives that might seem contradictory do not have to be contradictory at all. Isn't that nice?

To learn more, visit Peter G. Stromberg's website. Image by Fabio Metitieri.

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