There are only a few shopping weeks left until Christmas.
I'm keenly aware of this primarily because of those overcaffeinated Glee-show-choir-in-red-white-and-blue-alpine-sweaters-and-ear-flaps-making-high school-cheerleading-pyramids Gap ads that started running about a week ago.
You know, the ones where they chant a little ditty titled, annoyingly, "Happy Dowhateveryouwannukah." "Go Christmas! Go Hannukah! Go Kwanzaa! Go Solstice!" the exceptionally good-looking, multicultural, skinny-jeans-clad cheerbots shout.
"You 86 the rules, you do what just feels right," they cheer, before entreating us to "do whatever [we] wannukkah" this ambiguous winter holiday season.
Their jangly dance number ends by wishing us "a cheery night."
How festive, you say?
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those paranoid religious folks who believes that there is an organized effort to take the Christ out of Christmas orchestrated by a clandestine cabal of secular humanist movie moguls, feminists and vegetarians who plot their nefarious attack on family values (and the Baby Jesus) in triannual meetings at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as The Meadows, to paraphrase a brilliant line from the movie "So I Married an Axe Murderer."
I am no proponent of the alleged "War on Christmas."
And I'm all for inclusiveness and multiculturalism, as much as I am for inexpensive cotton T-shirts and reindeer-themed boxer shorts.
But this year's Gap "holiday" ad campaign just rubs me the wrong way.
In its effort, I would surmise, to be inclusive and inoffensive, the Gap has made the mortal advertising (and cultural) error of being twee. Not to mention spiritually facile.
While they all occur around the same time of the year, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and Winter Solstice hardly carry the same spiritual weight.
Christmas celebrates the miraculous birth of a savior come to redeem the world. Hannukah, while also commemorating a miracle (a one-day supply of oil for a lamp in the temple lasted eight days) and the victory of the Jewish rebellion over the Hellenistic rulers of Jerusalem, it is a minor holiday, not to be compared to the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur or the major festivals, Sukkot and Passover.
Kwanzaa is a nonreligious festival, begun in 1966 and celebrated nearly exclusively in the United States, which celebrates African-American culture and values. Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year and is for many pagans and neo-pagans the symbolic and spiritual rebirth of the year.
While each of these holidays, for lack of a more universally applicable term, is significant to different groups of believers (and nonbelievers, for that matter) they are not spiritual equivalents.
Still, I have no problem with all four being mentioned in the same context when we're talking about the things people celebrate this time of year. That's valid and correct.
What isn't, however, is the notion that any of these holidays espouse the idea, explicitly or implicitly, of doing "what just feels right" or "whatever we want"-ukah.
Unless we're meant to be concelebrating Bacchanalia or -- and this is even a stretch -- Mardi Gras, nothing in the Christian, Jewish and pagan traditions or the African-American cultural ideals that Kwanzaa celebrates would encourage the faithful to throw all rules out the window and do whatever feels good, man.
If that were true, the Gap ad would have done well to end with an Ayn Rand look-alike in a Santa hat and white beard driving a sled pulled by 12 tiny flying armadillos.
Christmas is about selflessness and transformative love, the improbable gift of a divine baby born into straw poverty in order to reconcile the world back to God. We do celebrate Christ's birth by giving something to each other to commemorate that epic, divine gift. But it's not supposed to pivot around the exchange of material goods, and it's definitely not about sweaters and turtlenecks.
Hannukah is about power of perseverance, faith and righteousness to overcome tyranny. It's about a small miracle that changes everything. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Those principles are pretty much the direct opposite of the idea of "do whatever you want." And Solstice is, first and foremost, a natural, communal, Earth-centered event. Nothing about ushering in the death of the old year and the birth of the new says "fleece hoodies" to me.
The "Dowhateveryouwannukah" spots have made me think twice about where I'll purchase any last-minute stocking stuffers this year. But not for the same reason as that of the perennial saber-rattling "pro-family" organization the American Family Association, which, it brags, has been for 32 years "on the frontlines of the American culture war."
Earlier this month the association called for a two-month boycott of the Gap because of its "censorship of the word 'Christmas' " in its ads.
The Gap ad campaign (which began running a few days after the association's clarion call for a boycott) says "Christmas" repeatedly, and that's precisely my problem with it. The use of the word "Christmas" -- and "Hannukah," "Kwanzaa" and "Solstice" for that matter -- is so flippant and false that the cheerbots might as well be shouting "Go Hippopotamus!" instead of "Go Christmas!"
I'd much prefer a heartfelt "Happy Holidays" to this faux-inclusive, hodgepodge of treacly meaninglessness.
Rather than an inviting cup of steaming Wassail to which everyone is welcome, the Gap's "Dowhateveryouwannukah" is little more than a strangely saccharin fruitcake that appeals to no one.
Cathleen Falsani is the longtime religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and author of the new book, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.
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