Arguing Against Christmas and Why We Need More 'Bah Humbug'

Santas in a police lineup
The Crimes of Christmas. Dieter Spears/Stone/Getty

Christmas has become generally secular in America, but despite (or perhaps because) of this, it has acquired an almost sacred and untouchable character which people defend to the utmost. Skeptics of Christmas are not received well; those who do object to something about Christmas usually portray themselves as actually defending a “true” Christmas. I think, however, that a bit more skepticism of and dissent from Christmas would be better for everyone — it might even be better for Christmas.

What Is Humbug?

The phrase “Bah, Humbug” is today connected solely to Christmas due to Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge, and most people think it represents a general denunciation of others’ having a good time. The word humbug actually means “something intended to deceive, a fraud; an impostor; nonsense, rubbish; pretense, deception.” This word has value which should be reclaimed, and the purpose of this exercise is to point out some of the pretense, deception, and nonsense in modern Christmas celebrations.

Humbug of Christmas Traditions

Christmas “traditions” are mostly of relatively recent vintage, only having developed in the past couple of centuries (especially in Dickens’ writings, ironically). Few people care, though, and seem to be more in love with the appearance and pretense of “tradition” than with any actual traditions which might exist. This may also motivate the focus on charity now rather than in January or February. These people get a good old fashioned “Bah, Humbug,” for putting appearance over substance.

Christmas Commercialization

This is too easy a target, but I’m not complaining about the transformation of a somber religious observance into an orgy of materialism and credit card debt — I don’t want to be accused of being anti-capitalist and unAmerican. Actually, I don’t care about that. I do object to how new and silly things are pushed on people at this time of year. Christians have done this themselves, though, so a friendly Humbug to them for ruining their own holiday and then blaming others for it.

Christmas Commercials & Advertisements

Of course, who can forget all the ads used to promote Christmas commercialization — they are worse than the commercialization itself. Holiday displays are being put up earlier and earlier every year. Christmas commerce has already overtaken Thanksgiving and it won’t be long before Halloween is subsumed by the Buying Season as well. Soon the songs wishing that it could be Christmas all year long will appear to have been prophetic, and so I chant “Humbug, Humbug” to overbearing advertising.

Christmas TV Specials

There is no end to cheesy TV specials featuring actors we’d managed to forget about and performances we wish we could forget. A few stand above the rest, but probably because we loved them as kids — thus today we are more in love with the memory of Christmas past than with the Christmas special itself. We should say Humbug to lousy television programming all year round but give an especially loud Humbug to the even worse holiday shows crowding out the merely bad ones.

Christmas Wars

Not content with causing problems in other aspects of society, conservative Christians have manufactured a war over Christmas. They’ve cast liberals and secularists as evil villains trying to undermine Christmas and Christianity while casting themselves as heroic defenders of all that is good and pure in the world. This production makes the TV specials look like masterpieces by comparison and deserves a Humbug over the head for the deception and nonsense spread for the sake of political gain.

Forced Happiness

Christmas is marketed as a season for happiness, joy, and warm, snuggly feelings. It’s unAmerican not to be happy and joyful this time of year, so the ads, songs, and cards keep reminding of us of how we are expected to feel — but not everyone can or does feel happy at this time. Pressure to be happy can cause serious depression, and what about all the fires and accidents this time of year brings? I’d like to send a warm, snuggly Humbug to those who push happiness like a drug.

Christmas Waste

Few notice the waste that occurs for the sake of Christmas. I’m don't mean the orgy of spending, but the waste from wrapping paper, cards, trees, electricity (for lights), etc. Some excess for the sake of a celebration isn’t wasteful, but even the excess of Christmas is excessive and it gets worse every year. Then there is the fact that all business moves slower this time of year. All those who can’t learn moderation get their own Humbug, sealed with too much tape and an insanely large bow.

Attacking Skeptics Who Point Out the Humbug in Christmas

Anyone who disagrees with Christmas, criticizes Christmas, dissents from the cultural juggernaut of Christmas celebrations, or just refuses to participate in Christmas, is likely to be labeled "Scrooge," the villain of Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol. This is not a compliment: Ebenezer Scrooge is depicted as mean, unforgiving, friendless, and greedy. He hates Christmas and isn't seen in an even vaguely positive light until he experiences a quasi-religious awakening to the "true meaning" of Christmas.

Why should it be wrong to dissent from Christmas? Scrooge rightly pointed out some problems with it in his own time - for example paying bills without money, a problem which has only gotten worse, it seems. If the story were written today, Scrooge might say "Bah, Humbug" to the facets of Christmas described above, and who could fault him?

Many would try, however, and reason is simple: too many people object when cherished assumptions and beliefs are challenged, questioned, or refuted. To call "humbug" on something is to say that it is or is based upon deception; that it is more pretense than genuine and more superficial than substantive; that people are being taken in by a hoax by others who would profit from them. Few like such things pointed out to them, especially when it involves a holiday which they have enjoyed since childhood. Skeptics encounter this all the time.

Humbug is a challenge to assumptions and received wisdom. If unfair, it should be met with counter-arguments; if justified, it should be accepted as a reason for change and improvement. Vilification of those with the temerity to point out the pretense and deception in our lives, however common and popular, is not appropriate. This is why a bit more humbug would benefit us all: by forcing us to reevaluate what we do and assume, our beliefs can either be made stronger or replaced by something better.