Book Review: The Myths That Stole Christmas

By George B. Kauffman

The Myths That Stole Christmas: Seven Misconceptions That Hijacked the Holiday (and How We Can Take It Back) by David Kyle Johnson, Humanist Press, 1777 T St. NW, Washington, DC, 2015, paperbound, 174 pp., $14.99. ISBN 9780931779671.

Author David Kyle Johnson critiques the frivolous consumerism, religious extremism and the “Santa Claus lie” that characterize Christmas today. He also shows how to reclaim Christmas so that it can again be a time of joy and community rather than an expensive and divisive obligation.

Johnson begins with a bold assertion: Many of us just don’t like Christmas. Or, we like it, but we wish it weren’t such a burdensome obligation

His book removes the cultural baggage that Christmas has accumulated, from the $12 billion of “deadweight loss” gifts purchased that recipients do not even want to the way in which the religious right has hijacked the season to erode the wall of separation between church and state.

He also informs us about the history of Christmas and Santa Claus and their pagan roots and how the Christmas traditions that we take for granted such as decorated trees and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer were invented. He exposes the myth that “The Santa Claus Lie is Harmless,” while suggesting a workable, positive approach for parents in a Santa-obsessed season.

In the final chapter, Johnson deals with the most pervasive Christmas myth of all—that our current Yuletide habits are inevitable and we cannot change them. Instead of letting Christmas control us, it is finally time that we took control of Christmas ourselves.

The book focuses on Christmas, but he deals with many other topics, including separation of church and state, economics, history of religion, language and sociology. It includes numerous historical references with many citations. It deals with topics ranging from the ancient Roman celebrations and Yule, the “Christianizing” of Christmas and the more recent developments often falsely attributed to much older times.

The history of Christmas and its relationship to pre-Christian traditions is fascinating as well as the fact that most Christmas traditions are less than 150 years old. The book invites us to do away with the more counterproductive aspects of our holiday traditions, that is, our propensity to overspend, and most important, invites an opportunity to use Christmas as a unifying force in our society.

The author, David Kyle Johnson, is an associate professor of philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. He blogs for Psychology Today, has written and edited extensively for Wiley-Blackwell’s Philosophy and Pop Culture series, and has published work in journals such as Religious Studies, Sophia, Philo, Think and Science, Religion and Culture regarding metaphysics and the philosophy of religion.

*****

George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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