Thursday, October 26, 2023

A World Without Christmas

The Hallmark channel has already begun its annual Countdown to Christmas movie marathon. For us (Episcopalians) the season runs from the first Sunday of Advent (early December) to Epiphany (January 6, aka Twelfth Night), and I keep the tree up at least until Epiphany. But starting before Halloween?!

Last Saturday night, I watched WHERE ARE YOU, CHRISTMAS? The protagonist wishes Christmas didn't exist and wakes up from a minor car crash to discover she's got her wish. She finds herself in an alternate reality where nobody else has heard of the holiday.

Does the script take into account any of the implications of a world with no Christmas? If they even thought of that aspect at all, they didn't bother, maybe to avoid complications that would distract from the theme of rediscovering the joy of the holiday. No Christmas implies no Jesus and no Christianity, a change that would make the history of Europe, Britain, and the Americas almost unrecognizable. As far as religion is concerned, you'd have Judaism, Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and modern-day versions of the various pagan cults. As for Islam, I conjecture it might not exist without Christianity, at least in a form we'd easily recognize. So we should see pagan temples all over the place and people celebrating Saturnalia and/or Yuletide. (Earth's history as portrayed in the cartoon series STEVEN UNIVERSE takes this sort of thing seriously. There's no Christianity, so we don't see Christmas, Halloween, or Valentine's Day.)

For a less drastic point of divergence from actual history, suppose the Reformation as a whole concurred with the Puritan belief that the feast of the Nativity shouldn't be celebrated because it's merely a Christian veneer over a pagan festival, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation adopted that position, too. In that case, we can imagine Christmas being abandoned in the early modern era. Therefore, some people would recognize the word "Christmas" when the heroine mentions it, but for the most part they'd be medieval historians, which she probably wouldn't encounter in a typical Hallmark-movie small town. Moreover, in every human society outside of the tropics (as discussed in Stephen Nissenbaum's delightful book THE BATTLE FOR CHRISTMAS), the winter solstice has been celebrated by feasting and other forms of excess. In the absence of Yule or some other pagan observance, what, in this alternative universe, replaces Christmas? Apparently New Year's celebrations dominate the winter festive season, although this point is mentioned only once. The dialogue includes a slyly self-referential remark about New Year's-themed TV movies starting to air in June.

Aside from the practical difficulties of fitting this kind of speculation into a two-hour feature film (including commercial breaks), I suspect there's not much overlap between writers of alternate-history SF and made-for-TV romance movies.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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