Friday, December 06, 2013

Luciadag and Traditions

In the comments under my Luciafest post, Staffan notes that some Swedish towns have a boy as Lucia queen now.  Another correspondent reports that she knows one of the Swedish women pushing for this, as they frequent the same feminist blog.  The reasoning is that since there is nothing necessary to the completion to the task that resides in one sex and not the other, each is on even footing. She adds that the woman is an atheist, which I at first thought only tangentially relevant, but after consideration, believe has some bearing on the issue.

First, whatever towns in Sweden are doing this, it’s their town and they can do what they want.  I don’t think anyone officially “owns” a holiday.  However in any tradition, I can see how any number of folks might believe they have an interest in it that should be respected.

Nothing necessary to the completion of the task.  I think arguments like this gain a foothold and sometimes even win the day because people aren’t prepared for them.  They pop up, seem to make a sort of sense, and the misgivings about it don’t have a ready answer.  Individuals, and even society is caught off guard.  I liken it to the reasoning of adolescents, as in my favorite example of an angry teenager complaining “I don’t tell you what to wear!  You shouldn’t tell me what to wear!”  It is almost reasonable.  It has some reasoning in it. It’s not fully wrong.  But it is missing some pieces, such as who is paying, at what pace the relaxation of authority is to take place, and who gets to make that call. We don't tend to have thought through all the issues of "What is tradition for?  Who is affected?  Where is this all going?"

This is a place where Obama’s “you didn’t build that” really does have a place.* The attempt here is not to ignore a tradition or try to stamp it out or belittle it, but to capture it for one’s own purposes.  The tradition has a power and influence, and those who want to change it are seeking to be the new queen bee, sawing off the head of the old queen while riding on her back, using her smell as a disguise so the hive does not revolt.  

And yet...

Whether one thinks they are reformers or usurpers might depend greatly on where one sits, but the notable point is that they don’t want to destroy the hive/holiday, but to own its power.  In some ways, that’s what the early Christian missionaries did throughout Europe, trying to redirect pagan customs into a more acceptable riverbed.  Martin Luther did not actually start the custom of Christmas trees out of nothing, charming as the story is.  Northern Europeans had been yanking evergreens around for winter holidays for centuries before that.  Luciadag incorporated the pagan tomten and star boys into the show, and the December 13 date was the Winter Solstice under the old calendar.  Reformer or usurper?  Lots of Christians over the years have objected to the tactic, wanting a cleaner break with superstition.  Co-opting the pagan influence for Christian purposes strikes them as – literally – a deal with the devil. Could be.  Are we paying the price for that now, as Santa rules?

My emotional response is that these modern Swedish women are insulting their grandmothers and great-grandmothers - Christian women who built the power of this holiday and tradition and would be appalled.  It’s a kind of kidnapping. (And no, I don’t believe that the Swedish Lutheran women of 1800 would be proud of their recent descendants in this.  I’m sure it’s fun to tell oneself that, but it’s rubbish.) However, as I noted from the beginning, it’s their town, it’s their country, and they also have some ownership of the tradition.  They are only doing what everyone does with traditions – remaking them according to their own values.  I don’t have quite the logical ground to stand on that I thought. 

When we attempt to build traditions artificially we find we have no materials available but other traditions.  Nothing with any power comes ex nihilo. The French renamed the days of the week and the months of the year after the Revolution.  It didn’t last.  There was no power and romance there. Even using the old elements, we find that we cannot make them do what we wish.  Esperanto never got off the ground, neither will Kwanzaa.  You can’t kill the birds and expect them to fly for you.  If the tradition is allowed to keep its own power, it goes on for a time and the additions/reforms/usurpations have something to feed off. European Christmas drew from Yule and Solstice and got to be a Christian holiday for centuries, though it never fully shook its paganism.  Now the religious holiday is nearly gone, because the secular forces did not forbid the tradition but only captured it for its own values – some good, some bad. But whatever power was left over will not be fully obedient to their new masters either.

It pays to ask why one would wish to remake the Lucia tradition at all if one is not Christian.  It's not yours. Or is it?  If it's just a Swedish festival with Christian roots, then maybe it is theirs.  More than mine, anyway. 

Well, it’s the attraction of cultural power.  This batch of Swedish feminists don’t want to make something new.  They want to make the tradition obey, them but still have the power to bring tears to Nana’s eyes.

Yeah, let me know how that works out.  In a generation, it will be an Esperanto or a Kwanzaa.


*It had a place in his use of it as well, but rather the opposite of what he wanted.  Yes, American businesses didn’t "build that" out of nothing.  They built it out of the rules for government and economy of their forefathers, of the networks and traditions of those who had come before.  I’m glad to honor them and give them credit.  Emphatically not out of the current government and society – those are also beholden descendants.  It’s one of the category errors of government-increasers.  They believe that everything good done by government two hundred years ago is to their credit now.  They tip their hand that they see the split as being between the rulers and the governed, across time and space, with themselves as the true heirs.  Very scarey.


Sam L. said...

What's your hit count, now?

Assistant Village Idiot said...


It's a funny-looking number. I strongly doubt this will be around for one million.

Anonymous said...

A chimp could complete the task. That's not the issue. These liberals hate religion and traditional life in general. They don't want a new Lucia; they want it gone. They want rationality and right angles on everything, this-side-up architecture and all that. They would prefer a robot as Lucia. That would be really interesting and thought-provoking.

And of course all their critique is directed at White Christians - everyone else is off the hook for some dubious reason.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"A chimp could complete the task."


Earl Wajenberg said...

While it's quite true that the religious element is challenged by other elements, Christmas was never exclusively religious, and maybe not even mainly religious. Somewhat famously, the Puritans, both in Cromwell's England and here in New England, outlawed its observance, because it was so rowdy. Wassailing is basically alcoholic trick-or-treat at Christmas.

("Wassail, wassail, all over the town! / Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown...")

The respectable, domestic Christmas came in with the Victorians, in part thanks to Charles Dickens and his Christmas Carrol. Of course, the Victorians were not all that serious about religion, except as a matter of Good Form, not nearly so serious as they were about business (cf. Mr. Scrooge),so the domestic Christmas and the commercial Christmas came in together.

In short, Christianity has always been battling to claim the solstice for Christ. There was never a time when there weren't competing elements, whether die-hard pagan ones, party-hardy ones, commercial ones, or ideological ones.

Earl Wajenberg said...

"And of course all their critique is directed at White Christians - everyone else is off the hook for some dubious reason."

Here's my History of Ideas take on it:

Two roots of the whole Enlightenment project are a distrust of authority and a humility about one's own set and own opinions. Both are admirable, easy to justify, and easy to corrupt. (Modern democracy springs from the distrust of authority. Modern science from the distrust of received opinion.)

The corruption, in the animosity toward Christianity and whites and males and heterosexuals, etc., draws on both those roots. Until recently, the great bulk of authority lay with heterosexual white (nominally) Christian males. And humility is liable to a rear attack by pride in the form of the "humbler than thou" game. Humility on part of a group I belong to is especially attractive, because I can go on and on about the group's (probably real) sins while being individually righteous.

Earl Wajenberg said...

Actually, come to think of it, the two Enlightenment roots are one: distrust of authority, in reaction to the blatant cockup the authorities of late medieval and early renaissance Europe had made of so many things.

Distrust of academic authority spawned science.

Distrust of political authority spawned the democratic revolutions.

Distrust of religious authority spawned the Reformation.

Sam L. said...

You'd think the Progs would celebrate the paganism.

Anonymous said...


I think Enlightenment is dependent on the lack of Haidt's moral foundations authority, (ingroup) loyalty and sanctity/degradation. And probably higher general intelligence as well. This profile represents a completely different type of human. And we should be grateful for what that breed has done for Western civilization.

But as you say, this project is in a state of corruption. And not being a modern person myself I'm prone to be disgusted by people who pretend to be something they're not.

But I get your point. It's more interesting to have a discussion about human nature than to engage in these culture wars.

bs king said...

Well, I suppose a chimp could do it, but you'd definitely have to use electric candles.