Christmas at Harvard

As I write these words, the first snowfall of the Cambridge winter has dusted the red brick and frozen earth of our University. In Harvard Square, they have hauled out strands of yellow lights and strung them about, and in the Coop, ribbons and wreaths offer a cheerful counterpoint to the endless round of carols playing merrily in the background.

It is--almost--Christmas at Harvard.

Harvard herself would never admit it, of course. For our watchdogs of tolerance, pluralism, diversity and the other shibboleths of contemporary academia, we have entered the "holiday season," when people from various "faith traditions" take a break from their studies to enjoy "winter break," as the official campus calendar calls it.


Christmas is just part of the pantheon, one divinity among an Olympian host of holidays that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice--and this December, for the first time in thirteen years, the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Granted, it has been a trifle difficult to eliminate residual Christian-centrism entirely from University-speak. Last year, for instance, an official Harvard mailing wished us all a "happy millennial observance," displaying an remarkable lack of respect for those faiths that choose not to follow a dating system based upon an obscure Nazarene carpenter's historically dubious birth.

But in their defense, the mandarins of modern Harvard may not have been aware of what, exactly, the whole year 2000 extravaganza was commemorating. If you believe their academic jargon, after all, we've just completed two thousand years of the "Common Era"--which apparently took over when the Uncommon Era ran out of gas midway through the reign of Caesar Augustus.

There is an important story here, about the de-Christianization of the modern university and the suffocating blanket of secular sneering that has settled over Ivy League campuses in the last half-century. But as the days grow short, and Christmas inches closer, it occurs to me that Harvard may be entirely correct not to recognize the importance, or even the existence, of Christendom's chief feast day.

Not that rigid secularity and cloying, politically correct euphemisms like "holiday season" and "millennial observance" are to be applauded, mind you. Far from it. But even if Harvard were to rid itself of the prejudices of enlightened academia and their attendant cant, it would still be incongruous for our University to make even a half-hearted attempt at celebrating Christmas. The Christmas spirit, to invoke a hackneyed but useful phrase, just doesn't fit in with the spirit of Harvard.


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