Halfway Out Of The Dark. . . For Some . . .

Just watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and overall it was delightful and charming. I’m really starting to love Matt Smith’s portrayal of The Doctor, and as an added bonus, they even kept Amy and Rory offstage for most of the story! (They really should do that more often.) The line-by-line writing was solid (especially The Doctor’s ramblings, which are always my favorite part of the show), the acting was spot-on, and the music was just gorgeous.

But one thing was nagging at the back of my mind throughout the entire episode, slightly interfering with my ability to completely get behind it.

On EVERY world? WHEREVER people are? Throughout time and space? The middle of winter is celebrated as Christmas? (Even when it’s renamed as something as transparent and disingenuous as “The Crystal Feast”?)

So, I’m completely familiar with the tradition of the Christmas Special with Doctor Who, and I have no problem with it; it’s usually delightful.

But tell me: What kind of ethnic apocalypse happened before the expansion of humanity in the Whoniverse that EVERYONE celebrates the middle of winter by celebrating the birth of Christ?

What happened to the Jews? The Hindus? The Muslims? The atheists, for goodness’ sake!

Does anyone else find this more-than-vaguely disturbing?

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 4:44 am  Comments (16)  

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  1. I agree with your line of thinking. However, I can tell you from my personal perspective and experience as an atheist, it is rather absurd when people who are defined by their nonbelief come together and turn it into some sort of movement. In essence, turning atheism into a religion is the antithesis of what it is supposed to be.

    Kinda soapboxy, but I guess my happy imagining is that the atheists, at least, are either enjoying the festivities for their secular aspects as I do for my children, or they are ensconced in their homes pursuing their own vices as they would on any other normal day.

  2. Yep. This is disturbing. And it’s not just the Whoniverse; throughout spec fic, “normal” religions are either Christianity or European paganism with the labels scraped off. Anything like Islam or Hinduism is either nonexistent, exotic, or threatening. It’s a deeply Eurocentric view that frankly squicks me and throws me out of a lot of stories.

    I’m also pretty disturbed by comment #1, which seems to assume that atheism is the only alternative to Christianity. Millions of people on this planet are neither, and it’d be nice if we were portrayed as people in more spec fic.

    Thank you for noticing.

    • It was not my intention for that inference. As I said above, I was drawing from my personal experience as an atheist. I was not trying to say that atheism is the only alternative to Christianity, only that it was mine. Because I do not practice other belief systems anymore, I did not feel comfortable to comment on what a practitioner of the other faiths might feel on the matter.

      Apologies for the vagueness of my comments.

  3. So you haven’t noticed that for the past several hundred years, most people have celebrated the middle of winter for the sake of celebrating and family and friends and good food and presents? I don’t know about the christmas parties you’ve been to, but in my experience each and every one of those things dominated by far any mention of any religious celebration that happened to coincide.

    And where in the episode did they say they were celebrating the birth of christ? It seemed to me – for example, from the scene with Abigail and her family – that her sister at least thought the most important thing was family, and food at a close second. I didn’t notice any decorations of religious significance, and in the past Doctor Who has shown a very non-theistic attitude: think of the clerics “the church has moved on”.

    This goes for you too, Shweta – judaism, islam, and so on aren’t neglected or marginalized any more than christianity is in Doctor Who. The fact is that in the part of the world where the series is produced, Christmas happens to be a rather popular celebration, which represents many rather secular ideas, the family and friends I mentioned above, or as they said last season “a pagan rite to banish the cold and the dark”. That’s not any particular preference to one particular religion, that’s a preference to the name that many people, perhaps the majority, and certainly the writer, give to the holiday that occurs around the winter solstice and represents a time for family gatherings, feasting, and an exchange of gifts.

    Where in this episode or elsewhere in this series is christianity given an unfair focus?

  4. Hey, guys.

    I know this is potentially an emotional flash-point for an awful lot of people. So let’s have this discussion as carefully and respectfully as possible, please.

    I believe deeply in our ability to have a mature, non-offense-filled discussion about one of the most touchy subjects in human experience. I come by this confidence through a year of reading everyone’s comments when they see fit to leave a thought.

    The people who stop by here to discuss things are world-class people. Every single one.

    We just need to remember that this can be a touchy subject, and we’ll be fine.

    Carry on.

    Dr. G

  5. My theory is that the planet in the special wasn’t necessarily celebrating the birth of Christ, but that the TARDIS’s translation field or whatever-the-heck-it-is is a highly interpretive translator, and rendered Abigail’s songs as religious Christmas carols because it was a recognizable cultural equivalent for us (British?) Earth viewers. Other than the songs, I don’t remember any actual mention of Christ in the episode, and I figured it really was a celebration of the middle of winter, shown with some of the same cultural trappings as our Christmas.

    I think it would be appropriate here to mention my favorite lines from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol:

    “There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew; “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

  6. Wherever people are, if they have seasons, they’re going to celebrate. This time of year coincides with the natural shift from cold to warm – daylight time, which has been getting shorter and shorter, is now getting longer again. Whether a person celebrates it as ‘light has won over darkness’ or ‘the end of the cold is in sight’, it’s a very meaningful time of year.

    I’ve even heard atheists say ‘Isn’t it great? The days are getting longer again!’ It’s a time of celebration for everyone! Unless, of course, they live near the equator. Then I’m not sure how it might affect them.

  7. A feast in the middle of winter is much older than Christ. It’s a time when food is scarce, so it and the only warmth we have, must be shared. Many cultures had such a feast in cold, dark times.

  8. Oh, It’s simple – since the universe is infinite, the variety is infinite, therefore there are enough cultures that celebrate Christmas. statistics!
    Wait till they get to the Blink-statues’ home planet (in 50 seasons or so). What a Christmas that will be 🙂

  9. I certainly didn’t think they were celebrating the birth of Christ (or an equivalent) in that world; I agree with the comment above that translated the songs to something we’d find equivalent (at least seasonally to a degree) in our world. It’s also not the first time in New Who history that a hymn has been used; I’m reminded of “Gridlock,” where the lost on the motorway sing “The Old Rugged Cross” (which I don’t believe in that world meant what it does in ours).

    IMO, the songs are being used to create an emotional weight and/or create an atmosphere, whether or not the viewer subscribes to the original intent of the lyrics (and again, I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that the TARDIS makes the translation/substitution/whathaveyou).

    Also, hymns and carols such as these are in the public domain, and the BBC budget likes free things.

  10. The intro never said that *every* planet celebrated christmas, just that every planet had a celebration half way through the winter. And even then, that’s not canon “who-fact”, just the opinion of one of the characters.

    As for the planet in question,it was settled by eurocentric humans who brought their cultural celebrations with them. So of course it would be Christmas. Sure, there are probably other planets that celebrate Eid or Divali (even other parts of the one in question), but this was a Christmas special so oddly enough it focussed on Christmas.

    Does the British Broadcasting Corporation have a Christian bias? Yes. Because unlike the USA Britain is *officially* a Christian country, with a head of state that is also the head of the state religion.

    That said, Britain as a whole seems to be a lot more friendly to non-christians of all stripes than the US, at least the US as portrayed by their own media…

  11. That line struck me as a deliberately pagan invocation (nature-oriented, pointing out the roots from pre-Christian-colonization, the midwinter celebrations). I liked it for that — it called to my mind various light-based/light celebratory festivals, like Wiccan Solstice celebrations, ancient Yule ones, Diwali, Chanukah, German things with candles, etc. and the stories behind them — the universalism of noticing and marking changing seasons when and if seasons change.

    I did also think for a couple seconds about my dad’s Caribbean country, where every day pretty much ends at 6pm year round (or at least that’s what he always said) and I went “Harrumph!”, but then I got caught up in massive the pretty singing and the massive plot holes.

  12. I take offense, sir!

    Sure, the world would be a better place with less Amy, but WE NEED MORE RORY! All Rory, all the time.

    *goes back to doodling little hearts around Rory’s name in her Trapper Keeper.*

  13. And aside from the religious aspects, everyone has ignored the fact that here on Earth the celebration of Christmas is in the middle of *summer* in the southern hemisphere. There is no widely celebrated mid-winter holiday in the antipodes.

  14. One of the Star Trek movies had a funeral at which someone played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. It struck me as odd that that cultural artifact would be found where no man has gone before.

  15. The celebration of halfway out of the dark was a commonality of most of Earth’s people’s long before Christianity. It is only logical it would be so elsewhere. The Whoverse got it exactly right.

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