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Christmas - Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal

Fritz Allhoff (Series Editor), Scott C. Lowe (Editor), Stephen Nissenbaum (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-4443-3090-8
256 pages
September 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
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From Santa, elves and Ebenezer Scrooge, to the culture wars and virgin birth, Christmas - Philosophy for Everyone explores a host of philosophical issues raised by the practices and beliefs surrounding Christmas.
  • Offers thoughtful and humorous philosophical insights into the most widely celebrated holiday in the Western world
  • Contributions come from a wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, theology, religious studies, English literature, cognitive science and moral psychology
  • The essays cover a wide range of Christmas themes, from a defence of the miracle of the virgin birth to the relevance of Christmas to atheists and pagans
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Foreword: Joining the Manger to the Sleigh? (Stephen Nissenbaum).

Editor's Introduction (Scott C. Lowe).

Part I: Christmas: In the Beginning.

1. Jesus, Mary and Hume: On the Possibility of the Virgin Birth (Zachary Jurgensen and Jason Southworth).

2. The Virgin Birth: Authentic Christmas Magic (Victor Lyons).

3. Putting the "Yule" Back in "Yuletide" (Todd Preston).

Part II: Is Celebrating Christmas Really a Good Idea?

4. Armed for the War on Christmas (Scott F. Aiken).

5. Christmas Mythologies: Sacred and Secular (Guy Bennett-Hunter).

6. The Significance of Christmas for Liberal Multiculturalism (Mark Mercer).

7. Crummy Commercials and BB Guns: Son-of-a-Bitch Consumerism in a Christmas Classic (Erin Haire and Dustin Nelson).

Part III: Santa: A Deeper Look.

8. The Mind of Santa Claus and the Metaphors He Lives By (William E. Deal and S. Waller).

9. Making a List, Checking It Twice: The Santa Claus Surveillance System (Richard Hancuff and Noreen O'Connor).

10. You'd Better Watch Out… (Will Williams).

11. Santa's Sweatshop: Elf Exploitation for Christmas (Matthew Brophy).

Part IV: The Morality of Christmas.

12. Against the Santa Clause Lie: The Truth We Should Tell Our Children (David Kyle Johnson).

13. Lying to Children about Santa: Why It's Just Not Wrong (Era Gavrielides).

14. Putting Claus Back into Christmas (Steven D. Hales).

15. Scrooge Learns it All in One Night: Happiness and the Virtues of Christmas (Dane Scott).

Part V: Christmas Through Others' Eyes.

16. Holly Jolly Atheists: A Naturalistic Justification for Christmas (Ruth Tallman).

17. Heaven, Hecate and Hallmark: Christmas in Hindsight (Marion G. Mason).

18. Festivus and the Need for Seasonal Absurdity (Caleb Holt).

19. Common Claus: Santa as Cross-Cultural Connection (Cindy Scheopner).

Afterword (Santa Claus).

Notes on Contributors (Santa's Elves).

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Scott C. Lowe is professor of Philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. His current interest is in the political philosophy of Richard Rorty. He is the editor, along with Steven Hales, of Delight in Thinking: An Introduction to Philosophy Reader (2006).
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"'Philosophy' here means not the serious study of logic, metaphysics, and so on, but something
closer to ‘a collection of interesting ideas and arguments', an eclectic amalgam of popular
psychology, sociology and morality ... Be irenic by all means, but to allow your opponent to win before you have even begun is to eviscerate the arguments and discussion that are the very reason
for this book." (New Directions, 1 December 2011)

"For those more philosophically trained or inclined, the utilization of these philosophical works within the context of the great Christmas debate provide an alternative dimension into classic philosophical arguments of ethics and sociological structures, not typically revealed in academic literature." (Metapsychology, 30 September 2011)

"Wickedly humorous and innovative philosophical insights in a range of essays on Christmas themes make you think more than twice about the most widely celebrated holiday in the Western world." (Suite101.com, December 2010)"Still, it contains several thoughtful and bruising entries, the perfect mix for this time of year". (CBC News, 21 December 2010) 

"This great new book, in fine Socratic fashion, probes the meaning of Christmas, asking challenging questions that help us reflect on how we celebrate the birth of Jesus." (The Englewood Review of Books, January 2011)

"It seems that this time of year most of us are consumed with, well, consuming, whether it's indulgent holiday fare or gift giving. But if you've ever found yourself contemplating some of the deeper aspects of the season, Christmas Philosophy for Everyone offers insight into the season of giving with thought and humor". (Urban Baby, 17 December 2010)

From Santa Claus, elves and Ebenezer Scrooge to rampant consumerism and controversial questions of multiculturalism and the virgin birth, this immensely entertaining and thought-provoking volume, in the oft-audacious Philosophy for Everyone series, explores a plethora of philosophical issues raised by the practices and beliefs surrounding Christmas." (Suite101.com, 16 December 2010)

"It all goes to show that philosophy can engage comfortably with popular themes after all - in this case, by offering an antidote to festive semiotic overload, and bringing a little reason to the season". (Time Out, 16 December 2010)

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December 15, 2010
Christmas: Better Than a Lump of Coal

“Not so much a subject matter, philosophy is a way of thinking. Thinking not just about the Big Questions, but about little ones too. This series invites everyone to ponder things they care about, big or small, significant, serious … or just curious.”—Philosophy for Everyone

A lonely winter night, a young village couple, the son of God, a few barnyard animals, and some holy men, and you have the story of Christmas—at least according to the Bible. Secular tradition, however, sees it as a time to be merry and indulge in rich food, drink, and gifts, which aligns with the original Winter Solstice and harvest tradition. Christmas: Better Than a Lump of Coal (October 2010) looks deeper into the Christmas festivities to unwrap its pagan origins and secular trimmings.

The essays cover everything from consumer madness, culture wars, the Puritan ban on Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge (“Scrooge Learns it All in One Night: Happiness and the Virtues of Christmas”), a tongue in cheek treatment of the labor exploitation of elf workers (“Santa's Sweatshop: Elf Exploitation for Christmas”), the beloved Christmas Story movie (“Crummy Commercials and BB Guns: Son-of-a-Bitch Consumerism in a Christmas Classic”), and Santa Claus himself (“Against the Santa Clause Lie: The Truth We Should Tell Our Children” & “Lying to Children about Santa: Why It's Just Not Wrong”).

There are a host of philosophical and cultural issues surrounding the practices and beliefs of Christmas, and Christmas: Better Than a Lump of Coal (October 2010) offers thoughtful and humorous philosophical insights into the most widely celebrated holiday in the Western world. The contributors engage in a sparring match between the merits of the Christmas tradition on a secular and pious level, and pit the two main representative figures of the holiday against each other (Santa Claus and Jesus) in an ongoing contest of goodness, generosity, and mythical relevance.

Some would argue that Santa is the more identifiable leader of Christmas cheer, and that the Christian sentiment has largely fallen by the wayside, among the discarded wrapping paper and cracked tree ornaments. In “Making a List, Checking It Twice: The Santa Claus Surveillance System” and “You’d Better Watch Out,” the contributors question the premise of Santa Claus as an actual being, and the underlying psychological motives behind  his presence in the holiday tradition. In the Afterword, Santa Claus, the right jolly man himself is given the chance to defend himself (and straighten out his reputation as the descendent of the gods Thor , Odin, and the sinister Krampus), leading to the conclusion that the contributors who argue his existence may very well find a lump of coal in their stocking this coming season.

Some of the essays argue that the literal telling of the Christmas story in the Bible is false, and misguided (“Jesus, Mary and Hume: On the Possibility of the Virgin Birth”) while others see it as an illustration of the power of the Bible to teach important spiritual lessons (“The Virgin Birth: Authentic Christmas Magic” and “Christmas Mythologies: Sacred and Secular”).

With some having visions of a  tide of anti-Christmas sentiment (the supposed “War on Christmas”) and the counterattack from conservative or fundamentalist Christians and media talking heads (Bill O’Reilly), the mere mention of Christmas has become a sore spot in society. In “Armed for the War on Christmas” and “The Significance of Christmas for Liberal Multiculturalism,” the contributors play out the two sides of the argument, challenging the reader to pick a side, or simply unite behind Christmas as a unifying force among diverse religions and cultures.

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