As Glee episodes go, this week’s “A Very Glee Christmas” isn’t bad. The songs make more sense, a few characters — notably Sue — experience actual development, and there aren’t an abundance of awkward moments.
But besides raising the bar slightly for the show, the episode is also notable for the conspicuously secular approach it brings to what is ostensibly a religious holiday. Given the show’s willingness to address faith in the marvelously titled but poorly executed “Grilled Cheesus” episode, that approach is surprising. It also scores a big secular win for the so-called “war on Christmas,” that perennial conflict between fanatics on the Christian right who want to plug Jesus into the holiday, and their liberal counterparts who feel that thinking about a guy getting kicked around and tortured to death dampens the most wonderful time of the year.
The most obviously secular part of “A Very Glee Christmas” is the song selection. Though some of the greatest — and oldest — Christmas songs are either hymns or religious in origin, no member of New Directions sings them. Instead, they perform a series of classic Christmas-special hits like “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year,” a couple of numbers from the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a song by The Carpenters (just to make sure there is at least one really lame moment in the episode.)
But song selection isn’t the only secular part of the show. Significantly, Rachel and Puck, two Jewish characters, and Kurt, a formerly anti-religious zealot, show no qualms about partaking in all the seasonal cheer. And while Rachel explains her participation to Finn as just wanting to do something he enjoys, her justification basically boils down to saying, “I might not be a Christian, but what does that have to do with celebrating Christmas?”
And that seems to be the takeaway message. The episode argues that no matter who you are, what you believe in, or how you live, Christmas is for you. In essence, it’s an extension of Glee’s larger multicultural thesis, which is generally admirable.
When it comes to Christmas, however, that idea is also controversial. Every year, people get up in arms about companies using words like “holidays” and “season” instead of “Christmas.” Others lament the commercialization of the holiday, or militantly try to impose Christian symbolism on pagan icons like wreaths and evergreen trees. In “A Very Glee Christmas,” however, those are the very things that matter. Glee’s holiday is all about physical ephemera.
None of this is to say the episode isn’t charming. It really is. The story is also largely about giving, charity and kindness, things that Christians and non-Christians alike tend to value. For those of us who delight mostly in the commercial gaudiness of the season, the episode might even be memorable enough to watch again next year. But for anyone who feels that our modern holiday has strayed from its course, “A Very Glee Christmas” must surely be evidence of one thing: the war on Christmas is far from over.
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