Orientalism at Christmas

Slide One – Title

So I will be talking about Orientalism and Christmas. I will be looking at the Westernisation of Christmas and how we Other the ‘Orient’ which is the birth place of Christianity, and therefore, Christmas to begin with.

Slide Two – Rewriting the Past

The origins of Christmas have started to be forgotten by society simply because they can. Edward Said states that his argument is “that history is made by men and women, just as it can also be unmade and rewritten, always with various silence and elisions, always with shapes imposed, and disfigurements tolerated.”

Christmas has been taken by the West and given its own values and customs. Furthermore, the original values are sadly being lost in the wake of consumerism. The origins of the nativity scene are also being lost, their geographical location being silenced or omitted as to silence the Orient’s influence on the holiday.

However, are the origins of Christmas being forgotten? Or, am I simply trying to exaggerate. Perhaps some examples could help.

Slide Three – Hanley Christmas Market

In November a news story was published about Hanley’s Christmas market in Staffordshire. Dennis Havers, aged 55 says “I’m sure my grandkids will love a camel ride but it is a bonkers idea. I like to go to these markets to feel Christmassy but I can’t see how a Moroccan rug is going to make me think about Jesus or the nativity.”

Simon Tovey, aged 22, “At least the German markets feel wintry and festive. I won’t feel wintry when North Africans are selling me brightly coloured backpacks.”

The age range between these two people suggests it’s not just one demographic. This ignorance is coming from the West’s power over the Orient, and society, therefore, believes that it has a right to forget and alter the image of that event.

Both men both use the word feel, which suggests that visceral reactions to imagery is more important than logic. Also the fact that the German market, and the western imagery of Christmas has more of a emotional reaction than truth. Is this the same for all imagery, especially in photography?

Slide 4 – Do They Know it’s Christmas

Here’s another example of Orientalizing Christmas and of using Christmas to subjugate the Orient.

Do they Know It’s Christmas was a band aid appeal to raise money for Ethiopia. However, we get some disturbing images that are pervasive in the song:


“But say a prayer, / Pray for the other ones.”

                Immediately we have this idea of the other… The other being Africa and the Orient. This idea is continued in the lines:

“There’s a world outside your window / And it’s a world of dread and fear”

                Why is it a world of dread and fear, because it actually is, or because it is an unknown world one which we are afraid of? This is the Occident creating an image of the Orient, and one which is not necessarily true, just what we want to hear.

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time… Where nothing ever grows / No rain or rivers flow / Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

This Chorus is possibly the worst offender.  I’m sorry for being so literal but there is snow, things grow and rivers do flow in Africa. In fact one of the longest rivers in the world, The Nile, runs through it, even touching Ethiopia the area which they are primarily focused. Africa’s image in the eyes of the Occident is far more important than the truth is.

Furthermore, the entire premise of the song is ridiculous. In Ethiopia they use a different calendar system and Christmas, or Ganna, is celebrated on the 7th January which means they don’t know it’s Christmas time. Moreover, it also makes playing Christmas songs in November even more annoying!

Slide Five – Rewriting the Past

So, why is there Orientalism at Christmas? And why has Christmas been Westernised?

Christianity has been westernised over centuries. Christian Europe became a term that is still used today, displaying how much Christianity has been adapted to suit the countries of the Occident. Christian imagery and the imagery of Christmas is also engrained in Western culture making it almost inseparable from the West.

The origins have been silenced and are ignored so that we can encourage a tradition that encapsulates our values of giving. This westernisations has brought about a secularisation of Christmas, something which is not entirely negative, but does show how outside systems are ignored and the more powerful system takes over and disfigures history. 


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