Yesterday I went to the Purdue Christmas Show with Bryan and a couple of our friends. I really wasn't dying to go, as I'm already starting to get Christmassed-out... but it's a 75 year old Purdue tradition, and I felt like I should go see it once before I graduate. I have to say, I was very impressed. The student singers were fabulous, especially when they were dancing around stage in unison, and I loved the bit where they played some songs just with bells. I'm a mediocre singer and never learned how to play a instrument, so musical things always impress me.
But then came Act II, and they dialed the Jesus Factor up to 11.
Instead of everyone being dressed in comfy sweaters or sparkly dresses, all of the students wore matching church choir robes. The background changed from a wintry landscape with snowflakes to stain glass windows and crosses. Instead of dancing around stage and impressing us with their coordinated jazz hands, they stood somberly and didn't move for the entire act. And of course, instead of songs about winter and Santa and friendship and family, it was about Jesus and God and Creation and being saved.
Oh, religion. Why must you ruin everything?
I know what you must be thinking: "Jen, it's the Purdue Christmas Show. You can go on and on about how it's just a pagan holiday co-opted by Christians and is now losing its religious meaning, but some people do associate it with the birth of Jesus. You're going to have some religious songs." And you're totally right. A lot of Christmas songs that I enjoy have religious imagery, and they're quite beautiful. I went to this show totally expecting some.
However, I think sixteen highly religious songs* in a row is kind of overkill. By the time the fourth song came on, I literally started to feel trapped. It was like I had been tricked into going to church - the hall had been made to look like a Cathedral, and all the music turned into gospel worship songs. It was definitely uncomfortable, and that's not how I expect to feel going to a music show from a secular public University**.
Baby behind us: *wails*
Me: *turns to Bryan* That's about how I feel right now
But as I sat there, I realized it wasn't the context of the songs that unnerved me - it was that the vast majority of the 5,000+ people there literally believed every word of it. We could all listen to songs about Santa and enjoy them without believing that he really did come down chimneys on Christmas Eve. But when they started singing about God creating the world and sending his only son (who was himself) to save all of us, all I could think was "I'm surrounded by people who believe this nonsense." I would have the same feeling if you told me I was in a room full of people who all thought they had been abducted by aliens, or that the world was going to end in 2012.
That's why leaving my atheist bubble sometimes scares me. Nearly all of my friends are atheists, the one club I have time for is the Non-Theists, I read atheist blogs...so I get deluded that everybody is an atheist. Then I go to something like this and I realize I am in the minority. It's quite a wake up call.
*Here are the songs, in case you want to judge for yourself: Angels We Have Heard on High, The First Noel, Silent Night (these first three the audience was supposed to sing along), Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Can You Hear It?, Some Children See Him, Ring the Bells, Lux Arumque, Anthem for Christmas, Emmanuel, O Come All Ye Faithful, Go Tell It On the Mountain, Joy to the World, Little Drummer Boy, Each Single Day, Silent Night (needed to hear it again, apparently)
**On that note, how does a public University get away with having a religious Christmas show? I can understand a "Holiday" show were they throw in the dradle song for good measure, but something so explicitly about Jesus? I don't see Purdue putting on giant shows for other religions. Where's my Happy Monkey dance number?