Christmas thoughts

I have decidedly mixed feelings about Christmas. I’ve always loved the story, still do. Some of the spinoffs—Dickens, Seuss; Schulz and whoever committed that Drummer Boy, not so much. My dad used to work in advertising with the guy who wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as an ad assignment for Montgomery Ward’s, and the Capraesque story of how he wrested the rights from the company in a jury trial was part of our Christmas lore. I loved the decorating. My mom made stuff out of trash—pie pans, styrofoam from Alka-Seltzer bottles, the humbler the better. We sprayed white fluffy chemical snow all over the tree and the den. I loved it. I still like the decorations. Growing up in Texas, I didn’t know that colorful displays were “tacky”; it took Virginians to tell me that. They have a Tacky Christmas Light tour here with people riding around in limos gawking at the displays of the tasteless. The default Virginia decoration are these wimpy single candle lights in every window. I always thought of the lights as sort of electric Joy to the World, and if you’re in Hosanna to the highest territory seems to me a candle ain’t going to cut it. Which brings me to the songs, the carols. What I like about this is it’s the same set of songs every year, positively medieval, like those same stories about King Arthur and his pals. What I don’t like about it is it’s the same songs every year. Some of them, I insist, should never have made it into the canon. “Jingle Bell Rock.” Even typing the words cause me anguish. “O Holy Night!” on the other hand, has me all soft and squooshy. I believe Henry James covers squooshy in The Varieties of Religious Experience. No. What’s gone wrong with Christmas for me is that it’s become the great celebration of consumption, capitalism triumphant. The drama of the season has nothing to do with Jesus, Rudolph, even frigging Charlie Brown, but with you, you lard ass. Are you going to go out there and spend some serious dough or not? Do you care about the American Way of Life? Then you better go rack up those negative savings or there’s no telling what adjustments the market might make, and then where will you be? Kind of gives you a warm glow, don’t it? You can see what I mean by mixed feelings. Not that they weren’t always there. I remember hunting for and not finding a particularly desired gift and cursing my parents for failing me, only to get the damn thing on Christmas morning. It had been hidden in the trunk of my dad’s car, along with the boxes of drug samples that made it doubly off-limits to me. You got your train kid, it was riding around with the Dexedrine. Now how do you feel? Ho! Ho! Ho! Thankful? Ashamed? Like I said, mixed feelings. The part I like best, of course, is the peace on earth, good will toward humans, and the rest of the biosphere while we’re at it. So I hope you’re enjoying your holiday. Give everyone you love a hug.

5 thoughts on “Christmas thoughts

  1. Hi Dennis,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. I love the songs, and I hate them. I can’t stand going to the shopping malls where they put up decorations early in November and play the same canned Christmas songs over and over, but I put up decorations at home on December 1st (a mixture of gaudy commercial stuff and homemade) and play my Christmas CDs over and over until even my beloved Neil Diamond wears on the ears and the thought of hearing another brass band play O Holy Night fills me with despair. And having got totally fed up with them, I go carolling with church and singing at Carols by Candlelight, and I love every minute of it!
    I have never bought into the commercialism, and am very happy to say that neither did my two children. One of my husbands tried to make me succumb – a New Yorker, he was – but I resisted. It may be a little easier here in New Zealand, though I know plenty who nearly put themselves into the poorhouse each year. More fool them!

  2. What is uniquely American, it seems to me, is this storyline: The American economy leads the world, the American consumer drives that economy; therefore, the fate of the year, the economic fate of the planet (and what other kind matters?) is in the hands of American consumers. Local tv crew haunt the malls to see how we’re all doing in the accomplishment of this sacred mission. I mean, we can’t count on you New Zealanders, can we? Neil isn’t on your iPhone yet? Where’s your Christmas $pirit?

  3. Dennis:

    Writing to you while a gaze out my window shows furious falling stuff that can’t choose between snow and rain…

    Perhaps it is the function of getting bombarded into numbness by more than 40 on of these holiday seasons, each one getting worse and worse in its crassness and near-desperation in urging me to go and buy stuff. But I’m edging deeper into bah-humbug territory due to the excessive excess that comes with this territory. I do make my own Christmas cards, though.

    Just around Halloween, I was at Lowe’s right here on Broad Street and encountered a convocation of holiday yard displays within three rows of each other: inflatable ghouls, a Pilgrim father holding a blunderbuss and a Nativity scene. I got vertigo from the cognitive dissonance.

    Meanwhile, an item of interest: In a past issue of the Richmond “Religious Herald” a similar complaint to yours (and mine) was penned by the editorialist who argued that the celebration of Christmas these days is wrong-headed “”if we are glad when it is over. Shopping becomes a burden…social fellowship a dissipation and good cheer a surfeit. Why may we not return to the sweetness and simplicity of the day before artificiality, pride and extravagance…?”

    The date of that issue: December 28, 1899.

    And the beat goes on.

  4. Hey Harry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for artificiality pride and extravagance. I think the ghouls, the Pilgrim (you sure that’s not a Mel Gibson figure?) and Jesus and co. would make a nice grouping. Inflatable is good except for the noise and the fossil fuels being expended. Now one thing the papers didn’t have much of in 1899 was a Business section to explain the relationship of such consumer choices to the global economy. I wonder if there’s some environmentally correct way to inflate a ghoul and a Jesus and a Mel…
    Though my lifelong dream, in the religious art department, is a black velvet painting of Jesus and Elvis playing poker with dogs, but alas, I’ve found it as elusive as the grail. To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen any really good black velvet art since I left Texas. Fa-la-la-la-la.

  5. Dennis,

    Your thoughts on this “season” resonated with me… and I thought I’d share a couple responses I had while reading them. First — on the ambivalence of feeling, and the strange attraction of tacky, I heartily recommend Sufjan Stevens’ recently released collection of music, “Songs for Christmas.” See ; you can buy mp3 versions via amazon.

    And second — as a counter to the commercial and U.S.-centric push leading up to Christmas (and as a thoroughly traditional source of subversion), I stick to the longstanding liturgical seasons of Christianity; so it’s the season of Advent until 25 December, when Christmas begins (and lasts for just twelve days, until Epiphany). The tone of Advent is anticipatory, reflective, and anything but consumer-driven. I’m no Scrooge — but I delay in getting a tree until the week prior to 25 December, and emphasize celebrations throughout the actual season of Christmas (and parcel out gifts to our child through the 12 days…).

    peace and all good…

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