Down some snowy candlelit lane, snaking like ribbon candy, lies Christmas. Not one I ever had, nor anyone I know. We have not celebrated Christmas in our home for over thirty years. We are Baha’is and I guess that makes other people nervous. They rarely invite us to anything Christmasy. In essence, we have been Christmas free all this time. No shopping, no pressure to get gifts for people about whom one feels at best ambivalent. And most of them are relatives. The last gift I gave my mother was a miniature orange tree. She said, “This is the only thing you’ve ever given me that I’ve liked.” That was how gift-giving went in our family. There were years and years of wrong gifts: a pink and green sweater with a clown ruff, the wrong books, dolls I never wanted. Gifts so bad they had to have been intentionally picked for their badness. I guessed at that meanness as a young child. Though there were things I liked: Lincoln Logs, plastic horses, coloring books and paper dolls.
With my children, gift giving was simpler. I knew them in a way my adoptive mother never knew me. I could assume that what I liked would please them too. And mostly it did. They liked books and toys, music. Easy things to buy. Especially in February when the Baha’i holidays are and there are no sales, no Santa, no Must-Have Toy of the season. I wander empty malls, looking, spending time thinking, unhasselled by bored sales people. Valentine’s Day is out there, but it is still a lover’s holiday. And candy covers all contingencies. In February, I have time to shop and plan, to hunt for just the right thing. Without hype. Without pressure to conform to that icon of Christmas lying at the end of that lane. An icon against which it is almost impossible to stand. Have a natural tree? Make your own gifts? Don’t get family together. My god, you might as well advocate cannibalism. Everyone wants you to do what they are doing, to conform to the hive mind of the holiday. Dickens is to blame of course, but he’s dead a long while now, and we are grown up. No one in Florida has to have artificial snow or Santa in a heavy red suit trimmed in frackin’ fur. The hegemony of the Northern Christmas so pervades the holiday that despite regional differences, there is only one Christmas in America.
A hideous. bloated Christmas which proffers redemption, but rarely delivers and certainly not in the Scroogian mannner. I’ve seen fights over the turkey, sisters insulting and hurting each other, parents and children, spouses, all go at it. And despite Hollywood, I know of no one redeemed by trying to live up to “God bless us everyone.” Why? Well who goes to church for Christmas now? If I did Christmas, here’s what we’d do.
Chrstmas Eve, put up the tree.
LIght the luminiere
Go to midnight Mass.
Come home and open a small gift.
Sleep relatively late the next morning.
Open gifts, most of which would be handmade or donations of time.
Go serve somewhere.
Come home and eat with friends.
Listen to a lot of music. Over the next 12 days try to visit friends and do things together. On 12th night get together with friends and welcome the lengthening days of the coming new year
I like to think that is what I would do, that I would resist the Santa lie. Ok I am an old poop. But what is Santa but blackmail? Be good you little beast or you will get no toys! And really, who connects Santa to the gift of the Christ Child except in the most superficial way? What is the connection? God gives us a child,whom he will cause to be crucified later, so Santa is God, the gifts are what? No wonder people bail and just go with the shopping and Santa. Theology is too hard, and screwy theology is really hard.
Who needs theology when the aunts arrive in two hours and the turkey is all ready done?
Is there a way to sort out the holy day and the holiday? A holy day is a church day, services day, an observation of some kind. A holiday--public fun, general celebrations. Examples Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. There are others, mainly shopping days. But as a culture we do celebrate Thanksgiving (ok maybe the Indians don’t) and the Fourth. Everyone can do them, all the multiple diversity of this country can eat turkey and wave a flag. Even the vegetarians can celebrate with tou-furky and tofu hot dogs. And while the Fourth lends itself to drunkenness, it doesn’t carry the emotional baggage of Christmas. Thanksgiving can, if you don’t go home, but the burden of presents is missing from both holidays.
So there we are as a culture, saddled with a holiday that originates in Europe-yeah yeah, we do too-that was almost created by Dickens, whose other realities, I submit, we would not so eagerly adopt. And that is because of redemption. No story about the Fourth or Thanksgiving suggests that observing these holidays will make us better. Perhaps we do ask of the Fourth that it reaffirm who we think we are as a people, but it will never redeem us because it is too laden with death and violence. Thanksgiving should be a day of Atonement; it is a day of gluttony connected to football, not even Lacrosse for pete’s sake. Thanks to Dickens, we burden Christmas (shouldn’t it be Easter) with the weight of saving us. Whatever bad thing we have done can be expunged if we only promise to love Christmas and keep it all the year. Presents as bribes? The turkey makes up for the years of penury that Scrooge has foisted off on the Cratchitts. Playing games with one’s family? Oh what a metaphor. Scrooge and his nephew doing charades, as if they hadn’t been for years. And there we are every year charading our way back to the family, laden with turkeys, hoping for blessing, wondering why it doesn’t work.
So bah humbug on the Dickens Christmas. Bah humbug on all of it. Let’s go back to keeping the solstice. Let’s renew ourselves by reconnecting to the natural world every year. Go decorate an outdoor tree for the birds if you live some place where it snows. Go pickup the beach, then have a cookout. Screw presents. We all have too much stuff anyhow. Rejoice, if you live in the norther=n hemisphere, in the lengthening days. If you live in the Southern hemisphere, welcome the cool season.
Just leave Claus out of it.