Wednesday, December 17, 2008
A Holiday Tree without all that Christmas claptrap.
Absitively, posilutely gorgeous, ain't it? Well, ain't it?
HUMBUG. I suppose one definition of insanity would be thinking the whole world's gone insane and you haven't. Well, I'm there. Officially insane. I don't understand what atheists and other sourpusses have against Christmas, and I don't understand why anyone is paying them any attention.
You know, there are people out there who just don't want anybody else to have any fun. According to their logic, if they're miserable, everybody else should be, too. I really think that's all that's going on here with the secularist/muslim attack on Christmas. They complain here in the U.S., to us, because they can get away with it here. People listen to them and act as if their general misanthropy were some kind of valid political or cultural position. It isn't. The truth is, their only real pleasures in life are ruining someone else's good time and seeing how much total bullshit they can get away with. They've always been with us. That's why Charles Dickens wrote about Ebenezer Scrooge and why Dr. Seuss wrote about the Grinch. We used to know how to deal with them. Why have we forgotten? And since when is dyspeptic nastiness a religious, political, or philosophical stance that should be accommodated?
I don't get it. If there's one secularist (i.e., not necessarily religious) value we have turned into a de facto religion in America, it's our kids. Christmas in this country is for the kids. December is their month, the time when we do everything possible to light up their faces and conspire, at a national level, to make them believe that there is a magic in life closely associated with love. Regardless of how you feel about Christianity, Christmas has become a kind of elemental sacrament that symbolizes the circle of familial responsibility and duty. We show our children the joy of receiving gifts in an atmosphere of general good will, and as they grow older they discover that their particular gifts did not come from Santa Claus per se, but from Mom and Dad, who treasured their innocence and took joy from their delight. What better example could youngsters have in the process of learning that the greatest joy is in the giving? As they become more conscious, the children realize that their own Christmas joy was a lesser thing, wonderful to experience but as blissful in its thoughtlessness as it was in its infant purity. Too, they discover that the Christmases of their childhood were but one part of the bounty they received from their parents, including harder gifts like discipline, work, aspiration, and character. And they learn that they will do the same when they are parents and experience that greater joy, and the cycle of generations is reinforced and renewed. It is deeply moral learning without the agony of punishment. As Martha Stewart would say, it's a Good Thing.
There are complicating factors, of course, which are ambiguous and controversial. Santa Claus is a symbol of Christ cast in terms a small child can understand. He sees all, he judges, he gives, he grants wishes and secret dreams, he can minister simultaneously to the needs of all, somehow outside of time. But he is also the undying symbol of the continuum, the value of each family as part of the greater family we all belong to, with shared responsibilities and shared perceptiions of right and wrong, virtue and vice. Santa Claus can be interpreted as a child's first primer on what it means to be a human being. Who could object to that?
Who? The people who look at Christmas and see only commerce, an orgy of artificial capitalist incentives to consume and increase the power of the root of all evil, money. They're the ones who despise Santa Claus. His red uniform is dyed with the blood squeezed from the oppressed proletariat by the corrupt bourgeoisie. What, one wonders, do such ideologues see as a childhood preferable to untrue images of an elf who magically brings gifts and happiness every year? It's almost impossible to see them as anything but the new Victorians -- the ones who regarded children as miniature, imperfect adults in need of constant trials and enforcements of duty -- who insist that the magical nature of childhood should be quashed from the beginning with the grim facts about global warming, economic inequity, racial strife, war, and the senseless evil of the species accidental nature has condemned us to. For them, the worst possible outcome is the possibility that humanity and commercial capitalism might actually represent a positive and optimistic symbiosis, that our nature and our culture combine at times in a miraculous complementarity which benefits both.
Not for the first time (or the last), I'll point out that it is the so-called progressives and rationalists who hew more closely to Old Testament precepts of sin and punishment, while it is the ignorant and superstitious among us who more closely exemplify the forgiving and optimistic spirit of the New Testament. A good example of this NT spirit might be (if we could find it) an intersection of the most extreme capitalism with a profoundly positive experience for the children we all say Christmas is for.
As it happens, you can find that this year (and every year) at HGTV. This show in particular seems to demonstrate how it all works. It's about the dressing of Christmas windows in some of the most expensive department store locations in the world, including Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Macy's, Saks, and Lord & Taylor in Manhattan, as well as a smaller but also quite expensive venue in Denver. You'd think following the behind-the-scenes process of creating such window displays would make you cynical, depressed, and disgusted. But it doesn't. At times you do feel like you're being led in that direction, but the incredibly expensive -- perhaps even decadent -- process of bringing the window designs to fruition ends with the emotional response of the designers to the children who are present, open-mouthed and ecstatic, at the unveilings. The children are moved, their parents are moved and occasionally in tears, and so are the designers. It's the magic of Christmas.
I was prepared to give Home & Garden TV (HGYV) full credit for understanding everything in this post. Until I hunted down the website reference to this show. How many mentions of Christmas do you find on their web promotion of this lovely show?
The Christmas reference in the Lord & Taylor blurb was unavoidable, since it was exclusvely about traditional Christmas favorites like cards, gifts, carols, etc. But who is it HGTV afraid of offending? Do they really think that images such as these don't speak the word "Christmas" to everyone?
Lord & Taylor's
So we pretend and deny and strangle ourselves with euphemisms? Why are we so particularly ashamed of what is best in us? Somebody please explain it to me. I'm insane. Obviously.