I applaud the modern trend of challenging Christmas’s status quo.
There’s nothing wrong with seasonal goodwill, per se, but the “goodwill, schmoodwill” philosophy also deserves an airing.
We need a counter-balance to the heartwarming tearjerkers that otherwise inundate us this month – movies like It’s A Wonderful Life and Holiday Inn, TV shows like Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and all those charitable efforts that stir our hearts and make us all-too-pleased with ourselves. Sugar overload is as bad for adult brains as it is for kids’ teeth.
I don’t go as far as supporting an enterprise like the 2003 movie Bad Santa, which my husband and I abandoned after 10 minutes in the movie theatre, due to its unabashed nastiness. But a little salt fighting the saccharin is welcome.
The episode of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, for example, where the Jewish Larry David character reveals his ignorance of, and disdain for, his wife’s seasonal traditions, is right up my alley. Tortured by hours of listening to her family warbling Christmas carols, David wins up accidentally eating the baby Jesus in their homemade cookie crèche and gets into a scuffle with live characters in a manger scene.
David Sedaris’s hilarious book Holidays on Ice is equally tart. One of the stories in this brilliant collection concerns his miserable job as a Macy’s Christmas elf. “On a busy day twenty-two thousand people come to visit Santa, and I was told that it is an elf’s lot to remain merry in the face of torment and adversity. I promised to keep that in mind,” Sedaris writes drily.
He proceeds to describe such horrifying scenes as a mother unzipping her four-year-old’s fly so he can relieve himself in SantaLand’s artificial snow. In another incident, Sedaris reports, “A spotted child visited Santa, climbed up on his lap, and expressed a wish to recover from chicken pox. Santa leapt up.”
I think the best holiday movie extant is A Christmas Story, in which the BB-gun fantasies of a young boy in the 1940s clash with the reality of strict parents and teachers, neighbourhood bullies, and marauding dogs. As you doubtless know, it all works out in the end, but along the way there’s plenty of the comic gold that stems from acute disappointment.
More political statements opposing Christmas obviously abound. It takes no time at all to find un-merry griping on the Internet, ranging from antichristmas.org to xmasresistance.org, with a stop for a few moments at British singer Joss Stone’s Anti-Christmas Carol.
Christopher Hitchens’ diatribes against Christmas in Slate magazine make for more entertaining reading. You may not agree with every opinion espoused by Hitchens, who seems never to have pulled a punch in his life, but you can’t dismiss his intelligence, or the skill with which he builds an argument. In 2005’s Bah, Humbug, he claims that what he hates most about Christmas is “the atmosphere of a one-party state.”
“On all media and in all newspapers, endless invocations of the same repetitive theme,” he writes, sounding not unlike a certain Mr. Scrooge, no redemptive finale forthcoming. “In all public places, from train stations to department stores, an insistent din of identical propaganda and identical music. The collectivization of gaiety and the compulsory infliction of joy. Time wasted on foolishness at one’s children’s schools.”
The famous non-believer is especially disgusted by those who insist that it’s not enough to offer somebody season’s greetings around this time of year – the birth of Christ must be invoked, particularly in the United States. Many groups there take this “issue” extremely seriously. Something called the Liberty Counsel actually has a nine-year-old “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign.” Its website lists companies it considers to be “naughty” or “nice,” based on whether they use the word “Christmas” or one of its secular synonyms in their marketing materials. Be careful if you’re inclined to get on this bandwagon – the Liberty Counsel may start tackling individual greetings next and rap your knuckles whenever you wish a non-believing friend a “happy holiday.”
At least there’s some element of debate taking place. Last year at this time, a group called American Atheists erected a billboard on one side of the Hudson River, reading “You KNOW it’s a myth. This season celebrate REASON.” The Catholic League of New York contradicted it on the other side of the river, proclaiming “You Know It’s Real. This Season, Celebrate Jesus.” Pick a side, any side.
I’m not quite sure what a celebration of "REASON" would involve. I suspect that it would be lead by no-nonsense engineers. There probably wouldn’t be presents, or Santa, no turkeys would meet their end, the port would stay corked, and the trees would remain outside, buffeted by rain and snow. The whole thing would certainly be cheaper. Abandoning Christmas makes plenty of practical sense.
For many Canadians, however, the trouble is that our winters are long, dark and depressing. And, like people around the world, most of whom make excuses for their own impractical and irrational festivals throughout the year, we revel in every glimmer of light we can find.