By Bob Litton
In my last blog post, I did some heavy reminiscing. I will have to do a little of the same here, gentle readers; but, I promise, not nearly as much.
Someone, way back when, declared emphatically that “Christmas is for children!” I find that remark a bit hyperbolical, yet I can accept its basic meaning as notably insightful. For, you see, when one steps on the porch of his 74th year, as I have done this month, all that is left of Christmas are a few pallid, cheerful memories of Christmases Past, several aggravating perceptions of a noisome Christmas Present, and a blurry outlook through oblivion’s window toward any Christmas Future: hardly a prospect to encourage joining Christmas carolers.
One feels some urge to remedy the shabby state of Christmas, but time bears down harder on us each year to such an extent that we are pressed just to plan improvements, much less perform them. And all the previous efforts to purify the day seem to have come to naught; consider as an example Stan Freberg’s satirical record of 1958, “A Green Christmas”*, where the “green” represented the color of money, not of pines and wreaths. The greed of that time was low-keyed compared to this generation’s, where ballyhooing and decorating for Christmas has encroached backward to Halloween and the phrase “Black Friday” is anomalous.
I wonder when the idea was born that a store’s whole solvency was dependent on a few weeks — now a couple of months — of shopping madness. As a child, of course, I was hardly aware of any issues connected with Christmas; it was just a point near year’s end when I got some toys in my stocking and hoped there would be snow that day. But even as a preteen, I paid little heed to it. It is only Freberg’s record and a few others like it on the radio that brought the matter to the surface by the time I reached the age of eighteen. And now, when I am more attuned to the economic cycle, after having experienced directly the effects of two recessions, I look askance at the retail industries.
Why, I wonder, naively perhaps, cannot the merchants simply modify their calendars and expectations so that they can match their balance sheets with a calmer rhythm throughout the year, one without any rush to promote? Of course there will be surges during the usual gift-, card- or candy-giving times such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas; but they need not be expanded by an exerted push from the advertising agencies. Again, of course, such an idea is still naïve; although every balloon has its bursting point; and I think that when we have stretched the Christmas shopping season as far backward as Thanksgiving and even Halloween, then we have just about reached that bursting point. This year the merchants whined because the store-openings on Thanksgiving Day ate into their “Black Friday” sales totals: it is their own fault. They are like roulette addicts who place all their chips on the red December 25. Someday, I hope, the people will awake and say, “Enough!”
Now, leaving the commercial aspect of Christmas and moving on to the religious aspect, current American attitudes towards Christmas are changing. This change is in line with the decline in adherents among all Christian denominations, although the line is blurred because of, for instance, the influx of immigrants who identify themselves as Catholics, and the switch-overs from one denomination to another. Also, I think, even among the faithful there is a developing sense of the mythical elements in religion, especially those related to the Nativity events. And, too, I think some of the fair-minded Americans feel that, although they enjoy the season, there is no logical reason to impose its observance on the entire body politic by all the hoopla that ushers it in each year. That is why we have more and more legal battles over crèches and “political correctness” demands that such small elements as the greeting “Merry Christmas!” be disallowed, to be substituted by “Happy Holidays!”. I myself, as the teenage president of a Methodist Youth Fellowship in my small church, once asserted to our church’s Official Board that we should do away with Santa Claus because he is simply a caricature of God — a caricature which does not always fade away with age in the minds of simple people. That is why many people have an after-image of God as an old man with a wavy, white beard.
As I write, the Satanists are seeking the right to erect a symbol of their “religion” on the Oklahoma statehouse lawn; their purpose is to counter the recent placement of the Ten Commandments there. I suspect that this sort of shenanigans will continue until either the Supreme Court declares that the United States is solely a Judeo-Christian nation, or the born-again Christian groups give up out of exhaustion. Oddly, the court justices (what a misnomer!) seem oblivious of the magnitude of this issue.
Although I no longer adhere to the basic tenets of the religion of my youth, it still is part of my cultural heritage, and I would like to see some form of it — as a tradition — continue for others in a slimmed down form. Is there any way we can dispense with the Virgin Birth nonsense and the cradle in a manger, at least in their literal sense? Much of the attraction of Christmas that continues to appeal to me resides in several of the carols such as “O Holy Night” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. (I like the music, not the mythology; the music hangs onto one’s brain like the memory of a favorite stuffed animal or baby blanket.) The Gene Autry hits, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Here comes Santa Claus”, however, annoy me, despite my childhood adulation of “the Singing Cowboy”. But the worst of it is that the radio stations and the speaker systems in stores start blaring out the “holiday cheer” more than a month before Christmas day. If it all started two weeks before December 25th, I could find it tolerable, provided I could avoid hearing most of the “music”.
No, I fear that modulation of the Christmas season as I envision it is chimerical. The whole event will become a law-wrapped mummy of itself or die away entirely.
* To listen to Stan Freberg’s “A Green Christmas”, try this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5IXlfJSEi4