Sunday, December 11, 2011


Yes, I fear it is that time of year, the annual celebration of excess and little restraint. I’m not crazy about Christmas, it’s okay, but very confused. I’m not a Scrooge, just a kind of semi-Scrooge. I don’t object to giving presents, provided I can order them on the Internet and never have to engage in ordinary shopping, a procedure I regard as close to a season in hell. After many years of marriage we have a system worked out that takes most of the problems out of shopping. My wife gives me a list of what she wants, I order it, and that’s that. At my age I only get two kinds of presents, socks and underwear and an occasional book. That is as it should be. Of course this takes away some of the mystery and all of the anticipation, but it’s worth it.

Of course there remains the problem of the Christmas tree. Buying a tree destroys my wife’s romantic view of how Christmas is supposed to be. Thus we have to find a cut a tree out in the “wild.” This is a bit easier said than done as really nice Christmas-type trees don’t exist in the wild except rarely. So every year at about this time we scour our six acres for a suitable tree, she in her knee length boots, me carrying the trusty “Swede saw” (it’s just not worth it to bother with the chain saw). Luckily this year there is almost no snow on the ground so the going was relatively easy. Unfortunately, most of the trees that grow on Sandhill are Ponderosa pines, not at all suitable for the purpose. But there are a few other evergreens and we usually find a tree that is satisfactory if far from perfect. But then the tree has to be put up in a stand of some sort that will keep it erect. This requires one person to hold the tree upright while the other crawls on their belly to tighten the screws. Although my wife insists on a wild tree she also has the strange idea that it ought to be perfectly symmetrical and stand perfectly upright. As this is an impossibility, it requires a long time and considerable effort to make it look exactly right (which it never really does). Eventually we reach a compromise and then the decorations have to go on the tree. Of course by now we have so many decorations this is very time-consuming, especially with the five cats who insist on “helping.” I saw a cartoon the other day that I wish I could reproduce for you, but I’ll just have to describe it as it is relevant to this problem: Two cats are sitting in a bar drinking. One explains to the other, “Every year they do this. They bring in a tree and they hang all sorts of bright dangling ornaments on it. But they freak out if I even go near it. That’s why I drink.” Anyway, you see the problem, especially if you have cats.

Then there is the problem of theology. Christmas, we are told, celebrates the birth of Christ, but for the vast majority of Americans I am quite certain this is not what they are celebrating. First of all, Christmas trees are a carryover from some more Pagan ceremony of the past. Second, I have never known anyone who seriously considered the birth of Christ while participating in this excess of commercialism without restraint. It is true that some people put out a plastic creche, but many more just string lights and decorations. These have little or no meaning to most people other than just another form of conspicuous consumption (he who has the most decorations and lights wins). Furthermore, I suspect many younger people have no idea what a manger is, and how many people know what frankincense and myrrh are, or even care? Given the performance of our Government in recent years I doubt they know even what a Wise Man is. It is true that as an Atheist I obviously do not celebrate the birth of Christ, but frankly, none of the religious people I have ever known pretended they were actually celebrating the birth of Christ. Christmas has obviously become a basically secular holiday, promoted by merchants who make a large percentage of their sales during this holiday season. The whole thing has become a farce.

For me, one of the worst features of Christmas is the dreadful music, Christmas carols. It is bad enough one has to hear them over and over for weeks but the lyrics are mostly either insipid or bizarre. “Round yon virgin, mother and child,” “Angels bending near the earth,” “And heaven and nature sing,” and so on. Actually, the lyrics to the original Christmas carols, although religious in nature and sometimes a bit strange, are far better than what passes for Christmas carols nowadays: “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” ”All I want for Christmas is my 2 Front Teeth,” “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” “Santa Baby,” and others even more dreadful. These newer “carols” seem to outnumber the traditional ones by far, but how on earth can they be reconciled with a celebration of the birth of Christ?” We have made a mockery of what was supposed to be a serious and meaningful celebration. We no longer praise the Lord, we praise the sales, the layaways, the bargains, while we buy junk imported from China for our children and items we don’t need or want for each other. Christmas has become an orgy of nonsense, a massive fraud, a time of gluttony, a period that represents our daily lives, only blown up by a thousandfold. And yet, paradoxically, there is still that little something about Christmas, a little spark that causes us to embrace it year after year in spite of everything else.

Even as an Atheist I regret what has happened to this holiday. I wish it was more serious and less nonsensical. As it no longer truly focuses on the birth of Christ, perhaps it could be renamed and broadened into a holiday that could be celebrated by all people simultaneously, people with true visions of the sugarplums of peace and good will to all, a period of reflection and thoughts of brotherhood and liberty and happiness and of a small world on a small planet where everyone works together for the benefit of all the wonderful creatures and plants that exist on it. Sigh!

In any case, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, be of good cheer!

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