Monday, December 12, 2005

Oh, Darling...Must We?

It's that time of year again; and, as usual, I wish it weren't. There is a buck-naked six-foot Douglas fir taking up too much space and putting out too much scent and dropping too many little green needles on the carpet in my living room. The Grandmother wants to go to the mall and finish her Christmas shopping, plunging wheelchair-first into the densest and most stupefied crowds of the year, pretty much every day... even though she doesn't know what to buy for whom, or where to get it, nor does she care for anything that is available in the many stores that are so overstocked with merchandise that you have to roll entire racks of clothing around to make an ADA-compliant path. My daily seven-o'clock dose of Tom Welling's pulchritude in ABC Family's Smallville reruns has been replaced by those ghastly old Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials, or worse, those non-Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials that are even more poorly-written and lack that saving touch of camp Rankin-Bass always inserted into its stop-action animated features ("I want to be a dentist!" or "I'm Mister Heat-Meister!" per esempio).

I'm just feeling funky about the whole thing. Partly, I think, because I am too broke to buy presents this year, though I know I will be receiving presents, and it feels tacky to get a present from someone to whom you have not given a present. I have agreed with my cousins and Grandmother not to shop for each other, and I have a gift for Caroline that is something I already own and which I know she covets but which I love dearly and am loath to give away. But no Christmas Shopping makes me blue... especially since I can't autogift, which has long been my favorite part of Christmas shopping ("one for Aunt Terry and one for me; one for Uncle Ralph and one for me; one for Cousin Kellie and one for me"... you get the idea).

And this inability to participate in the Reason for the Season (as I see it: shopping) is really throwing an unpleasant light on that Reason and the other Reason (you know, that ancient Nazarene they keep talking about but infrequently imitate) for the Season.

I have been hyper-aware this year of the growing tension amongst Christians about having their big holiday hijacked by all us non-believers (I can't tell you how many Christians I've heard complaining that they are enjoined to wish everyone "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"), and all the tension growing in the nonbelievers who want all that nasty hateful Christianity taken out of the holiday (I recently heard about the ACLU forcing Sears into taking the word "Christmas" out of its holiday advertisements, as if the ACLU has nothing better to do under a Republican dictatorship; I've also read about several lawsuits where people want nativity scenes banned from private homes as well as public property).

The thing that started bothering me this year is: why do all these non-Christians feel compelled to celebrate what is inescapably a Christian holiday? I understand that the non-religious aspects of Christmas have long been part of American Tradition, but how did it get to be that way? Where did all this secular Santa/Xmas bullshit come from, anyway? And why do we make up holidays at the same time of the year so that non-Christians can celebrate the Season?

It seems to me that the Reason for the Season is, indeed, retail. You'll notice that it is the retailers who come up with non-specific Holiday greetings and have removed the word "Christmas" from its advertising so as not to offend non-Christians; you'll observe that all of the "culturally inclusive" alterntative holidays that are suddenly surfacing all over the place (I mean, who ever even heard of Kwanzaa before 1995?) are always presented as gift-giving holidays, and that what you are being culturally included into is the practice of buying extra retail in December; you'll find that every tinsel decoration and every sappy TV special and every radio-broadcast carol, secular or religious or hybrid, has retail corporate sponsorship behind it. The entire Reason for the Season is to keep the whole rattling gazillion-dollar machine of gift-buying and card-sending and decoration-hanging going for another year.

Now, don't get me wrong... not only am I not a Christian, but I love retail. I worship my gods weekly at the mall. I shop to live and I live to shop. I am the perfect consumer (barring the occasional handicap of penury), I am permeated by the impulse-buying mentality that retailers study and cater to... it is for me that they put those cool doodads and nifty gizmos at the ends of the aisles so I'll be sure to buy them, it is for me that eBay and Amazon exist, it is for me that expensive glossy sale-magazines are produced and inserted into Sunday newspapers. Not in any way, shape, or form am I knocking retail.

What I am knocking, what bothers me about the tensions of this Season, is that people don't seem to realize they are being manipulated. They don't seem to realize that the Christian holy day of Christmas and the secular gift-giving holiday of Christmas are not even remotely related to each other, and share only the name and the date. If there is another Robert Manners out there and his birthday is on December 27 (not that I'm dropping any hints), does that make us the same person? No! Similarly, Santa Claus has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ, nor do either of them even have anything to do with the original Saint Nicholas nor the pagan winter solstice celebrations that were grafted onto the medieval Christian calendar.

Consider, too, the fact that all of the so-called Christian holidays have been subverted and reinvented by retail. I mean, does anybody ever pray to Saint Valentine on Saint Valentine's Day? No, we buy billions of dollars worth of pink-and-red crap to demonstrate our "love" for each other. Do we go to church or revere our dead on All Hallow's Eve? No, we buy billions of dollars worth of costumes and candy. Do we pray to Saint Patrick on Saint Patrick's Day? No, we buy green beer and green clothing, eat corned-beef and cabbage, and otherwise stereotype and demean the Irish. And every year, these "holidays" become even more retail-oriented. I recently heard someone complaining that he couldn't find a nonsecular Halloween card to send. Halloween cards? When did we start sending cards on Halloween? I mean... really!

The secular form of Christmas is just that: secular. All the traditional hoo-ha about trees and mistletoe and exchanging gifts is pagan practice grafted artificially onto a new religion long, long ago. Modern Christmas is driven by corporate advertising and has nothing to do with anything except making you buy more stuff than even the most dedicated shopping-addict ordinarily would.

The religious form of Christmas is of course the original inspiration of the secular holiday, just as the word Holy Day is the original form of the secular word "holiday" meaning a national day off from work. But you know, words and meanings change over time... we no longer hold onto our balls when we "testify," and we no longer kill every tenth middle-manager when we "decimate" our workforce, and "gay" no longer means merry and bright.

Get over it. If you want to buy each-other presents, string icicle lights around your house, put a flammable green eyesore in your front window, and eat yourself into a tryptophan-and-insulin coma, have at it... I know we will, as I and my family always have done. If you want to celebrate the birth of Christ, go right ahead, light-up plastic crèche sets and all. Do them both at the same time, if you must. But please keep in mind that these are now, and really have always been, completely separate (though coinciding) practices.

So anyway, enough rant. I do have one positive thing to say about the Holidays this year: I've happily discovered that eggnog is the best beverage for taking my morning meds. It's so viscous and thick that I don't have to eat anything before taking my pills, as I ordinarily would if I just swallowed them with milk or juice. Eating is always such a trial for me in the morning, and so many things that I would ordinarily swallow pills with (yogurt or citrus juices) interact badly with the Prozac to give me terrible gas. I don't know what I'll do when the eggnog supply runs out. Maybe I'll have to make my own... though I have no idea where I might procure some guargum and carageenan (whatever they are).

Well, thanks for coming by. I had a lovely time chatting with you all! I'm off now to the mall with the Grandmother; I'm not working today, and so we can take advantage of the shoppers with jobs being busy in order to finish the last three people on her list. Wish me luck, and a cheery toodly-yoo-hoo to you!

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