Even if it's all just based on a story, the holiday is still worth celebrating.
By Jeff Smith
DECEMBER 22, 1997:
Christmas is a fairly weird idea, when you think about it.
I mean, basically it's a birthday observation for a guy most of the world thinks, if it thinks about him at all, was a public relations triumph, but not much else. More people on the planet put their faith in Muhammed, Buddha, or L. Ron Hubbard, than believe Jesus H. Christ was the son of God, delivered of Mary (no last name), wife of Joseph of Arimethea, in a barn in Bethlehem (not Pennsylvania) on the 25th of December, 0.
So how did it come to be this bizarre combination of retail selling orgy, international love-fest, long-distance calling marathon, tear-jerking, sentimental, skyrocketing suicide, day of mystery and magic that is every child's fondest memory and every hermit's bleakest night of despair?
Myth, universality and opportunism.
There is a good deal about existence that troubles the average guy, or should. How did we come to be? When? What was up before that? Who is responsible? You could give yourself a headache pondering these seeming imponderables, and the apparent imponderability would probably leave you concluding something oxymoronic, paradoxical or ultimately illogical. A leap of faith that puts the whole messy equation in the hands of a supreme being who doesn't have to answer to the rigors of the scientific method. Almost everywhere you go on the globe, the locals have confronted the foregoing questions and, failing to satisfactorily answer them according to the universal patterns of linear, cause-and-effect thinking, blamed it all on God. Allah. Whomever.
So. One particular sect, with one particularly sexy variation on this universal creation myth, and with a conspicuously ambitious cadre of apostles and missionaries, and a laity bent on world domination in its own and separate political and economic spheres, commences a two-millennia run as top dog on the global cultural stage...Whose major holiday do you think is going to top the charts? Bingo. Pun intended.
But it only works because it resonates.
Not everybody in the world celebrates Christmas, but damn near everybody is at least aware of it. And what the hell, if all those Christians are taking the day off, not much business is going to get transacted, so we might as well knock off too. And if everybody in Cairo, Illinois, is going to get all sentimental and phone home to Mom and Dad, we here in Cairo, Egypt, might just ring up the folks too.
What's the harm?
No harm. And no foul.
Yeah, you can talk on into the middle of New Year's Day about the crass commercialism of the season, and the unreal expectations it insinuates into the minds of impressionable and increasingly materialistic children, and the aching isolation of those left alone by death, divorce, growing-up-and-moving-away, but for all of these cheesy realities there is nonetheless a sweetness in some of us during the Christmas season that otherwise might never find a forum. And that would be too bad.
Sure, sure; the gifts of the Magi make a pretty sketchy basis for the sort of shopping unto dropping and credit-card indebtedness that fuels the engines of commerce as the fourth quarter of the year closes its books. But without the holiday shopping season, a lot of the groceries that feed our bodies, and clothes and houses that warm and shelter them through February and into spring and summer, could not be afforded. If there were no Christmas, man would have to invent one.
Or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Can you picture any sort of mid-summer holiday that would excite a sufficient frenzy of generosity and greed to account for 25 to 40 percent of a retailer's annual bottom line? Bastille Day? I think not.
Isotoner would be tits-up by next November and Mr. and Mrs. Glover's children would find nothing but a brick under the following June's Bastille bush. Meditate on that one.
From the time I was a little kid and began remembering stuff, Christmas has been my favorite time of year. I believed in Santa Claus and Baby Jesus and Mom and Dad and Dave. And Roy and Evelyn Moon. Now Roy and Evelyn and Mom and Dad are dead. Dave has gone realistic on me, and I suspect Santa and El Niño may be fictional. But so what?
They make terrific stories.
Call them lies, call them myths, the fantasies that people persist in often say more about the character and quality of people than the realities that persist around them. True, we help create those ugly realities, just as we help create those lovely myths....
Also true: The myths speak to who we would like to be, even if the realities reflect who we are. There's the hope of redemption in there somewhere. Or at least momentary relief.
And the hope of a Merry Christmas.
Don't shoot yourself, don't get too drunk, give somebody a big wet kiss, and give away all your loose change and small bills.
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