Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holiday post.

It's Christmas Eve, and I can't say that I'm aware of any particular "Christmas Spirit." Just what in the Hell is "Christmas Spirit," anyway?

I just arbirarily looked at the local paper's website, the Salt Lake Tribune, and found one of their columnists, one Holly Mullen has left her post after what I interpret to be long-growing differences with management. She cited that the newspaper business is going toward a model that she characterized with "short, snappy stories," and "local, local, and more local stories." ("Farewell, and thanks for reading"). In short, she seemed distressed that the readership of the papers, indeed news media in general, is moving toward a rather shallow sensationalist model of reporting.

I share such distress, wondering at times what kind of public would rather pre-occupy themselves with car crashes over events elsewhere that MIGHT just affect us in the future. Similarly, I have a friend named Resa who has been harping on the issue of North Korea for forever and a day and has published often on the issues of POW's from the Korean War (yes, dear, Korea. We had a "Police Action" there a while back, that spawned a movie called M*A*S*H, which spun off a sitcom that ran over three times as long as the actual war... but I digress). She gets the Cassandra Award for sounding an alarm when most people in the US were worried about how long the tech boom would last.

I read a few of Holly's columns in the archives, and I find a voice that speaks to me, that appears to muse on things I do, only since she's in the news business, she's apparently had the responsibility to provide timely responses to real recent news stories, the turn-around time of which, in recent times, has been getting shorter and shorter. This hardly allows time for a reasonable analysis, barely time to digest the news before formulating an intelligent opinion on the matter.

Like I said, the end result likely would have forced her into shallower and shallower knee-jerk reactions to news stories, and this is a very bad thing. I know a lot of the "talking heads" on television are apt to do just that, and I believe this is getting to be an major factor in the "incivility" in America. Just toss out whatever comes to mind, don't edit it, don't think about it, just scream, "THIS SUCKS," and let it go at that. People know what you mean, and it's short, and people will talk and react to it, and scream "OH, YEAH? YOU SUCK, TOO!" Totally bypass the thought process in the end.

What has this to do with the "Christmas Spirit?" Well, you see, I am a bit down, and seeing the end of a voice in print only fueled the Dementors' vigor and relish in sapping my enthusiasm for the coming of the "Prince of Peace." Actually, my enthusiasm for His return continues unabated. It's the bloody incessant celebration of a mutilation of His message that I dread every year anymore.

A brief timeline, to wit: to start with, the Nativity has absolutely naught to do with December, but it was more or less a political decision to displace pagan traditions with celebrating the Saviour of the World, and Atheists and other detractors are all but gleeful in pointing this out to the devout.

Not that the devout are any help. Well, it's hard to say just WHO is the "devout" in the Faith. There are many who profess Jesus is Christ, but very few actually try to learn His teachings, let alone live them. Many of these fanatics errant are the ones who blindly go about throwing money around, as if to be a good Christian, you have to acquire every Christmas-related paraphernalia,licenced and otherwise, and plaster it all over your house, your workplace, and your clothing, and you have to start earlier and earlier every year, otherwise Messiah will look at you and send you to Hell for not having the "Christmas Spirit" until October 25.

And, of course, this year, it was all reinforced when one local radio station began their 24 hour holiday festival of "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Blue Christmas" at the stroke of Midnight after Halloween. Please, I haven't even come down INTO the Halloween hangover by then before I'm being laid out by almost two straight months of Elvis and Bing Crosby crooning tunes calculated to drive me into a dewey-eyed sentimentality that should, in theory, drive me to get out and seek out that "perfect gift" for my <insert relation here> that I'll only be paying off until next Christmas.

It's the feeling that I'm being manipulated, see? I know, that's what advertising is supposed to do in a consumerist society, but leave my holidays alone! Oddly, advertisers don't try to appeal to my patriotism for Independence Day... wait. I guess they do, although they're not quite as skillful at it as Christmas advertisers are, and don't even get me started on Valentine's Day. I've spoken with quite a numeber of singles who aren't serious with anyone, and from what I've seen and heard, they feel about the same way for Valentine's Day. Worse, really, because while Christmas tells you to "BUY! BUY! BUY! We don't care whom you give stuff to, we just want you to BUY!" Valentine's Day advertisers leave un-attached singles feeling like losers because not only can they not afford the ridiculous bling they push on the public, but they can't even give said bling to anyone. After all, there is no "Sub for Cupid," so you can't just donate a 12-carat stone set in 18-carat white gold for "those less fortunate than you..."

But then there's the co-worker who starts conversations with, "So, gotchur Christmas shopping done?" As if. Wonder if she's considered the (remote) possibility that some people don't celebrate the Solstice season with buying ludicrous amounts of merchandise... I do want to answer, "No, but I bet you do," but I don't get the chance because she procedes to rattle off every mercantile transaction she's conducted since October 25, whom they're for, how much they cost, what they're likely to do with them... she mostly gives gift cards, apparently, since all her family are well-provided for, and really want for nothing at all.

Not so oddly, she's also the same person to ask, "Ready for Christmas?" On the Monday after Thanksgiving. Again, I feel like telling her, "If, by 'Christmas,' you actually mean the coming of the Messiah, then no, not really, because I do still harbor a great deal of anger in my heart, and I really don't feel ready to provide a complete account to him of all I've done and wanted to do..." But, again, no. In less time it takes the average human to draw a breath to speak, she goes directly into her own answer, only this time, she's not only providing itemized recepts, but also a play-by-play of all the baking, shopping, and... BLAH!

Later, last week, I overheard her talking about someone who "just isn't in the Christmas Spirit," which lead me to this question: what is the "Christmas Spirit?" The truth is, I don't know, aside from a few interesting twitches I get from time to time, and it's triggered almost every year by a different event.

In years past, it was the last class before finals week of the Fall term. It was a feeling of, "Yeah, wow, great classes. I think I passed most of them, but who cares, I'm GOING HOME FOR A MONTH! Hell, yeah!" During this time, I had no job and no money leading up to Christmas, but that was okay, since most of my friends and family understood I was a student, and so just being home was prize enough.

I joined the Air Force on December 17 of one year, which put me in the not-so-envied position of being in Basic Training on Christmas Day. The most moving Christmas Eves I've ever gotten to experience was that one at the main chapel. I don't know how many trainees were there, but there were a lot. The homily has an interesting take on the Christmas story, which was that on the first Christmas, nobody was home for Christmas. I've appreciated every Christmas since then, regardless of where I was. We followed with one hella Altar Call, dozens of young Airmen dropping whatever facade they carried in with them, and crying their eyes out, arm-in-arm, and it was cool. Everyone cried, and everyone was on the same level... away from home, among strangers, and wondering what they were thinking when they signed the papers in the recruiter's office.

As I've mentioned, being home for Christmas doesn't matter as much to me anymore. Well, I have my own family I try to provide for, and mom was never really that much of a cook (since the divorce, anyway), so I don't pine for the comforts of "home" as much, anymore.

Now, I suppose, the "Spirit" of Christmas is empathetic pain. Now that I'm gainfully employed, living in a solid house with a beautiful wife and an incredible son, I get more melancholy than anything. It's hypocritical as a Christian, but yes, I do feel a certain ache for "those less fortunate." Christmas throws the ills and horrors of the rest of the year that I've become numb to into sharp relief. Holly wrote of some trash in Syracuse that just... I don't know why, but essentially tortured one of their children to death.

I get mad at all the merchants making money hand over fist, and yet there are still families living in poverty this time of year, and like Jesus cleansing the temple, I feel a rise of righteous indignation at the hypocrisy and the senseless hedonism and materialism when thousands starve, turn to crime... all the stuff the Dickens wrote about over a hundred and fifty years ago, only we don't read that part... we just like the cute stories with the ghosts, nevermind the call for us to actually DO something.

It's a discontent, and a sense of obligation. Even while I myself shop for the "perfect gift," and I do start to worry about whether my loved ones will be pleased with the gifts I've chosen, I feel inadequate. Like Oskar Schindler at the end of Schindler's List, I wonder how many people could have been fed or hospitalized with the money I senselessly spent on trying to create some feeling of nostalgia?

I wonder why the suffering in the first place, and I begin to doubt the existence of a merciful God at all. Why were we created this way, or if you prefer, why did we so illogically evolve this way? Why do we instill this Santa Claus myth when we know it's bogus, and the kids, when they learn the truth, might just believe it bogus, too, and might even feel we're bogus for perpetuating this materialism and conditioning a certain ulterior motive for "being good," trying to impress some entity they can't see so that they'll be "justly" rewarded. Kinda preps them for adulthood, I guess, as so many "religious" types strive ardently to prove to God that they're worthy of Heaven, even as the so-called "Son" of God said, "you don't have to pretend anymore."

Still, there is some hope, I suppose. The holidays throw the rest of the year into relief. A holiday. A day set apart. Kind of a break from the business as usual. In a sense, I imagine if you're clever enough, you might spend time to take this otherwise arbitrary period of the year and shake yourself out of this "numbness" to the human condition. Some just numb themselves all the more with the sensual pleasures of the season, and I guess that's cool. The comforts, though... perhaps they are a reminder, or could serve to be a reminder, of the overall common good. The goal that one day ALL people will feast like kings, and will live in peace, and not just during the two hour truce between co-workers at the company holiday party. One day, hopefully, causes like "Toys for Tots" and "Sub for Santa" will become the focus of the season, not just something on the periphery.

Well, I guess that's my "Spirit of Christmas:" Hope. I don't mean to get schmaltzy here, but I believe there's the essence. Something to believe in, even if it's as abstract as a regathering of the family of humankind, the Kingdom of Heaven. Work for the jobless, food for the hungry, salvation for the imprisoned, healing for the sick. Homecomings. Justice. Security. Kindness in strangers...

Hope. Why didn't I think of that before?