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Saturday, December 20, 2014

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS


Are you ready for Christmas? I hear this in town when I see someone I know. I never know what to say. I tend to say, I'm ready for it to be over. That's not totally true. I like the gift-giving part, the Saturnalia of it, the friendly spirit in the air. At the same time, the marketing aspect of Christmas is severely tiresome, yet is connected directly with gift-giving, what I think of as the best part. We have a list of traditions around Christmas. The so-called Christians harp about keeping Christ in Christmas, no more Xmas, and attempt to bring everybody down with other traditional beliefs about the time of year, like visiting with friends and family, good cheer, buying presents for kids, family and friends. Don't forget about Jesus born in a stable without a doctor. Don't forget Santa, a pagan spirit who delivers toys to boys and girls. Don't forget to buy a present for the dog. And don't forget Christmas trees that poison mountain spring water, the eastern half of the continent's water supply, which, by now, is nothing with the fracking coming in behind the poisoning to destroy the mountains as water source. Too bad about water. Too bad about native trout. Too bad about life. I like the spirit of people getting together to laugh and be light-hearted. At the same time I want to buy something for everyone I care about, I don't want to. I dislike long-faced religionists wanting to shut everybody down; it's about Jesus. Being happy is about Jesus. So many opposites clash in this time of contradictory messages from all 360 directions, it leaves me confused. If I commit to one tradition, the people of other traditions tell me I'm wrong. So I, like everyone around me, embrace them all without worrying about it. It's Christmas, an all-inclusive fun time of year. 


I have to say I have the good fortune of happy Christmases growing up. It meant seeing grandma and grandpa, cousins, aunts and uncles, and lots of presents. My personal associations with Christmas are happy. I was past 30 before I realized some other people have a difficult time with Christmas. I knew a woman who would fall into depression at Christmas. Her parents were drunks who hated each other and made Christmas miserable with their drinking and fighting. This came up one Christmas, I'm thinking 1974. A half a dozen of us friends got together to have a Christmas amongst ourselves. By the end of our gift-exchange and party, Joanne spoke up in tears saying this was the best Christmas of her life. I thought she was exaggerating until she explained. Turns out, it was her first Christmas. Her parents did not observe Christmas, except to get drunk and yell at each other, while she cried in her room. Other kids got presents, she got nothing. Out on her own, she never paid attention to Christmas, it depressed her so much. Later, I saw a statistic that said about half the population fell into depression for individual reasons at this time of year. It came to me out of the blue. I'd never entertained the thought that Christmas could be a sad time. My friend Jr Maxwell had a half-brother thirty years older, who killed himself and his wife on Christmas eve, 1945, leaving a four-month old baby an orphan. Jr was 23 that Christmas. The shock wave caused him a divorce from his first wife, the one he could have lived with so well. It knocked him off his track. He took Christmas for just another day, a day other people get excited about.


I hear preachers admonish the flocks for thinking materially on Christmas, for distraction from the despair of guilt that Jesus shed his blood for your sins. And the television telling them to spend all they have and max all their credit cards to buy more, you never have enough. Honey, I'd sure love to have that gold T-bird for Christmas. The Bank sends hundreds of billions of our dollars to Swiss and Cayman Island tax-free accounts. And what do we get? A year of paying on the credit card and a year of landfill stuff. This is the material side. There is no spiritual side to Christmas anymore. It's been so ruined by dogma, by business, by misinterpretation, by advertising, yet it still has some life in it. I like to be with my friends who have kids on Christmas day. I love for the kids to show me their new toys. One year, I gave Justin a big package of AA batteries. Santa always brought him something really neat that required batteries minus the batteries. Daddy wasn't driving to town Christmas morning to buy batteries. Some kids have good times all day, some do not, some have the whole spectrum in one day. Getting down to the day itself, 25 on the calendar, Christmas is a uniquely individual experience. So much anticipation is packed into the day that the day itself feels like it's missing what it's supposed to be, whichever on a checklist of options. I find the option of Christmas that appeals to me, personally, individually, is the happy spirit of the time. People get together to visit. See somebody at the grocery store, stop and have a brief conversation in good cheer. Paying for gas, a brief moment of good cheer, not saying Merry Christmas all the time, just visiting in a friendly way. It's this spirit I have come to value about Christmas. 



I can't afford to buy a whole mess of stuff to distribute to people that don't want it, so I eliminate that part of it. I will not have a Christmas tree. Christmas music is ok, once. The best ones seldom get heard, like Ralph Stanley's Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. And that's a good thing. It doesn't get worn out that way like Bing Crosby's White Christmas. It's a beautiful song, but I've heard it so much it's boring. Two aspects of a multi-faceted holy day, the holy and the secular. All kinds of theories going around concerning what Christmas really is, all of them advertising themselves with profit in mind. Herein is why I choose to step back from Christmas as anything but a genuinely high-spirited time, accepting its balance as a low-spirited time for some. I will not have my head infected with a television telling me every minute to spend more money I don't have to spend. I don't accept the frustration. I give token presents and a loving spirit. It's all I can afford. I can't afford to feed a house full of people. I don't accept that there is a given rule I'm to follow for Christmas. Visiting with my friends who have kids is what I do on Christmas day, and watch football on several channels, clicking from one to another when a commercial starts, making the rounds. I call it surrealist tv. It cracks up both Justin and Melvin when I break out laughing during a Viagra commercial. If you have an erection lasting more than eight hours call your doctor. The symbolism is hilarious. It's a comedy that even Jon Stewart can't make funnier. We visit in this time by watching television together. My Christmas will be seeing baby Vada, Crystal, Justin and lots of football. It's all in the spirit of the day.      


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