An American Christmas Carol.
Christmas has always been a very odd time for me and–by extension–my family. Since we hold no particular religious attachment to the holiday, I’ve always marveled at the way Christians choose to celebrate the birth of their savior. (I can’t fathom, for instance, Objectivists erecting trees and buying gifts, even for themselves, on Ayn Rand’s birthday. Not that she’s an Objectivist’s savior mind you.)
Starting in July, I’m bombarded by pictures of snowmen and stars atop greenery, little funny, leprechaunish people in weird hats with primitive tools and Santa Clause. It has gotten so overwhelming that I have decided not to fight it. This year I would do the Christmas thing. Buy presents for everyone I know, hold a Christmas dinner, attend Midnight Mass. I even went so far as to break down and buy a Christmas shirt. Green, Dickensian Green, with white writing, complete with snow flakes and holly. Across the front of it, emblazoned in five-inch tall letters are the two words that made *this* Christmas *my* Christmas: bah-humbug.
My child, inquisitive as she is, asked why I didn’t particularly care for Christmas. I shrugged, dusted the tree-flocking off my shoulder, and sighed. “Because people don’t know what this holiday is really about,” I replied.
We’ll pause here for a brief note on “my child”. She belongs to a good friend of mine, whom I’ve known for many years and I’ve become over the years a sort of surrogate father. When I introduce her, I introduce her as my daughter. Her mother, for all her wonderful qualities, is a ‘practicing wiccan’ (which has now, thankfully, topped Mormonism as the fastest-growing religion in the world). My daughter has been brought up in a house free of the guilt of killing the Messiah, therefore she’s a little bit immune to all the nativities featuring multi-cultural wisemen/women, strange combinations of farm animals and sea life, and even one nativity in which Jesus was swaddled in a Gay Pride flag and Mary was wearing an AIDS Awareness ribbon. One of the wisemen looked like a transvestite and the other two were carrying a copy of the Qu’ran and the Bible respectively. Even the Beetles were making a stop at this particular Adoration. The displayers of this nativity were one Susan G. Komen button away from offending everyone with that little whopper.
Back to my child. She’s inquisitive and, given that she attends Catholic school, is well-familiarized with the Nativity story- emotionally detatched familiarity. Which is good. Because she can look around and see what Christmas is ‘really about’, or at least what it is *supposed* to be about.
“Because people don’t know what this holiday is really about?” she scoffed, in that way only a pre-adolescent can do. “Whadda ya mean don’t know? Look at all of these people. They are buying gifts and giving to others and shopping, being nice and all.”
A rather-stark looking woman of about fifty brushed into the shelf before which we were standing, examining incense burners, nearly sending it tumbling to the ground. The shopkeeper looked up and the woman scorned my child. “You should watch what you’re doing, young lady!” she said.
I paused, considered my reply, and then politely suggested she should get Lasik and enjoy a couple of years on Weight Watchers, before wishing her a Happy Christmahanukwanzakahs and ushering my child from the store.
Once back in the crushing flow of shoppers angrily pushing and shoving their way from one over-crowded, price-gouging retail boutique to the next, I embarked on explaining Christmas to her in a not-so-subtle way.
“You see, babe, it goes like this. For 11 months of the year, the entire economy of the world goes into hibernation, storing up goods and useless shit that people really don’t need. Big companies wait and wait until about September, when they begin spending their saved up advertising dollars on convincing the American public of the dire need for an underarm-hair removal kit or a cell-phone boosterpack to recharge your batteries while you shop. Then, there is the sort of ‘dÃ©tente’ period (you know, like the first four or five moves in Risk when we’re just reinforcing our troops?).”
She nodded. Encouraged by her seeming understanding, I pressed on.
“Well, dÃ©tente lasts from about Halloween until the last week before Thanksgiving. Then it starts. Christmas trees signal the coming of the most important day of the year: Post-Thanksgiving Day Sales at McRaes. Everyone goes to the mall and begins spending all of their money on other people, buying them not clothes or a new pair of Doc Martens like they would really appreciate, but buying them rank, second-rate colognes and a plethora of picture frames–usually filling said frames with pictures of themselves or worst, their obnoxious children.”
She stopped me. “But people *like* getting those things don’t they?”
I shrugged. “Some of them, yes. But go to the return counter the day *after* Christmas and you might wonder. Because that’s when the world goes *back* to the mall and gets what they really really want: the useless shit that they bought for other people!”
She nodded. “I get it now! So when you gave me that sweater for Christmas last year, I should have taken it back and traded it in for a Playstation2?”
And then I knew that my child had understood the true meaning of Christmas. As a final test, I steered her into a store. “So what should we get your mother?”
With a gleam in her eye, she smiled. “Cash.”
Merry Christmas all.