|Today's voice belongs to|
Excuse me. May I interrupt your shopping for just a minute? I’m wondering if you’re aware that there are actually two Christmases, not one. No, I’m not joking. One Christmas is what I call the Baby Jesus Christmas, or Christmas 1. It’s all about the adoring Magi, the Star of Wonder, the awestruck shepherds and their flocks, the humble manger scene, the tender and mild infant, myrrh and frankincense, the appearance of the angel, and tidings of comfort and joy. The other is the Santa Claus Christmas, or Christmas 2. It’s all about Santa, the elves, the reindeer, sleigh bells, trimming the Christmas tree, days of shop-till-you-drop, crass commercialism, socks hung by the chimney with care, gift unwrapping, and the delight of children. Christmas 1 is fraught with religious significance; Christmas 2 is completely secular. They are two nearly independent celebrations that happen to climax on the same day. All Christmas 2 needs for full independence is a secular pretext, like “On this day we celebrate the values of good will, giving, and world peace—period.”
Christmas 1 is in a bad way. It’s living in a hospice on a ventilator. Every year it grows weaker as vampiric Christmas 2, driven by a consumption economy, becomes more robust—so robust in fact, that it begins rearing its head around Halloween and threatening to engulf Thanksgiving. Christmas 1, on the other hand, has no connection to America’s commercial heartbeat. All that keeps it going is the large minority of Americans who believe in its mythology. And in this we see the most distinguishing characteristic of Christmas 1: the Tyranny of the Plurality. Its believers have sufficient numbers to put the sights and songs of their Christmas continually in front of us. Until recently their crèches had invaded parks and city buildings and a variety of public places. These are gradually being abandoned under the pressure of the law, but they are still safe in many private places, like front lawns and shopping malls. More invasive still are the songs. Radio stations are indiscriminate about mixing secular Christmas music—“White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and so on—with the likes of “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” TV specials often give us the same mix, as if everyone finds the nativity story moving and credible. I see it all as a case of bad manners, like the young driver who has his windows rolled down and the volume of his music ramped up. His message: “This is my music, and you need to like it too!” Or it’s like the smokers of a few decades back who decided that the sensibilities of everyone else in the room were irrelevant. Could the Christmas 1 believers confine their solemnities to the privacy of their homes and churches? Of course. But they won’t because the sensibilities of everyone else are irrelevant.
To be sure, Christmas 2 has faults as well; however, I prefer to think of them as excusable faults. Let’s look at them. First, there’s the criticism that Christmas 2 has its own elaborate myths. True enough, but at the center of them is Santa Claus, a jolly old man who wants nothing more than to make girls and boys happy while they dream of sugarplums. Is he the King of the Earth or of anything else? No. Is he the son of God? No. Is he the agent of our salvation? No. Do any adults believe he exists? Probably not. In fact, before most children reach the age of 8 or 9, they are disabused and make a full recovery from the disappointment. In the meantime, the excitement, imagery, and wonder of the myth is another gift to them, or so many would claim. Another so-called fault is the crass and unapologetic commercialism of Christmas 2. The excuse I make here is that our entire culture is one of crass and unapologetic commercialism. Christmas is part of our culture, so how can we expect it to be an exception? Let’s put the blame elsewhere because it really does belong elsewhere.
So go ahead. Plop your kids on Santa’s lap and take a picture. Trim your Christmas tree and make your home festive. Wrap the gifts prettily with bright paper and ribbons. Put your excited kids to bed, array the gifts around the tree, stuff the stockings, and bring out the milk and cookies. Enjoy the pandemonium in the morning and get out the camera again to record the happy faces amid the toys and litter. Pour an eggnog, throw a log on the fire, and lie back in an easy chair. It’s all good. That’s approximately what I’ll be doing, only I now have grandkids to share the day with.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas—and please celebrate considerately.
Copyright © 2012 by Ken Marks