The Secrets Of Christmas

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Okay, here we are, 12 days before Christmas (11, actually) and your holiday stress level is at DefCon 4.  The tree is up, but it’s been cat- attacked twice, and now the lights that aren’t supposed to twinkle – are twinkling.  Amazon refuses to send half the gifts you ordered until January 23rd.  Uncle Jerry wants to bring his step-daughter, Blaster, to Christmas dinner cuz she’s on a day pass out of County Jail.  And somewhere in the night, the tank on the toilet starting making a strange, chugging sound.  So what else could go wrong — right?  Don’t tempt the gods, because they’ve just moved your office’s Seasonal Celebration Party (“Oh, you didn’t get the email?”) to the same night as Grandma G’s 8 pm flight from Wisconsin, and in a couple of minutes, your youngest child, who’s 13, is going to announce she’s an atheist and won’t be participating in this year’s “hypocrisy.”

However, there’s no need to grab an adult beverage and hide in the upstairs closet until December 27thHelp is at hand.  I’m going to tell you the two secrets of Christmas that will wipe away the stress faster than 2 Tylenol and a shot of vodka.

Secret #1 – The last perfect Christmas was the first one. Yeah, yeah, yeah!  We’ve all heard the stories and seen the pictures on social media, but the truth is they’re all lies — there’s no such thing as the perfect Christmas.  Not even Martha Stewart (the Queen of DIY guilt) and her army of serfs and servants could put together those magnificent offerings without divine intervention.  Plus, Janet Perfect-Size-Zero down the street might think she’s wowing the world with her handmade canapes, but when you’ve got one kid in therapy, another one headed for Detox and a husband who’s addicted to football and Sharon from Accounting, wasting hours chopping olives is kinda counterproductive.  Here’s the deal: the only person who’s going to notice that the twinkly lights aren’t supposed to twinkle or the veggie plate is from Costco is your sister-in-law, and there’s no satisfying that woman.

Secret #2 – Memories aren’t made of perfection.  Think about it!  Which Christmas do you remember?  The one when everything marched along like a Nuremburg rally or the one when your sister got her head stuck in the dishwasher?  Dishwasher — no doubt!  I have friends who have mushroom soup for Christmas dinner every year.  It’s a fine tradition that started when the holidays went so far sideways that the turkey actually caught fire from too much cognac in the dressing.  I have some other friends who always throw their Brussels sprouts out the back door because – uh – I don’t know if anybody even remembers why.  My point is Christmas is all about family, not symmetrical trees or perfectly-spaced lights — and families are flawed.  That’s what makes them interesting, maddening and fun – just like Christmas.

So, now that you have the two secrets of Christmas under your belt, toss back that vodka, chase the cat away from the tree, book a taxi for Grandma G and a plumber for the toilet, tell your daughter atheists don’t get presents, phone Uncle Jerry and say, “Of course Blaster’s welcome for Christmas, but unfortunately we won’t be using the good silver this year.”  Then sit down at your computer and cancel all that crap from Amazon because you’re going with gift cards — like you wanted to in the first place.

The Meaning Of Christmas

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Ever since The Year dot (literally) people have been tying themselves in knots, trying to define the true meaning of Christmas.  And, over the last 2-plus millennia, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers and editorials have covered a lot of territory – everything from eternal salvation to Amazon Gift Cards.  Good on ya, folks but you ain’t even close.  The true meaning of Christmas … is loot.  That’s right!  Like it or not, admit it or don’t, the harsh reality is Christmas is all about the presents.  Let me explain.

Right from the very beginning — Here we are in Bethlehem.  There’s Mary, Joseph, Jesus in the manger and a couple of sketchy shepherds.  There’s a knock on the door.

“Who’s there?”
“Three Wise Men.”
“What do you want?”
“Nothing.  We brought gifts.”
“Cool!  Come on in.”

And thus, Christmas was born.  Plus the fine tradition of getting useless crap for Christmas (I’m looking at you, myrrh) instead of something Mary and Joseph might actually need – like an extra helping of gold.

Fast forward 2,000 years or so – Here we are visiting Santa Claus.  There’s you (as a little kid); there’s a parent (or two); there’s the photographer, the incessant jingle bell music and a couple of over-happy elves.  You’re not there to discuss the care and feeding of flying reindeer or talk about the weather at the North Pole.  You’re there to negotiate.  You’re there to effect a deal between you and Santa so he’s convinced you’ve been more nice than naughty and therefore deserve your share of the loot.  You know it’s the truth, but it’s no particular sin.  Remember, it was the parents who told you how the system worked.

Add a couple more decades — It’s three days before Christmas.  There’s you (as an adult.)  There’s a couple of your kids, a spouse, maybe a dog.  You’re walking over a crisp blanket of new-fallen snow that crunch, crunch, crunches under your feet.  You can see your breath, and your hands are warm in cozy mittens.  At home, there’s hot chocolate, and Grandma’s making cookies.  The coloured lights from the street twinkle and dance across the early evening, and there’s the faint sound of children singing,

“Oh little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.”

It’s the most idyllic scene, out of the most beautiful Christmas card you could ever imagine … and what are you thinking?  Totally stressed, cuz it’s your turn to host the family dinner, you’re thinking, “What the hell am I going to buy Harry/Harriet and Uncle Bob for Christmas?  Screw it!  Amazon Gift Cards.”

I rest my case!

An “Olde” Christmas Tradition

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I love Christmas.  I love everything about it.  I love Santa and the reindeer, jingle bells, mistletoe (yeah, I said it) the baby Jesus and the Wise Men – everything.  I like the crowds and the bitchin’ and the music in the malls.  I even tolerate that stupid Little Drummer Boy – the first 500 times.  It’s all too cool, but I’m an old-fashioned guy, so I like the older traditions best.  That’s why, every year, I wait, in uncontrollable anticipation, for one of our society’s oldest and dearest traditions — the arrival of The Annual Christmas Basher.  For me, the arrival of the Christmas Basher actually kicks off the Christmas season.  When I was younger, the Christmas Basher was usually just an odd malcontent who’d been disappointed with Christmas (and perhaps, life) since puberty and wanted to spread the misery around.  However, in the 21st century, Christmas bashing is trending, and the Basher could be anyone — a friend, a colleague, the guy you meet in the mall, even a family member.  Like Christmas itself, the Christmas Basher has become somewhat universal.

So who are Christmas Bashers?  They’re that person, who, filled with the spirit of “I’m Smarter than You Are” (and overcome with joy at the sound of their own voice) takes it upon themselves to explain just how screwed up Christmas really is.  This could be the guy who stops you in mid “Merry Christmas” to tell you to say “Happy Holidays.”  (Or vice versa.)  Or the woman who tells you, “Christmas is becoming just too commercialized.”   Or it could be that pompous ass who explains, “According to the fragmentary records from the Augustan period of the Roman Era BCE, tax collection was done in July of the Julian calendar; therefore, Christ could not possibly have been born in December.”  But the one I like the best is the cynical jerk who questions the holiday itself, asking, “How did we get from the birth of the ‘so-called’ Saviour to Santa Claus and elves?  All of the things we have for this ‘so-called’ Christian holiday are really just pagan symbols.”   When I hear these dulcet voices singing, I know it’s finally Christmas.  I like to take a second or two to contemplate the infinite universe and its delights before I respond, in my best little kid voice, “Sorry, I forgot.”  What these neo-fascists don’t realize is that they’re actually engaging in a Christmas tradition that is one of our very oldest.  Christmas bashing actually pre-dates most of what we know to be a traditional Christmas.  In truth, these modern merry morons are merely acting like our most intolerant Christian ancestors – the Puritans.  They didn’t like Christmas, either – over 400 years ago.

In Elizabethan England, Christmas was the main holiday of the year.  When good Queen Bess was on the throne, the locals really knew how to party.  First of all, Christmas lasted 12 days – the 12 days of Christmas, from the song.  Secondly, nobody went to work, so if you wanted your wood chopped, your candles waxed or your doublet patched, you were out of luck until January.  What people did was roll out of bed and head for the local tavern.  They drank and gambled and chased women (who returned the favour by not running that fast.)  They sang bawdy songs, ate, laughed, joked and then drank some more – and this went on every day.  They dressed up as supernatural creatures and animals and danced in the streets or watched acrobats, or bear-baiting or one of Will Shakespeare’s new comedies.  It was called Topsy-Turvy time — when the servant became the master and the shepherd became the sheep.  The Elizabethans celebrated by honouring the Lord of Misrule, a local dimwit or barmaid who rode backwards on a donkey through the streets to the steps of a church or cathedral where he or she was crowned, in front of the cheering, jeering mob.  Basically, it was all one big, queen-sized debauch.  Clearly, our ancestors saw Christmas as an opportunity to have fun, much as we do.  So it was only a matter of time before somebody wanted to put a stop to it.

Enter the Puritans.  Without overstating it, the Puritans were a gang of uptight, intolerant fanatics who wanted the world to do as it was told, and they wanted to do the telling.  They were so narrow-minded they could look through a keyhole with both eyes.  They believed life was a serious business and anybody who wasn’t serious about it needed to be whipped into shape – literally.  They also believed they had all the answers, and were willing to provide them– even when nobody was asking for their opinion.  Actually, they compare very well with our contemporary Christmas bashers — except the Puritans didn’t have Twitter.  They looked at Christmas, circa 1570, and practically burst a blood vessel.  One unnamed source wrote “There is nothing else [at Christmas] but cards, dice, tables, masking, mumming, bowling and such fooleries…”   It was clearly the work of the Devil.  As early as 1583, some churches were setting penance for “keeping the superstitious day called Yule,” and by the turn of the 16th century, the common folk were well-advised to stay off the streets after the middle of December.  The times were changing in Merrye Olde England: it was getting a lot less merry.  By the time Cromwell and his Puritan crowd actually came to power, anybody who wanted to celebrate Christmas did it at their peril, and in the privacy of their own hovel.  Within a couple of years, there was nothing much left of Christmas, and on December 24th, 1652, it was formally banned.  The proclamation read, “That no observation shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches.”  It would take Christmas just about 200 years to recover.

So, as you can see, all the oh-so-enlightened Christmas bashers who wander the earth, setting everybody straight year after year, are just following in the footsteps of their Puritan ancestors. They’re actually celebrating a very, very old Christmas tradition.  That’s why I wait for them so eagerly every December.  They’re as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus himself and, for me, the irony is just too good to miss.