Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Curmudgeon

Only about three weeks until Christmas, so I guess it's time to break out the BAH, HUMBUG! badge I wear on my coat during the season.

As an American growing up during the baby boomer era I was just as sold on Christmas as everyone else. That's because when we were kids it was all about us. Santa came down the chimney to give toys to us, the kids. We didn't need to give our parents any presents. Santa didn't give them anything, anyway. I never even thought about it until I was a bit older and my mother said, "What would you like to get your father for Christmas?" I said, shocked, "Say what?" I didn't know I was supposed to get presents for anyone else. I thought they all just came to me.

Last year my son talked to his mother and me. He said he didn't believe in getting a whole bunch of junk for his kids for Christmas and he'd appreciate if we didn't either. He called it Excess-Mas, which is probably as good a handle as any to hang on a holiday that promotes greed and gimme-gimme as much as Christmas does. Oh yeah…you hear about all of the folks who want to help other people with meals, and gifts for their poor kids, but the rest of the public is less altruistic. "I bought my wife a diamond necklace, and she better goddam well get me that 52" plasma HDTV!"

We got into this mess because we believed that we were supposed to inundate our children with gifts, and buy expensive stuff for our spouses too. I'm sure if you go back a few decades you'll find the fine hands of retailers in all of this. To them the Christmas spirit is green, as in $$$.

For a few years our local daily newspaper used to run letters from a guy who wrote about Santa Claus. He hated the idea of Santa, hated us lying to our children about Santa. He called Santa Claus the "god of Christmas." At the time I thought the letter writer was another right-wing Christian fundamentalist crank, but now I think the guy hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. We do tell our children that there is a man who has a reward for them if they're good. He lives in a place where we can't see him. He is omniscient: he can see what we are doing, misbehaving or behaving. He answers our letters (prayers) by bestowing blessings upon us. He travels by magic/supernatural means. Oh yeah…he has a long white beard, too. I am starting to see that far from being a crank, that letter writer was actually the most observant person among us.

There comes a day when kids find out the truth…there is no Santa Claus. Until that time it seems a harmless enough fiction to tell kids, but it's actually the first of what I call the Three Basic Lies We Tell Kids:

The first lie: there is a Santa Claus. He is a man who gives you something for nothing. You've just got to be good and your rewards will be given to you in the form of toys and candy.

The second and third lies aren't about Christmas, but they have the same sort of pie-in-the-sky quality: You can be anything you want to be when you grow up. Number three is the real kicker: If you work hard and are good, then good things will come to you.

And the other lies always start with the Santa Claus lie.

Christmas is a holiday with a split personality. It is religious. It's secular. It's two (click), two holidays in one! It isn't a bit odd for deeply religious, devout Christians observing Christmas as the anniversary of the birth of Christ, to also tell their kids lies about Santa Claus. The secular is blurred with the religious, and I notice no one, except maybe Larry the Cable Guy, seeing anything strange about lawns decorated with a Nativity scene standing next to a light-up Santa with reindeer.

Now, where's the BAH, HUMBUG! badge of mine?

Ciao for now, El Postino

Click on the pictures for full-size images, taken from Humbug Magazine, January 1958.

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