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Monday, 22 December 2014

And So This Is Christmas?

Whether we want it to or not Christmas influences about 10% of our time on this planet. Advertising begins sometime in November and each year it seems to start earlier. The reality is that a lot of stores, particularly ones in malls with high rent, wouldn’t survive without people buying Christmas gifts.
Black Friday is something new that has been added to the Christmas season in the last several years. The name Black Friday sounds kind of ominous. It is now the unofficial kick off to the Christmas season and occurs the day after American Thanksgiving which for some reason happens on the 4th Thursday of November. Black Friday is the day that many Americans go hunting for bargains on presents for their loved ones. Thanksgiving in the US doesn’t make a lot of sense. First of all it is far too close to Christmas. Secondly, isn’t the old idea of Thanksgiving about being thankful for a bountiful crop that would get the pilgrims through the winter? If that is the case, harvesting is completed in September not November.
Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, gets its name from a time long ago in the UK when the aristocrats would give their servants and trades people small gifts. Nowadays it is a time to return gifts that you weren’t happy about receiving and for insane people to lie out on the sidewalk in the freezing cold in their sleeping bags throughout the night waiting for the doors to open so they can get a bargain on some electronic devise.

Those electronic devises are always made in some 3rd world country by some corporation that does everything they can to avoid paying taxes in America. USA! USA!
There is, however, one thing about the Christmas season that doesn’t cost any money. It’s the neighbour’s house with 6 million Christmas lights (all made in China). Nothing says Christmas like an inflatable Santa Claus on a motorcycle with a big sack over his shoulder!

I’ve wondered a few times about these guys and the 6 million lights on their houses. Do they ever ask their neighbours if they are going to mind cars blocking their driveways or people tromping across their snow covered lawns when all the lookiloos turn up? Does he buy his neighbours fire extinguishers in case an electrical fire breaks out?
How Did We Get To What We Recognize As Christmas Today?
It kind of started in the 1930s in the US. The Coca Cola people came up with the Santa Claus we know today, the cheery looking old fat guy with rosy red cheeks, a bushy white beard, sometimes wire rimmed glasses, a paunch, a red suit with a black belt and a big buckle, and a matching red tuque with a pom-pom. If you have ever seen a picture of Father Christmas or Kris Kringle, the 30s Coke Santa Claus is a much warmer looking character.
Back then commercial artists created images that added a kind of softness to The Christmas season. Christmas trees had to be thick and bushy and covered with ornaments and lights. You could almost salivate looking at a Christmas turkey in The Saturday Evening Post. Pictures of sleigh rides were popular and nobody thought about what would happen if a sleigh came upon some dry pavement.

This guy?

Or this guy?
Christmas music changed too. The old songs like Little Town of Bethlehem and Hark the Herald Angels Sing (a herald is an officer of arms, go figure) were still liked but a lot of new songs became popular that had nothing to do with the baby Jesus or Bethlehem including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, White Christmas, Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Winter Wonderland. Many of these songs were written by Jewish folks who celebrate Hanukkah. Go figure!
Over the years the Christmas songbook has gotten bigger and bigger and something new seems to be added every year. We’ve gone from Bing Crosby to Michael Buble. For some of us Christmas nostalgia now includes Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Some might not know that it was Eartha Kitt who came out with Santa Baby in 1953 and not Madonna years later. (A song about a gal who wanted a fur coat from Santa among other things).

I recently looked up the top ten most popular Christmas movies of all time. Believe it or not Die Hard was #10. I don’t know how many times I have seen A Christmas Story with Darren McGavin. I absolutely love it and think it is one of the funniest movies ever made. They don’t make leg lamps like they used to.

2 movies that are loaded with nostalgia are A Miracle On 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life. I would love to sit and watch It’s A Wonderful Life with some right wing Christian Republicans in the US. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) was a bit of a socialist and his bank financed some public housing. George Bailey’s nemesis, the greedy Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) wants the bank to fail so that he can continue his slum lord monopoly. Sound familiar? The US Republicans just slipped in a bill in the US budget that allows banks to continue risky trading of derivatives and if these risks were to fail the US taxpayer will be on the hook for the losses. Merry Christmas US taxpayers!
Christmas Isn’t Always Like It Was 50 Years Ago.
First of all 50 years ago divorce was uncommon. Today, about 50% of marriages fail in the US and Canada. What this means is that the family isn’t always in one house together on the big day. It takes a refined form of diplomacy to decide where the kids are going to be on Christmas day. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The older we get the more likely our parents aren’t around anymore. The changing of the guard as to who is the new head of the family is sometimes just usurped without a vote.
There is also something I like to call “The 3 Day Rule”. 3 days seems to be about the right amount of time to be a guest or a host at Christmas. Getting up to date as to what everyone has been up to in the past year doesn’t take that long. Often certain topics have to be avoided to maintain family harmony. Sometimes something slips out. “Cabin fever” is not uncommon. You may even find yourself watching US college football not knowing what even one of the player’s names is  just to escape your surroundings for a bit of time.
Most often, after 3 days, everyone wants their lives back.
You may find yourself with your Christmas sweater on sitting on your mom’s floral couch with the doilies on the arms, with the button on your pants undone from too much turkey, drifting off and thinking about the 2 planes you still have to catch to get home in a snowstorm. As you fall asleep your mind wanders to having control of your own TV clicker and being in your skivvies. As your eyes flicker you can see your kids across the room with their eyes locked on their smart phones. Same time next year?


The Annual Persecution Of The Christians Event.
You can almost set your watch to the annual protest from the Christian far right that Christmas is under attack by heathens and closet communists. It’s all about some people saying “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. To my knowledge nobody has ever been attacked or verbally abused for saying Merry Christmas.

Some right-wing Christians get really pissed off that in many communities there are no longer nativity scenes at city hall or in the shopping mall. There are all kinds of Christian churches in the US and Canada and each one of these churches have a nativity scene. Many Christians have them in their homes too.
Some argue that the US and Canada are Christian countries. This isn’t quite true. Millions of people believe in other things including spirituality. Many have no religion. Less than 25% of Americans, and fewer still in Canada, attend religious services once a week.
It would be interesting to see a poll of Christian kids with the question “Who do you think about at Christmas first, the baby Jesus or Santa Claus?
And just how many of these so called Christians own stores that are open on Sunday or go shopping on Sunday? Isn’t that supposed to be a no-no?
If Christmas is a time for peace and goodwill maybe some of these Christians could reach out and thank the rest of us for being so tolerant of them and their many extreme ideas during the rest of the year.
Just What Is Christmas?
Well “Christ” is in the word Christmas for starters. For those that believe it is partly a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The Christmas we know today also has a number of other facets, many of them commercial, but also bits and pieces from Paganism and Winter Solstice which marks the shortest day of the year on December 21st.
The traditional Christmas colours, red and green, are said to represent fertility and incubation to Pagans. Yule logs, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly are all Pagan stuff too. Aren’t you glad I told you?
There was a real St. Nicolas. He was a Greek saint who supposedly once gave some money to some poor women so they wouldn’t be forced into prostitution. Try putting that on a Christmas card.

For the most part Christmas is something we made up. If it sounded good we just added it on. When you start to think about it there is an awful lot of stuff that we associate with Christmas that have very little if anything to do with a manger in Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. Here’s a list of just some of them.
Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer including Rudolph, turkeys, plum pudding, snow, sleighs, tinsel, ornaments, Christmas cards, stuffing, Frosty The Snowman, Christmas wrapping, egg nog, mashed potatoes, gravy, Christmas lights, tissue hats, Christmas parades, cranberry sauce, candy canes, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Boxing Day, credit cards, elves, fruitcake, snowmen, ginger bread men, Christmas stockings, Christmas sweaters, and….a partridge in a pear tree.


Some Of My Own Opinions About Christmas.
Personally I had a few unpleasant Christmases as a child. For those that have experienced something similar you know what I mean when I say it is hard to totally forget those episodes. I remember one Christmas when I was adult and living in Vancouver when I went with my younger sister for Christmas dinner at a restaurant in West Vancouver called Frank Baker’s. Aside from being blinded by all the Tiffany lamps there was a kind of cafeteria deal where you could put together your own turkey dinner. I remember seeing wieners lying in hot water as one of the food choices and I kind of lost my appetite.
I totally get the concept that a lot about Christmas is to do with families getting together and sharing. I also totally believe that a lot about Christmas is seeing the enthusiasm in young children. It’s all good.
There are of course some folks that go overboard but who am I to criticize them? Yes Christmas isn’t my favourite time of year but I have never tried to spoil it for others.
The last number of Christmasses have been quite similar for me. My kids come over for about 3 days. One has already been here and gone. We had a great time. We go over to one of Linda’s cousins for a visit on Christmas Eve with her family and also to her daughter’s and her husband’s. They have a 4 year old who really likes opening gifts. We usually have turkey dinner there.
Last night we did something a little different. Some friends invited us for dinner along with some other folks and after we ate we all went up to nearby waterway to see a Winter Solstice thing. They had some tents where kids and others could make floating paper lanterns. It was kind of neat seeing the lanterns floating on a small lake. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the evening. It was a bit on the spooky side.

It seems to me that many of us think the same thing at Christmas whether we are religious or not. Peace on earth. Maybe one day?

Merry Christmas!




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