Friday, December 23, 2005

On Friday not-quite-random Ten, and the meaning of Christmas

Okay, so getting into the Christmas spirit has been a bit of a struggle for me in recent years. I don't really know what it is. It might have something to do with the fact that rather than going to malls and enjoying the bustle and chaos while sipping a peppermint mocha, content in the knowledge that I did all of my shopping online, I get to go and report and try to wrestle a photographer through crowds that look like they're out for blood and a silk pointelle sweater from Banana Republic (cream, size medium, e-mail me for where to send). It might be because I'm just not at home now, and that my little fake Christmas tree isn't the same as Mom's big, real Christmas tree, I live alone and have no reason to hide gifts, and my presents get wrapped without any interference whatsoever from well-meaning dogs. It might be the 60-degree weather here in Hotlanta, pleasant for a walk but completely inappropriate for a one-horse open sleigh; or my urge to put my fist through the radio every time someone sings about having their love to keep them warm; or the fact that people have whined so damn much about the "War on Christmas" that every time I wish someone merry Christmas, I feel like a bible-thumper and every time I wish someone happy holidays, I feel like the Antichrist.

It may be, perhaps, that my shoes are too tight. It may be my head isn't screwed on just right...

But I think the mostly likely reason of all is that Christmas is, I'm sorry, not just about Jesus anymore. And I'm not actually complaining about that. See, I think the problem with Christianity in general is that it's so focused on the guy that we tend to forget his lessons. Praise Jesus, sure, but also don't forget that he wants us to be charitable and kind and forgiving and compassionate. He wants us to comfort the afflicted and do unto the least of our brothers. If you're worshiping the man and missing the message, you've got a rather screwy version of Christianity.

Christmas is the time of year that we celebrate the birth of not just the son of God, but the guy who had the singular goal of making everyone be nice to each other. The Catholic church tells us that we're supposed to get the most excited about Easter, when he died for our sins, in fulfillment of the prophecy and for our salvation and basically making Christianity what it is, and as a Catholic, I buy that. But Christmas is for everyone. You don't have to believe that he died and rose. You don't have to believe that he was the son of God. But we do know that he existed, and we know that he really, really wanted everyone to be nice.

That is what Christmas is about. Even when we can't be bothered the other eleven months of the year, December is when people start donating clothes to Goodwill, serving dinner at soup kitchens, stuffing money in Salvation Army kettles, being good, for goodness' sake. Kids do it out of fear of Santa (and kids, Santa's not the one with an eye on you right now), adults do it out of guilt. It's not really a Christian thing, either; Jewish people do it, too (they do have their own holiday this time of year, in case you've forgotten), as do atheists, agnostics, and the just-plain-unreligious. It's not a matter of remembering the specifics of Jesus's life. It's a matter of living the big picture, even if it's only for those few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

As a Christian, I'll be sitting down with Charlie Brown and listen to Linus telling me about the birth of Jesus. I'll be putting on my pretty Christmas clothes and going to mass Saturday night, listening to the stories and the carols and getting my good dose of Jesus: The Early Years, as the church prescribes. But if I'm really good, I'll remember to package up our extra food and presents and give them to people who didn't get a Christmas, and if I'm really good, I'll remember to keep doing that all through the new year. Christians spend every December 25th partying about the savior's birth, but that's just gravy. His message is for all of us, and I can't think of a better way to spend Christmas than to live it. Hell, even Ebeneezer Scrooge managed to change his ways.

Your soundtrack for the holidays:

1. Londonderry Boys Choir, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"
2. Tchaikovsky, "Waltz of the Snowflakes," from "The Nutcracker"
3. Diana Krall, "Let It Snow"
4. The Wombles, "Wombling Merry Christmas"
5. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"
6. Londonderry Boys Choir, "What Child Is This"
7. Otis Redding, "White Christmas"
8. St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
9. Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "Joy to the World"
10. Sammy Davis, Jr., "Jingle Bells"

I'm going to try to keep to the family thing for the next few days, so don't count on seeing too much of me until after Christmas. With that in mind, I wish you the merriest of whatever holiday you're going to be celebrating. And tell your mom I said hi. Does she still make her green beans with almonds in them? That's some good stuff.

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