Dec 20, 2011

Christmas angst is here again

I have reservations about Christmas.

The culture-wide promotion of a fantasy coupled with the intense pressure to achieve that perfection, primarily through consumption seems problematic to me. In my time as a crime reporter, I saw enough Christmas-related* suicides, homicides and robberies to make me wonder if, in aggregate, the holiday wasn't a net negative for America.

I'm aware this makes me sound Grinch-y and Scrooge-ish. The fact there's enough social pressure to feel a certain way this time year that we have two names to call people who feel wrong is another reason I have reservations. Are we OK with the "spirit of the season" being so oppressive?

That's not to say I don't enjoy Christmas. There are aspects of it I love. I enjoy seeing family, and trees lit up in windows, and the moments kids start conspiring to give presents. I love some Christmas movies**, your muppets, your Charlie Browns, your It's A Wonderful Lifes.There are some really amazing fantastic hymns that go with Christmas. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. You can't sing those in June. I enjoy Christmas Eve church services. Some of the worst very worst years I've had as an adult -- bad Christmases -- still I stood in the back of some strange Christmas Eve service and found it refreshing, and filling, and good.

I like the religious aspects of the holiday. Though I guess that's not surprising.

The religious parts of Christmas aren't immune from anxiety either, though. They have their own. What you hear, in a lot of religious circles, this time of year, is a lot about "remembering the reason" and not letting Christmas crush you and concerns about commercialization. There's a very public, TV-fostered fight about "keeping Christ in Christmas," of course, but there's also, in the lives of a lot of Christians, a deep concern that Christ has been replaced by Christmas.

That Christianity has been hijacked by something alien.

"Is Christmas really Christian?" people ask. Or, more specifically, "Isn't this all really, deep down, just really ... Pagan?"

Trees in particular seem to provoke this.

This holiday spirit of worry.

The trees make Christians ask if they aren't, somehow, celebrating Paganism, and, also, somehow make Pagans ask exactly the same question in reverse. Is it really Pagan to have a Christmas holiday tree? Maybe there's a special prayer to emphasize the Paganness of what looks, to all the world, like a Christian tradition?

The angst, it turns out, is universal. The anxiety, ecumenical.

The season is a season of worry and the fantasy of perfection that has to be forced and the question repeated: is this what we're looking for? Is this what we're looking for? Is this right? Does it feel right? Is it this - this? - this? Would I even recognize the real thing, if I heard it?

*This would be one case where "holiday" would not work in American society as a replacement for the word "Christmas." No out-work-father with no criminal record ever borrowed his brother-in-law's gun and drove down to the neighborhood Waffle House to stick it up at 2 a.m., taking off with about $200 and fleeing police through a residential neighborhood only to get trapped at a road block and sprint away on foot through bushes and backyards, and then, when tackled and cuffed and put in the back of a police car and read his rights, start crying, saying he just wanted to feel like a man and buy his kids some f***ing toys and asking if he couldn't go back to the Waffle House before they booked him into the jail so he could apologize for scaring everyone because of holiday presents.

**Obviously, the Christmas movie quote I'm living by here is from Charlie Brown: "Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem."