12/21/2009

Christmas in America: 'Tis Not the Season to Be Jolly

Every December in America, Christmas brings its annual mixture of cheerless mirth, strained traditions, and widespread falseness. Christmas in the grasping mainstream of American life is not for those of a timorous disposition. It is a grueling test of patience and endurance, a maddening time when the fixed rules of honesty and civility are either stretched to their utmost or summarily discarded. It is not an altogether happy time of the year for me.

I should make it clear that, in my own case, I am not opposed to the colored lights, the bright decorations, or the merry songs. I hold those customs to be essentially benign, and I generally enjoy them. (Although I would much prefer not to be exposed to them in October or November.) I also can enjoy the well-meaning exchange of small gifts and good wishes. It is, rather, the overpowering element of thoughtless consumption in the holiday that particularly offends me. In America, where the brazen pursuit of money is commonly accorded precedence over everything else, and human existence itself is valued only in regard to its business potential, Christmas is, above all else, a hideous festival of hard-core capitalism, shrill and unashamed in its hollow pomp.

What began, hundreds of years ago, as a spiritual observance has now become, in America, an ugly glorification of rampant consumerism, a tasteless display of mass irrationality in which millions of nominal believers make a crude show of giving passing expression to their self-serving faith in Jesus Christ by collectively spending mountains of money on unnecessary merchandise. It is, to the calm mind of any thinking person, a perverse way to honor the lowly birth of a humble man who lived in poverty. Can there be any doubt that Jesus himself would vigorously object to his hallowed name being loosely used to justify a yearly outpouring of greed and hypocrisy? It seems more than likely that he would be utterly repelled by the garish trappings of an American Christmas.

I actually used to look forward to the old-fashioned delights of Christmas when I was younger. The carols, the greeting cards, the holly and the mistletoe, the gingerbread and the chocolate, the stockings hung on the fireplace, the tree covered with tinsel, and the packages in shiny wrapping all filled me with eagerness and excitement, and served as a welcome respite from the usual activities of my everyday life. On every Christmas Eve during my childhood, I would try to stay awake until the hour of dawn, hoping to hear the fleeting sound of an airborne sleigh being swiftly pulled by a team of flying reindeer, but I always fell asleep at least several hours before daylight.

Christmas still was a mostly pleasurable experience at that time, an experience to be embraced, savored, and cherished, but those days are long gone. The foul demands of capitalist activity have brutally defiled the benign spirit of Christmas, transforming the ancient joy of yuletide into a disheartening free-for-all. Only an ill-mannered person, a dolt whose human sensibilities are seriously defective (or completely absent), could succeed in deriving any particle of happiness from such unbridled lunacy.

Nowadays, when the corporate stench of Christmas is everywhere during the holiday period, in every store and in every home, I find that I am in constant danger of becoming more peevish than Ebenezer Scrooge and more sour than the Grinch. Although I do my best to maintain a cautious distance from the harshest elements of the season, it is not an easy task, for they are difficult to avoid. Christmas in America is a lucrative operation of relentless marketing, ruthlessly implemented with fearsome effectiveness, and is, at its worst, a thoroughly hellish ordeal that can be seen as akin to a plague, being both overwhelming and inescapable. I am especially sickened whenever I hear Americans blithely speak of "peace and goodwill," even as America is remorselessly waging war against civilians in foreign countries.

As the old saying goes, Christmas comes but once a year, and for that immutable verity we all should be unreservedly grateful. Speaking for myself, once a year is as much of Christmas, in the monstrous shape of its American variation, as I can reasonably hope to get through without losing the entirety of my mind. In America, unless one is either an empty-headed shopper or the chief executive of a retail corporation, 'tis not the season to be jolly.