Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Peace on earth, etc
Got my first Christmas card yesterday, another one today. Time to decide what to do, Christmas-card-wise, this year.
Brought up in a determinedly secular family, I nonetheless spent decades innocently enjoying Christmas -- peace on earth and goodwill to persons, shiny things, good weather, heartbreaking music, Haigh's miniature plum-pudding chockies and so on. I love, in particular, the gift exchange, especially since I read Marcel Mauss's The Gift: '... the object that is given bears the identity of the giver. When the recipient receives the gift, they not only receive the object, but the association of that object with the identity of the giver.' I love this book because it explains so much, not least the reason why I can never bring myself to Feng Shui my house.
And most of all I love the music. The real music, carols sung traditional and straight as per Kings College Choir, I mean, not the pop/populist horrors. Sing O Holy Night to me and I'm anybody's.
So it was a shock when, some time in the early 1990s, a few of the cooler and younger dudes at the staff Christmas party gathered in a corner when the carol-singing started up and began muttering about 'the Christians'. It dawned on me, much more slowly than it should have, that these neo-Scrooges were up in arms at the ideological unsoundness of the rest of us in having the lack of coolth to be singing carols (though I did notice at the time that they had turned up all right and were scoffing the indifferent wine), and by 'the Christians' they meant, among other people, me.
So here's what I wondered then and still wonder now: is it really required of one that one not celebrate Christmas in any way unless one is a card-carrying Christian, which I most certainly am not? I was in awe of the cool young dudes at the time because they had read a lot of stuff that was unfamiliar to me, but that was then and this is now. And I now think that they were being a bunch of literal-minded, censorious, po-faced young prudes and I wish South Park had been invented to take the p*ss out of them.
But now that the effing Christian fundamentalists seem to be taking over the world, it's not that I can't see the young dudes' point. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon spells it out in this hysterical post from a few days ago (thank you crikey).
The trap there is, as always, reacting too far in the other direction. This is hard for Pavlov's Cat not to do when instructions come straight from someone called The Great Cat, but so far I am standing firmish.
For the Christmas mindset and aesthetic is a social, public thing. Seems to me that unless people are formally entrenched in some other belief system, and good on them if they are, Christmas for most westerners means that whether one likes it or not, one is saturated in memory and surrounded by celebration.
And you've got two choices: either you engage, or you go into denial about both your immediate social and physical surroundings and your whole elaborate interior palace of memory and selfhood. Engagement isn't necessarily pleasant, and for many, possibly these days even for most, there is an excruciating cat's-cradle of family negotiations to be got through -- the ambivalent stepchildren, the partner's hostile grown-up children, the siblings' bonkers partners, the widowed parent's new spouse's bonkers grown-up children (and here I speak from the heart), and so on and so forth. But denial seems worse: not just po-faced but icy-hearted as well.
So the Christmas Trifle will get made again this year: strawberries, raspberries, honey-poached fresh cherries, macaroons, syllabub etc etc. The tree will go up, the presents be wrapped, and the Kings' choir be sung along with whenever the telecast is, though I do draw the line at red felt antlers on the cats, who would never tolerate such a thing in any case.
And if anyone says Merry Christmas to me, then call me Forrest Gump if you will, but I'll resist the assumption that they're actually saying 'F*ck you' unless the greeting is accompanied by a rude hand gesture or a right hook to the jaw. I'll assume that what they're actually saying is, well, Merry Christmas.