by Max Brantley
The Wall Street Journal has published a previously unpublished essay by Christopher Hitchens on Christmas. It includes a useful reminder of a different time in America when the most devoutly religious inveighed against Christmas rituals. It reminds how our hallowed customs are rooted in European pagan traditions. Most of all, it punctures the likes of U.S. Rep. Mike Ross with their bogus wars-on-Christmas alarums. That war has long been lost. Just try to avoid Christmas, Hitchen writes:
If you take no stock in the main Christian festival of Easter, or if you are a non-Jew who has no interest in atoning in the fall, you have an all-American fighting chance of being able to ignore these events, or of being only briefly subjected to parking restrictions in Manhattan. But if Christmas has the least tendency to get you down, then lots of luck. You have to avoid the airports, the train stations, the malls, the stores, the media and the multiplexes. You will be double-teamed by Bing Crosby and the herald angels wherever you go. And this for a whole unyielding month of the calendar.
I realize that I do not know what happens in the prison system. But I do know what happens by way of compulsory jollity in the hospitals and clinics and waiting rooms, and it's a grueling test of any citizen's capacity to be used for so long as a captive audience.
I once tried to write an article, perhaps rather straining for effect, describing the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state. "Come on," I hear you say. But by how much would I be exaggerating? The same songs and music played everywhere, all the time. The same uniform slogans and exhortations, endlessly displayed and repeated. The same sentimental stress on the sheer joy of having a Dear Leader to adore. As I pressed on I began almost to persuade myself. The serried ranks of beaming schoolchildren, chanting the same uplifting mush. The cowed parents, in terror of being unmasked by their offspring for insufficient participation in the glorious events…. "Come on," yourself. How wrong am I?
Time to start planning for Christmas 2012, isn't it?