Columns » Bob Lancaster

Fixing Christmas



I like Christmas but there are some problems with it that we need to address.

Mainly our Christmas symbols need rethinking  or maybe, like batteries, replacing.

Bells, for instance. This used to be the season of bells. Jingle bells, sleigh bells, silver bells, Ding Dong Merrily on High bells, George Bailey bells, Leroy Anderson bells, George Winston bells. But the only seasonal bells you hear ringing anymore are those of the Salvation Army kettle tenders or those on the Clydesdales in the epochal beer commercial.

A beer commercial has become our most familiar rendering of Christmas tradition — what does that tell you?

For another instance, stockings. Hung by the chimney with care. The stocking served its purpose well back when it was asked to contain a post-Depression urchin's entire Christmas morning haul — fruit, nuts, hard candy, firecrackers. You might still get a cell in a stocking — my equivalent of that one banner Christmas was a transistor radio -- but not a game console or a laptop or an investment banking headquarters. 

For another instance, holly. Ninety-nine per cent of the “holly” that decks halls these days is plastic. The leaves and berries both. Why do we still stick this stuff up everywhere when even the real McCoy was neither interesting nor attractive? Why don't we put up some spiderwort or goat's-rue? Or some gourds?

For another instance, manger scenes. Classier people call these crèches. We never had crèches here in Grant County — we didn't have any of those lords a-leaping either — but we usually had a manger scene. One time it was a live one, at the same church that later came to be known for its live crucifixions in the spring. I say “live crucifixions” but I think some simulation might've been involved in the gorier aspects. Including ketchup. And rubber thorns.

The present-day problem with manger scenes is, you can't go interactive with them on your Wii. Even if you could, you'd just have to stand there in the calm and quiet of a silent night, watching the holy infant sleep in heavenly peace. Why would you want to do that? To see him turn over every hour or so? Because the donkey might bray?

Even if it were a “live” manger scene, could you text questions to the principal characters and expect a reply? Say you tweeted Melchior to ask, “Why myrrh?” Would he get back to you with an explanation? Would they have a scene manager with p.r. experience who'd tweet you back and sign Melchior's name? You'd hate to see that kind of duplicity in a depiction of the Nativity, I guess, but it sure would be polite. And also educational.

For another instance, chestnuts roasting on an open fire. There used to be a lot of spreading chestnut trees with blacksmiths working under them, and they had boocoos of chestnuts at Christmastime — the trees did, not the blacksmiths — but they were all history by 1950. It's been 60 years, a lifetime for most of us, but Mel Torme (not a blacksmith) is still out there every Christmas warming the ashes of those same old chestnuts, literal ones. Jack Frost is still out there nipping noses, too, and that's also got pretty tiresome.

For another instance, Christmas tree ornaments. I don't know what to do about this one. I really don't. I just put an ornament on my tree that's a scale model of the Clinton library. It's the exact same house trailer only four inches long instead of 400 feet. Why would a sane, sophisticated person with good aesthetic sense do such a thing? I mean, this ornament is even less attractive, if that's possible, than the fake ivy that decks my halls. And there are other ornaments just as inexplicable. There's one of a cow.

And one other instance, the Christmas novelty music. The old carols still get the job done — or halfway done, though have you noticed that nothing ever really happens in any of them? You've got some merry gentlemen who need some rest, but rest from what? Read the words to “Joy to the World” and explain the premise, the argument, to me. In a world of solemn stillness, people are so zonked or snockered that they can't even dream.

But the torpor of Christmases past is beside the point here, the point being the growing inadequacy of the latter-day Christmas repertory.

 The secular Christmas canon was already exhausted before Andy Taylor Bob Cratchited Ben Weaver in 1960. Who wasn't already weary of Frosty and Rudolph? And the little doofus who saw Mommy and Santy making out, and the other one who all he wanted was his two front teefe? And who didn't already groan as the notorious child abuser pined for a White Christmas, and the manchild dope fiend pissed and moaned about his Blue One? And poor old Big Daddy yearned for a Hully Gully one?

 Oh, and this: Christmas has become far too sugar-plummy, way too tender and mild. It needs a new infusion of black-hearted villainy to sharpen it up again. Scrooge sucked as a Christmas villain. The Grinch was all right before his epiphany. Only someone truly wicked could shake up the softly-settled snow-globe. A new Herod.



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