In Praise of the American Christmas
There is the iconic scene in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" where Linus and Charlie Brown are out shopping for a tree to include in their Christmas Pageant. They stroll together through the quietly falling snow, guided by searchlights to the Christmas tree lot, where they are surrounded by all manner of 1960’s Christmas trees: gold ones, pink ones, red ones, each laden with garland and tinsel.
Linus walks up to one of the modern trees, and gives it a rap. A deep bong resonates from the metal tree, like dropping a stone in a steel barrel: "This really brings Christmas close to a person," he says.
Now, this little vignette was much more topical, and funny, in 1967, when the TV special first aired; some trees in those days actually were aluminum, sprayed with ersatz flocking and pink reflective paint. My third grade teacher, Miss Johnson, had such a tree. But, today, such glitzy trees are as passe as a console Sony Trinitron. Christmas trees today, if you have one at all, might very well be called a "Holiday Tree", and be decorated oh-so-tastefully, with delicate Victorian lace ribbon, and a very few hand crafted wooden ornaments, along with environmentally friendly LED lights.
But, hey, each era has its chic. In the late 1970’s, the gift under the tree might be a Pet Rock, or a Texas Instruments digital wristwatch (which you had to push the cunning little button on the side to illuminate). Earlier in the decade, the main decorations were the little bubbling light strings. And a childhood friend had a tiny mineral-oil fountain tree-topper that was absolutely magical.
Now, of course, here in these later years, part of Ye Olde Holiday Traditions is the parade of malcontents that trudge yearly down to the courthouse to file injunctions against jollity: No Santa Claus on City Hall Property! No Saying "Merry Christmas" in the High School ! But, their hysterical meanderings are as well documented as they are predictable and boring. If the ACLU was half as fixated on the obvious unconstitutionality of forcing people to purchase health insurance as they are about the local art teacher wearing a Santa Hat in class, Nancy Pelosi would long ago have been tethered to the stocks in the town square.
These poor souls get offended pretty easily; their skin is roughly the same gauge as gossamer, evidently. Worse than that, they miss the most important point, at least as it concerns the American Christmas: Christmas in America isn’t so much about Jesus, as it is about joy, and giving, and counting blessings, and telling people you love them, even when you know you ought to be saying such things a little more often.
Would this offend Jesus? I don’t think so, not for one minute. He wasn’t so much concerned about his birth as he was his death, anyway. There is something endearing –lovely, in fact– about a nation that gets such a kick out of giving away things, billions of dollars-worth of things, to people they love. Or to people they barely know. Or to folks they’ve never met, and never will. Giving is a darned fine trait for a people to share.
We’re supposed to feel sheepish about this, that somehow we’ve "commercialized" the birth of Jesus. I don’t know how to tell folks this, but we’ve pretty much commercialized the very act of living here in the USA, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Look at how dicey things get economically when the commercialization slows down for a tad, and ten percent of folks suddenly can’t find work. It rather makes some people wish there was a little bit more "commercialization" at times.
I am a man who loves Jesus, and as for myself, I think He’d get a kick out of the little boy going to Toys ‘R Us with his Dad to spend his $4 to buy his new baby sister a little dolly. I think He’d tear up when he sees the old man shuffling up to the door of the Extended Care Facility where his wife lives to bring real Hungarian pastries he’s baked for all the staff who watch over her. I think He’d let out a good hearty belly laugh as the family tries to figure out how to make the new digital video camera work. And I know He loves the millions and millions of shoe-boxes that Samaritan’s Purse sends around the world to children who have so little.
I suspect Jesus would encourage us to give away a little more, in fact. Remember His admonishment to the rich man to give away everything he had, and follow Him-?. We’ve gotten reasonably good at the Giving part here in the United States; we have to work on the Follow part.
But, that’s another diary.
Some say the giving gets a little out of hand. Oh, I dunno. I think it says something special about a culture that has bent the entire framework of its economic system to accommodate the Christmas Season, which is about giving away all this stuff. Good grief, it’s not about keeping the stuff for yourself. Yeah, it’s just stuff, but oftentimes, its a pretty darn good way of expressing how much you appreciate someone, or how much you enjoy bringing unbridled happiness to your own children. Stuff has a place.
This is where we insert the usual bromides about how the stuff is never as important as what’s in your heart. Well, duh. I think most American adults know this instinctively, and this is one of the earliest concepts we instill in our children. But, we also know how much joy we bring to people when we give our son’s seventh-grade baseball coach a $20 gift card because he’s been such a dedicated mentor, or send our mother a digital picture frame with all the school portraits already loaded on it. Giving, giving, giving.
Christmas in America is perhaps the most amazing phenomenon in mankind’s cultural history. We really need to stop apologizing for it…
All the music changes. The mails and post-officces are laden with greetings and salutations. The very environment becomes festooned with pretty lights and ornamentation. And it all boils down to giving: Giving stuff, or giving time, or giving love. Of course, Jesus gave us his very life , but we set aside Easter to really prayerfully consider THAT gift…
Christmas in America is about Giving. And this still says so much about the depth of our society as a loving culture.
To heck with the ACLU spoil-sports that don’t understand this simple thing. Actually, even they go home to their families, and enjoy the spiced rum; and, rather like the bank examiner at the end of Frank Capra’s masterpiece "It’s a Wonderful Life ", these sourpusses eventually give in, and, in private moments of unbridled joy, rip up the arrest summons and start singing "Hark the Herald".
Merry Christmas, everyone.