The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


(Nov. 30, 2006)

          A couple of you nice readers suggested, in response to my pleading boredom and (news) burnout on column writing, that I write about Christmas.
          Not very original, but then, you can’t avoid this topic any more than you can avoid uh. . .Christmas.
          I try not to write about Christmas, truth be told (and it seldom is), because I do not like Christmas. No no, this is not a “bah humbug” column. I just don’t like it. What, after all, is there to like?
          It’s not commercialism. “Commercialism” does not begin to describe the orgiastic venality of the “season.” It does not begin to describe the corporate rape of soul and heart that drives even the poorest among us into hock every year.
          The jolly sight of hundreds of working class folk lining up overnight to buy discounted plasma TV’s only makes me think of those same TV’s in mountainous trash piles in China five years from now, burning new carcinogenic pollutants into the sky. After their owners have finished sitting stuporously in front of them like heathens before idols, tanking up on “Dancing With the Stars,” pro foop-ball (formerly “football”) ---mistaking these activities for life.
          I object to modern Christmas with every bit of ethic and morality in my being. I realize this is perhaps not a potent threat, but still, I object to humans being brain-whipped by television to go out and buy things in order to be “happy.” I object to fact that demographers and other robberbarons skate to the bank on “yuletide” guilt.
          I think that's very Christian of me.
          Christmas music? Loathsome. It’s mostly desecrated with distorted electric guitars, beatbox rhythms, and that awful melismatic wailing that people mistake for singing nowadays. Either that or (ulp) the lobotomy-in-a-CD that is John Tesh and Kenny G. It gives me an almost physical pain, this stuff. It, too, is contrived, conceived, designed, and dispatched by marketing types pandering to lowest common denominator kneejerk Pavlovian drooling.
          Doubt it? Then why was the “war is over (if you want it)” chorus deliberately deleted in recent years from the Muzak renditions of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas?” Don’t offend. Don’t make them think of war while shopping. Who are the brain police, Frank Zappa asked long ago? Well, between the “Christian” right, Neocons, and Wall Street, I think that’s got it pretty well covered.
          I particularly dislike Christmas in Los Angeles, where it is usually bright, sunny, and quite often hot on Dec. 25. I’ve lived here most of my life, sad to say, and while out-of-towners forever swoon at the sunshine, I find it intrusive, oppressive. You live under sun 350 days a year, and it starts to feel like a torture lamp. When we get clouds in L.A.---just plain white fluffy clouds, folks---I almost cry tears of joy. Actual rain? Too glorious. As I type this, a fiendishly cold Santa Ana wind condition is in place outside, aided and abetted by the guest-who-won’t-leave in the sky. The air is as dry as the dust in Bush’s head. Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling toooooo. . .
          Christmas is---or has become---an atrocity. Look at the ritual: buy lots of things you don’t need, wrap them in paper (that will probably not be recycled), give them to people who probably also don’t need them. Have big parties. Eat huge amounts of food. Excrete huge amounts of dung. Imbibe huge amounts of alcohol. Throw up. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Fornicate under the tree.
          No, I don’t begrudge you people your pleasures. Have a Christmas ball. But to quote George Harrison in a wonderful little song he gave to Ringo, “Wrack My Brain,” “What I have, you don’t want/ What you want, I can’t give/ I got out of touch with you and yours/ The way that you live.
          Of course, I also object to having this whole Christmas psychosis foisted on me every year, because yes, I have to “celebrate” it, too. Which brings up Christmas depression, and the ensuing spike in suicides. People are put upon to feel “joy,” and to be with “loved ones,” but ladies and merry gentlemen, these things are not easily had. And they are not automatically had by buying a tree, tying a bow on a plasma TV, and saying “honey” at the beginning and end of your little married sentences.
          No, you’re right, it was not always this way. Things used to be simpler---“A Christmas Story”-simpler. The gift-giving tradition didn’t start going haywire until after World War II, apparently, a time when people had no idea what to do with their lives and lots of time to do it (paraphrasing Mae West.) The proliferation of media to well beyond saturation point---with cell phones, computers, TV, radio, and movies, when are you really free of it?---hypertrophied that tradition.
          And as I have written in the past, capitalists have abandoned all obligation and pretense of obligation to the community. That is, make money regardless of consequence. Hence rap songs about raping “ho’s.” Ho, ho, ho! O holy night? This crapitalism, as I am fond of terming it, holds Christmas as the holiest time of year, and with good cause. Santa gotta bag fulla money, honey. There is little that is more repulsive to me than capitalism without conscience, unless it is the sight of William Kristol, and nothing is more capitalistic and conscience-less than Christmas in the United States of Amerryca.
          There are other factors. As one grows older, one remembers the innocent Christmases of youth more and more as if they happened to another person entirely. And one remembers all the not-so-innocent Christmases of alcoholic relatives, estranged relatives, strange relatives, fighting parents, sitting alone in apartments on the big Eve, etc. One also remembers a great many people who, given their preferences, would rather be celebrating any kind of Christmas than resting in a pine box, six-feet-under. (Pets, too.)
          Let us not forget the “religious,” either, God help us. Fanatic fiends hell-bent (I hope) on converting others, on dumping their cretin notions of “morality” on the world. . .are on the brink of ruining the world. The “Christian” right celebrants of Christ’s birth (which happened in the summer, anyhow) are just a shade or two more “Christian” than the Taliban.
          But enough holly-jolly observations to make your spirits bright! You might be proud of me, to know that yes, I have tried to ignore all this, and to participate in the holiday in my own small way. I confess, for instance, that I even enjoy Christmas lights (that spring up with less frequency each year) on eaves and fences and trees. I like the very symbolism of lights, for starters---that of brightening, enlightening---and they are just plain pretty. I like being reminded of beauty at such a time of sad and ugly human behavior.
          Because I don’t like the feeling of exclusion on Xmas eve, and because I am no longer solo, I set out a few years ago to. . .do something. What to do? Why, go to a church. I figured that it might be pleasant to hear carols without hip-hop beats, and perhaps a pastor or preacher would have something valuable to say, if innocuous. Well, I was right on the first count.
          But in about five years of going to Christmas Eve services at Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, and Lutheran churches, I encountered only the most maddeningly insipid and vapid of sermons. It was quite astonishing. I mean, I ask you: “come home for Christmas?” What is this, an ad for a bank? It was intoned by a little fellow with a little voice, and it was the biggest part of his little “message.”
          It made me come home for Christmas, all right. Couldn’t wait to get the hell out of that church.
          Then there was the doofus reverend who actually said, through great drifts of Catholic incense---I kid you not---“be all you can be.” Yes, this was his Christmas sermon. He’d borrowed the goddamn U.S. Army slogan, for Christ’s sake.
          Luckily, I did finally stumble across a little brick church in Westwood. Inside, I found exactly what I had hoped to find, and what should be found in every church---instead of the dunderhead liturgy about “swaddling clothes” and all the self-righteous and highly political proselytizing by hard-core evangelicals and goofball zealots. I found reason.
          The reverend held forth sanely, sincerely, intelligently---and in such a way that it made sense whether you were a believer or not (not.) How Christian! What’s more, the reverend seemed to regard the story of Christmas and much symbology of the religion as just that: metaphor for the valid and useful and truly Christian teachings of cooperation, coexistence, kindness, even love. The choir consisted of three or four elderly ladies, the organist sort of got carried away with fanfares and flourishes as he played (charming!), and once or twice there was, of all things unlikely, a saxophone/ piano rendition of a carol or two. It even made that phoneybaloney “peace be with you” handshake with strangers-you-will-never-see-again marginally bearable.
          I’ve gone back every year to this, the Village Lutheran Church.
          Of course, the reverend is a woman---Janet Bregar---and the attendance is tiny---just a dozen or two.
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