Human beings love ritual, be it roasting birds or throwing virgins into a volcano. Race, creed or color, make no difference. They are personal lines of demarcation splashed across the heavens, a celestial DayMinder. Personal holidays, my birthday or your birthday, are pretty cool, but on the flip side, the birthdays of those to whom our greatest gift might be our absence. (I’ll never understand why you married him.)
But that’s just it, these rituals are marking our travels, adventures, and misadventures, with waypoints and signposts: That time you got drunk at the Christmas party and fell down or that time you got drunk at the Fourth of July barbecue and fell down, in shorts. Pretty lights and festive atmospheres, add alcohol and stir, marking the bonds of our existence while we attempt to escape their fetters upon us.
We’re looking back over our shoulder, banefully holding on to a belief that we are a part of something beyond this veil of tears; modern holidays papering over the time-stamp; it’s the vernal equinox repackaged as Easter or a solar measurement through the year celebrating the return of the sun, not son, a concrete cell-block of physical existence furnished with all the accoutrements of manmade ritual and… short of becoming a Jehovah’s Witness or moving to an uninhabited Fijian atoll, there’s no escaping it.
Political holidays, commemorating the death struggle of the young, are celebrated by the elder survivors, the beneficiaries of political accomplishment. Decoration Day, melding into Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day — the trenches of Flanders’s field forgotten — have been replaced by the ambiguous struggle.
In Montgomery, Jeff Davis’s birthday was an official state holiday and flags adorned the graves of Confederate veterans on Confederate Memorial Day. It’s not that anyone today really still wishes the Confederacy had triumphed, it’s a part of their heritage, it was important to grandpa, and so it’s important to them. It’s the ole God and Country routine, blood and sand, worshiping the sunrise at Stonehenge or holding the still-beating heart of a captive to the sky from atop the temple steps. Were the Aztec’s really all that religious or did they only attend on holidays?
Here in Ohio, it’s the Ohio State-Michigan football game, collectively celebrating a victory or suffering a defeat at the hands of people we have no other connection with, but celebrating that connection.
In Alabama, it’s the Alabama-Auburn Football game. Why, you could rob a bank during the first quarter of that game and the cops won’t chase you until half-time. An inescapable in-state rivalry, demanding you declare allegiance at the state line. If they could, they’d put it on your driver’s license, “Do you know why I pulled you over? You were doing fifty in a thirty five-zone, but I see you’re a Tide fan, so I’m going to let you off with a warning.” Something like this happened to a friend of mine. He was speeding towards Auburn to attend the game when a cop pulled him over. The cop asked, “Do you know why I stopped you?” He replied, “Yeah, gimme the ticket and let me go!”
To a degree we have choice, but only to a degree. We’re locked and loaded towards six weeks of god awful Christmas carols and jingling bells, whether we like it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against Christmas carols for a week or two, but when they begin the ritual of barking Santa dogs a week before Thanksgiving, I’m glad Bing Crosby and Burl Ives are dead. It’s plain and simple Capitalist holiday creep. Halloween candy out in September and Thanksgiving usurped by Black Friday.
Black Friday isn’t a holiday, it is a made up event created by merchants trying to convince you that the day after a national holiday of Thanksgiving is the best time to begin your Christmas shopping. Viewed in this light, really? Really? You’re going to get up a 5:30 in the morning or spend the night in line at some merchant’s door for a bargain?
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ~ Charles Dickens
In the old Soviet Union you’d have to get up pretty early for a good spot to watch the tanks and missile launchers roll by in Red Square. In a Capitalist society, you’re encouraged to get up at the butt crack of dawn to spend, spend, spend, celebrating a religious holiday having nothing to do with consumption: media-automated people, a manipulation of society by Capitalism, the sirens of the Morlocks sounding.
Big Brother is on all telescreens, imploring you to buy something. Buy something! Anything… or Christmas will be ruined. Christmas now becomes more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious holiday. Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards men replaced by veiled Torquemada accusations of heresy for saying happy holidays or posting “Merry Xmas.”
You are religious, but are you religious enough comrade? Do you wish to bring the Christ to Christmas by attacking people whose only crime is in not living up to your orthodoxy? Yeah, I kind of remember that from the Christ story, hippo.hip.hypocrites! Yeah, I remember them too, seems like though, as I rightly remember it, Jesus was agin that sort of behavior. It’s ritual inside of ritual, dictating our behavior, our dress and our diet. So put on a tie, we’re going to Aunt Martha’s; do it for me, she’ll make a fuss if you don’t. She’ll have that wooden reindeer centerpiece your cousin Joey made in shop class on the table. Each year, a little more worse for wear, the red ribbon faded with only one googly eye still functioning; she angles its shortcoming towards the empty side of the room.
It is her holiday, her time stamp, a moment when her boy was still small. A time-stamp, a moment captured for life, irreplaceable and irretrievable, commemorated annually each Thanksgiving at Aunt Martha’s house. This time, these distances of life, these markers on us each unique and different, but each our own custom holiday, whispering personal messages in our ear, pulling us by the sleeve, commemorating family and lost family, our life, our world and our place in it. These tiny little things, the smells and remembrances of Thanksgivings or Christmas, outweigh all the advertising schmaltz and crappy Christmas music we’re forced to endure. Besides it’s a ritual, if you don’t hear “I’ll be home for Christmas” or “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” five thousand times in the next six weeks, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.
Let the holidays be your own. Sure, they can be a drag, but at least nobody gets thrown into the volcano.
This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery? If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it? And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?
I dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?
Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.”
― Bill Watterson
About the author: David Glenn Cox is a senior staff writer for TLR and an award winning author and musician; he is the author of the novel, “The Servants of Pilate.”