“The Dread Xmas”

Some Things About Xmas Drive Me Up the Wall

And I use the word Xmas advisedly. I like many of the traditions associated with the Christmas holiday, mostly because of happy memories from my own childhood. What to me as a young boy was radiant and hopeful, however, has become for the adult me just another hurdle. For decades now, I have referred to the holiday as “The Dread Xmas”—and I make a point of pronouncing it as Ekksmas. Here is a partial list of my beefs about this time of year:

The Little Drummer Boy

There was no little drummer boy in the manger. The shepherds around Bethlehem would not have countenanced using a sheepskin to beat upon with a pair of sticks. And the song itself is sappy, sirupy, and soggily sentimental. Let us just leave this one out henceforth. To me, it is far worse than the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” song that is so lately controversial.

The Holiday “Spirit”

Let’s face it: This is a time of year when people are driven to perform endless errands—and in the worst possible spirit. In so doing, they clog the highways and especially the shopping center parking lots. Even with Amazon.Com and other Internet alternatives, you are likely to have some sour feelings about the holiday if you venture out of doors and onto the highway.

Charity Is Not Just for the Holidays

And yet, there is a positive onslaught of charitable requests from November until the end of the year. Giving some poor person a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is a nice idea, but people are hungry and needy all year round. Every year at this time, I get at least a hundred requests this time of year. I suppose the timing has more to do with people trying to up their tax exemptions before the New Years, but it does get a bit old.

Holiday Guilt

As a newly retired person, I am now on a fixed income and frequently making raids on my IRA savings. There is no way that I can give Christmas gifts the way I used to, and I feel terrible about it. I have to make a special effort to tell my friends that I can’t be quite so generous as previously.

On the Other Hand

There are also some things about Christmas that I love: The old traditional songs, the classic movies such as the Alastair Sim version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, getting together with friends, and trying to make small things into mini-celebrations. At its best, Christmas is about love; at its worst, about mere driven spiritless compulsion.

 

 

Christmas in Palenque

The Town of Palenque, Chiapas, Near the Ruins

The year was 1979. My brother Dan and I were traveling in Southern Mexico, roughly following the route Graham Greene had taken in his book The Lawless Roads (1939), when he was doing research for his novel The Power and the Glory (1940).  It was Christmas, and we were in the little town of Palenque, just a few miles from the Mayan ruins of the same name.

Dan liked hanging out in the cafés along the zócalo, because that part of Chiapas was a major coffee-growing area, and Dan is a coffee aficionado the way I am a tea aficionado. You have to understand that Dan was wearing slip-on loafers. While we were munching away, we were approached at our table by a shoeshine boy. Dan slipped his shoe off and handed his foot to the boy, which foot was clad in bright red wool socks. The whole restaurant erupted in laughter, including the shoeshine boy.

Mexico has some wonderful Christmas customs, especially the posadas. Between December 16 and 24, children travel around singing carols. We always donated to them.

Christmas Posadas Singers

 

 

Favorite Films: A Christmas Carol (1951)

This Version Is Sometimes Called Scrooge

This Version Is Sometimes Called Scrooge

My favorite version of Charles Dickens’s classic is the 1951 A Christmas Carol starring the great Alastair Sim as Scrooge. It’s longer than and more faithful to the original than the 1938 version starring Reginald Owen as the humbugging miser. Plus it has the music for the old song “Barbara Allen” running through it at various points as the love theme.

In addition, there are several negligible musical versions and a not-bad TV version starring Patrick Stewart which isn’t played often.

There are many Christmas movies that purport to be classics. Some of them I love, starting with A Christmas Story (1983), which reminds me of my upbringing in Cleveland. Then there are The Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), and Christmas in Connecticut (1945)—all of which have their moments.

Whatever you choose to watch, I hope you enjoy it. And I hope this Christmas holiday will be a memorable one for you—and for all the right reasons.

A Hopeful Holiday

Christmas Decorations from the Grier-Musser Museum

Christmas Decorations from the Grier-Musser Museum

Here I sit with my fingers crossed, afraid to check the news and seeing what our new elected Fuehrer has to astonish and dismay the world. I could really work myself into a state about this turkey, but I have decided to concentrate this Christmas on the people I love. There is nothing I can do to buck the Electoral College majority for the Cheetoh-headed moron, so I will leave him to the scorn of history. (That will not prevent me from opposing him in a more substantial way if the opportunity arises.)

What is Christmas really all about? I think the operative word is “love.” According to John 3:16 in the King James Bible, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Christian doctrine says it was all an act of forgiveness to cancel out the “original sin” of Adam and Eve for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge. God the Son incarnated as a human being and died a horrible death by crucifixion just so we’d all stand a chance. In this light, Christmas is a feast of divine love.

But not everyone believes this, and I myself tend to cherry-pick Christianity, adopting what I like and brushing the rest aside. I like the idea of giving gifts to the people who mean the most to me; and I like using this time of year to cement my closest relationships, whether with Martine, my family, or my closest friends.

Unfortunately, Christmas has been weighted down with a whole lot of paraphernalia. There are stores open twenty-four hours a day for last-minute shopping. (My shopping is all done—and I would never visit a retail store at this time of year because of the crowds.) I have no twinkling lights about my apartment: I don’t even have a Christmas tree or a wreath on the door. I don’t wear any ugly Christmas sweaters. Unlike most male Americans, I don’t watch any bowl games—or, in fact, any sports at all. Instead, I look forward to a nice Christmas dinner and an exchange of gifts with my oldest friends. Martine and I will watch the 1951 Alastair Sim version of The Christmas Carol, and maybe even A Christmas Story (1983) if I can. And I will read one of Charles Dickens’s lesser-known holiday works, such as “The Chimes” or “The Cricket on the Hearth.”

Use the real meaning of Christmas to become stronger in your emotions. Perhaps what the 2016 election really means is for us to look after ourselves, because most assuredly no one will look after us.

Xmas Treacle

Some Things About Christmas I Could Definitely Do Without

Some Things About Christmas I Could Definitely Do Without

The following is from Patrick Smith’s excellent blog entitled Ask the Pilot. I don’t do this sort of thing very often, but I find myself in such substantial agreement with Patrick that I couldn’t have expressed it better myself:

I don’t much like Christmas, if you must know. The phoniness and thunderous commercialism of it all. Plus, I never get any presents. Typically I work over the holiday. Last year it was Paris. The year before that it was Ghana. This year I’ll be in Scotland. But while I can run, I can’t really hide. Nobody, not even a sourpuss likes me, escapes this grotesque juggernaut of make-believe goodwill and endless consumption. In some ways, maybe, this is for the better. Certainly an author and website curator….

Do not, ever, make the mistake that I once made and attempt to enjoy Christmas at a small hotel in Ghana called the Hans Cottage “Botel,” located on a lagoon just outside the city of Cape Coast. They love their Christmas music at the Hans Botel, and the compound is rigged end-to-end with speakers that blare it around the clock.

Although you can count among those people able to tolerate Christmas music — in moderation, in context, and so long as it isn’t Sufjan Stevens — there is one blood-curdling exception. That exception is the song, “Little Drummer Boy,” which is without argument the most cruelly awful piece of music ever written. [Italics mine] It was that way before Joan Jett or David Bowie got hold of it.

It’s a traumatic enough song in any rendition. And at the Hans Cottage Botel they have chosen to make it the only — only! — song on their Christmastime tape loop. Over and over it plays, ceaselessly, day and night. It’s there are breakfast, it’s there again at dinner, and at every moment between. I’m not sure who the artist is, but it’s an especially treacly version with lots of high notes to set one’s skull ringing.

“Ba-ruppa-pum-pum;ruppa-pum-pum…” as I hear it today and forever, that stammering chorus is like the thump-thump of chopper blades in the wounded mind of a Vietnam vet who Can’t Forget What He Saw. There I am, pinned down at the Botel bar, jittery and covered in sweat, my nails clattering against a bottle of Star lager while the infernal Drummer Boy warbles into the buggy air.

“Barkeep!” I grab Kwame by the wrist. “For the love of god, man, can’t somebody make it stop?”

Kwame just smiles. “So lovely, yes.”