Everyone is in denial about Christmas. Those who use words like “peace” and “goodwill” to describe the season have clearly never been to the mall after Thanksgiving. It’s been called “the most wonderful time of the year”, but that phrase must have been coined by credit card companies or therapists, since the holiday is marked primarily by debt and depression.
To be clear, I’m talking about Christmas as it is celebrated in America today. The actual event, that of God becoming flesh, the Child sent to be Savior of the world, isn’t affected by the fact that “this holy tide of Christmas all other doth deface”. It is, as people are wont to say, what it is and that can’t be taken away. For that I’m thankful and will celebrate.
No, Christmas in 21st century America is a whole ‘nother beast. It is, in the words of Lucy Van Pelt, “Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe and presents for pretty girls”.
We’re also in denial about the movies we watch. We love to boo and hiss Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Potter, but if they were CEO’s of a modern corporation, they would be darlings of Wall Street. In fact, if Sam Palmisano (IBM) had a Scrooge-like awakening, his board of directors would boot him before you could say “figgy pudding”.
Remember this exchange from “A Christmas Carol”?
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
It reminds me of a former employer of mine who, when asked why we didn’t have a philanthropic program, responded that our stockholders didn’t want us “to give their money away”. Scrooge would be proud. (Would you be surprised if I told you the company lost its moral and financial moorings later on when the two chief executives embarked on a sleazy web deal? You shouldn’t be.)
In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, when Peter Bailey refuses to foreclose on families because they have children, Mr. Potter retorts, “They’re not my children!” and later continues, “Are you running a business or a charity ward?” Who would argue that his outlook is inconsistent with current wisdom? So, why do we profess to hate him yet idolize the corporate CEO’s for whom he and Mr. Scrooge are prototypes? It’s all part of Christmas denial.
This condition extends to the songs we sing. All but the most ardent agnostics find themselves singing “born to raise the sons of earth/born to give them second birth” and “Alleluia” to the Messiah. Why? Denial.
What’s going on here? I’m not sure. I think people sense what the season represents. The angel of God Himself declared that peace on earth, goodwill toward men is the mark of the event. (We can have the “with whom He is well pleased” discussion another time. I don’t think it’s an open and shut case.)
I’m thinking that maybe it isn’t denial but rather wishful thinking. We want the peace, but not necessarily the Prince of Peace. We want the gifts, but not the Giver. It’s all there for those willing to follow the Child born in Bethlehem. Wise men still seek Him. Wiser men follow Him.
(See my previous post on the Advent Conspiracy for more of what the season could/should be.)