I’ve written a lot of Christmas columns – two dozen, give or take. Every now and then I like to reprint one that means something to me because, let’s face it, there are only so many ways you can say “Merry Christmas”. Also because too much eggnog ruins my typing skills. This one was first published about four years ago; I thought it might put things into perspective a bit for people who, like me, have been having a bit of trouble getting into the spirit this year.
I’ve always related to the cartoon character Charlie Brown.
I was the odd shaped kid, naïve, a little strange, unpopular. If I’d dared to manage a baseball team, it would have been the worst team on the planet. The little red haired girl was very nice, but clearly had no interest in me. I even had a white dog, although he slept inside the dog house.
So it’s not surprising that, like Charlie Brown, I can be a little cynical about Christmas. In today’s society, what’s Christmas all about?
Not long ago, another newspaper gave a “hiss” to people who put huge inflatable Christmas figures in their front yards. I have always agreed (said the guy with the huge inflatable Santa in his front yard). But can’t you overdo it just as much with more traditional Christmas decorations? If you fire up so many lights around the outside of your house that it sets off NORAD’s missile launch alarm, isn’t that just a bit gaudy? Is it entirely within the realm of good taste to replace the livestock in your nativity scene with reindeer and snowmen?
I love Christmas lights, but we can go way overboard, and it makes us start thinking Christmas is all about keeping up with the decorating Jones’s. When your decorations drain the North American power grid; when your electric meter flies off the side of the house and decapitates the courthouse clock tower; when Jennifer Lopez shows up in a limo, thinking your home is the spotlit premier of her new movie; it’s time to think about cutting back.
The holidays have become make or break time for almost all of America’s retail establishments. If they don’t do well at Christmastime, you can forget the rest of the year. Is this the economic model we want to follow? Is this what Christmas is all about?
When the National Guard tries to break up a riot over the new X-Box, but is driven off by a rabid crowd; when the first Christmas displays of the year melt in the August heat; when the after-Thanksgiving sales begin at 4 a.m. the Friday before Thanksgiving; it’s time to rethink our priorities.
Meanwhile, at this time when people get as much as a whole week off to celebrate the birth of Jesus (You remember … Jesus?), more and more of us aren’t doing that at all. The majority of people in this world believe in God, but the minority has taken control and are telling the rest – the majority – what they can and can’t do. There’s a new lawsuit, seeking to take “In God We Trust” off our nation’s coins. Let me ask again – why should an atheist care? If there is no God, what possible difference does it make to have the word on our dollar bills? And if there is, we’re in big, big trouble, because turning your back on God is similar to standing on the railroad tracks to moon an oncoming train.
When athiests take full advantage of a religious holiday, and don’t feel the slightest bit hypocritical about it; when your definition of faith means you’re confident you’ll get the new “Blood Splatter 3” game in your stocking; when you hear a baby laugh, or smell a flower, or see a sunset, and honestly believe they weren’t created by something greater than ourselves – you’re in a very lonely place, indeed.
But so many people are in that place. Thinking about who has the better stuff, worried about nothing more than today, believing in nothing. Today’s cynicism eats into my feeble attempts at optimism, this cold, gray time of year. I wonder what it’s all about. Can anyone tell me what Christmas is really all about?
But, deep down, I believe the world is more good than bad. And so, of course, the little boy Linus walks up with his blanket, as he has in that Charlie Brown special for forty years. Kids are honest; that’s both their blessing and their curse. They may not have the maturity or education of adults, but they also don’t have all that baggage that keeps some things from being black and white.
“Sure, Mark,” he says. “I can tell you what Christmas is all about:”
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Mark.”
Oh. Well, that makes a lot more sense than lights, toys, and shopping.
And then Linus goes off, to abide for another year in the hopes that, this time, we’ll take that Christmas spirit with us all year long.
Me? Like Charlie Brown, I may kill my little tree, or screw up directing the play. But, no matter what bad thing happens, I can’t help having an innate sense of optimism. This world can be a better place, if the good people of the world refuse to give up. We can still have peace and good will toward men, someday. We just have to keep the faith.
That’s what Christmas is all about.