Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh Crap, It's Christmastime Already!

I've decided that Christmas is really 3 different holidays all rolled into one.

There is Xmas, the accounting event, the retail institution, a commercial outgrowth from a series of dimly remembered winter holidays that involve lots of gift giving, which means lots of shopping. Seasonal music, treacly nostalgia, and enforced good cheer put people in the mood for (or guilt them into) copious amounts of spending. Frequently, economists, statisticians, and political pundits pontificate about the health of the Republic and the Global Economy depending on how much Americans spend at this time of year.

There is the Winter Holiday with long ago roots in the Roman Saturnalia and various pre-Christian solstice rites. This involves little ritual items like Yule logs, holly, Christmas trees, Santa Claus (and related characters) and mistletoe. It also consists of gift giving with lots of eating and drinking. Something of the ancient spirit of chasing away the darkness and scarcity of winter with lots of light and feasting still survives under the heavy crust of commercial Xmas.

Then there is The Feast of Our Lord's Nativity, the only time of year when conventional America rejoices at the birth of a bastard child to an unwed teenage mother in some backwater Roman territory (earlier ages were far less squeamish about the circumstances of Our Lord's birth than we are today; see the cuckolded Joseph weeping in a lot of early Nativities including Giotto's). Ideally, this is a 12 day festival in which every child is the Christ Child. It should be a feast for and about children. In my opinion, the gift giving should be confined to children (under 18, and preferably younger).  It's a sign of hope for us all that the Creator of the Worlds should be born in dire poverty, on the run, with a price on His head; God With Us indeed, a standing rebuke to all our ideas of success, including moral success.

Christmas always brings out the cranky socialist in me, probably because I've had to work on or around Christmas since I was 18. One person's special holiday is someone else's job. Then there were those years when I joined my Jewish friends and went out to eat and to a movie that day (conveniently forgetting that I worked in movie theaters and kitchens on Christmas in younger days).  
And am I still working on the holiday?   Well, not in stores, or theaters, or kitchens anymore thank God, but I'm always working on piles of grading around the holiday. 


BillyD said...

I like your dissection (trisection?) of the upcoming holiday.

St. Joseph doesn't look like he's weeping, though, in the painting you link to. He looks like he's brooding instead, like the Joseph of Orthodox icons of the Nativity, who is being tempted by the devil to doubt.

Counterlight said...

Giotto's version is generally believed by scholars to be based on St. Bonaventure's Meditations on the Life of Christ, which I must confess I've not read. I believe the old story about Joseph weeping and refusing to help with the birth comes from there, and may be based on earlier pious folk tales from medieval Europe.