What should I get my wife for Xmas?
Dear Anonymous Gift-Needer,
The lab this time of year is especially redolent with Xmas cheer. The days grow shorter and shorter until one fears that light shall never come again, that we will be relegated to a darkness unceasing, forever gripped in the toska of Seasonal Affective Disorder, hunkered low in our Xmas sweaters, drinking the bourbon-ed Xmas nogs, supping on the Xmas roasts of our Xmas dead. But in the face of this crushing gloom, this Sauron-like weight that hangs upon us, in the face of this we feel Cheer and Hope in what is doubtless a sociological miracle.
People sometimes ask what I see in humans. They stare at the headlines of Tea Partiers who demand tax breaks for the wealthiest while denying the barest medical care for the poorest. They look upon the horrors of the Sudan. They hear the voice of Mad Glenn Beck, inheritor of the Father Coughlin mantle, and shiver in terror at the webs he so skillfully weaves. They look upon all of this and wonder if we are doomed, if humans are stained with some irreducible evil. They smell The End Times on the wind.
But I, with my alien experience and optically perfect eyes, I look at Christmas and know this to be false. Christmas is a parlour trick, a bit of folk psychology. You humans have taken the darkest, coldest days of the year and through sheer force of will and clever marketing have transformed them into a Festival of Lights, into a Winter Wonderland, into The Giving Season. Yes, you proclaim, it is Dark and shall grow Darker, but that is not a reason to fear, it is a reason to cherish.
This is why I love you, humans. This and the Internet, with her Manifold Anatomical Horrors and Adorable Photographic and Videographic Studies.
"But," says my Hebraic lab assistant Rob, "You are not of the Christian faith, and is not Xmas a religious holy day?" (Note: The actual dialogue was garnished with many an "uhhs" and a "like" and a great crop of "fuckins;" I have thinned this verbal heard in the interest of brevity.)
To this I laugh. For most of America Christmas is a secular holiday, Christian in name only. The mythological figure at the heart of it is Santa Claws, not the Nazarene Carpenter. He is surrounded by a bevy of characters that dance in the minds of children in Burning Glory like so many Sugaréd Plums. There is the Rudolph, the American underdog championed for his difference, placed in charge of a team of hardworking German immigrant reindeer, some who have kept their original names (Donner, Blitzen, Rölf) while others have taken on Americanized Ellis Islander names (Dancer, Cupid, William). There is the Frosty Snowman, the paragon of the Wisdom of Age. Born an old man, with the affectations of age—the pipe, the hat, the coal, the carrot—he teaches that life is fleeting and to be enjoyed, imparting this knowledge upon the youth before sacrificing himself to the sun.
There are the Elves, the Missus Claws, the Toy Soldiers, the Sugaréd Plum Fairy, the Second Missus Claws, Jack of the Frost, the Islands of Misfitted Toys, and the young woman who checks into the motel with Santa as "Missus Claws." They are festooned in the symbols of pagan-try, with their mistletoes and such, and at the margins one hears of three wise men or a manger, but we all know that if there was a Jesus Man, he was born not in December, but in April.
This is not about Jesus. This is not about You. This is about Us.
Molly has been shirking work and watching the Xmas films upon her computer. She tears up invariably in the third act. She pretends she doesn't but we all hear the unmistakable sound of tissues being plucked from their resting chamber.
I do not mean to belittle Christians with this pronouncement. Clearly the holy day has great personal import to many of them, as Eid does to Muslims, Chanukah does to some small subset of the Jewish peoples, Diwali to the Hindus, and Kwanza to the members of the African Diaspora.
No. Instead I mean to belittle the atheists and agnostics and naysayers who act as if the word "Christmas" yet still carries some dark sectarian significance. As if the merest mentioning of a god figure gave power to the idea. Our language, this bastard tongue of English, is simply laden with the remnants of long-dead gods. Our planets are the Roman gods, are they not? And our days of the week are the gods of the Norse. We have Thor's Day and Wodin's Day and Tue's Day and yet no one pretends they are named incorrectly. The detritus of religion is amongst us. We should accept it and cherish it, for to do otherwise makes us the fools.
I was not always of this opinion. It has come to me quite recently.
The day itself, this 25th of December, is not even the part I enjoy the mighty most—no, it is instead this jolly banging run up to The Day. The excitement in the air. The sniffles of Molly as she plucks yet another Capra-inspired tissue from its resting place. Rob's LED menorah standing with pride atop his monitor on what he insists is the 15th day of Chanukah (observed). Leeks, our accountant, with his mistletoe headband, desperate for a smooching. Trael and Jarwaun, my internist typists, with their massive Amazon Wishing Lists of transforming toys and violent video games. Devo and his Gay Men's Choir caroling for the ill and for the hale alike.
How can one look out at the myriad ways we celebrate this holiday and dare say that any of them are wrong or not "Of the Spirit." Readers, there is no such thing. Xmas is post-Pagan, post-Mithra, post-Christian. This holiday—more than any other—is what we choose to make of it. It is deeply personal and incredibly public all at once. It is the America the Holiday. And, as an Americanero, this is why I love it.
As for your wife, may I recommend several sites that offer stupendous handmade crafts? Or one of several excellent books that have been published this year, including one by the very handsomest member of our editorial staff (myself excluded)?
Tis the Season to Remain,
Your Giant Squid
Poor Mojo's Almanac(k)
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