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Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

CHRISTMAS IS A GREAT AND TERRIBLE SPIRIT

The oppressiveness of it all, the heaviness, the pressures of jollity and bounty, and crowds, and family; the wholly holy unholy alliance of commercialism and a variety of Christianity; the deep melancholy dug deep under its skin, in its bones; the darkness of the season.

Dig: the most famous, most beloved Christmas movie is about a suicide attempt. George Bailey sees his life and name and reputation going down the drain and he shouts and frightens his children and is cruel to his wife and he throws himself off a bridge into a freezing river hoping to put an end to all that.

I’ve heard the term “Capra-corn” to denigrate the happy resolutions of Frank Capra’s films, but check it out: “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t his only Christmas suicide film. “Meet John Doe” is another.

And in Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment,” Shirley MacLaine’s character tries to off herself on Christmas.

Turning the heat down from suicide attempts to mere depression:

“A Charlie Brown’s Christmas” -- kids being mean to each other, and the whole thing suffused with melancholy, and Charlie Brown’s depression, and a theme song of children singing utterly sadly, “Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer.”

Wartime Christmas songs (World War 2), “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (“if only in my dreams”); and even “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with Judy Garland’s tremulousness-near-tears, singing “some day soon we all will be together / if the Fates allow / until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” And: “Some day all our troubles will be out of sight.” But for now they’re very much IN sight. Post-war versions bowdlerized the song, cheapened it, faked it. “From now on our troubles will be out of sight.” Well, ahem, that sounds like repression. And: “Through the years we all will be together / if the Fates allow / Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” I can’t listen to the bowdlerized versions.

Yes, Christmas is a heavy and terrible spirit.

Like many holidays, there’s a huge cultural energy going into promoting an idealized norm. Valentine’s Day, it’s couplehood & sexy love. Thanksgiving Day, it’s feasting with Loved Ones. Christmas, it’s gift-giving within a solvent (Christian) family. If your life doesn’t match these norms, it can be a drag, especially if you’re not content with being off the beaten path. All these insipid, ceaseless, annoying, loud, repeated, repeated reminders.

All the secular Christmas stories revolve around generosity and gratitude. Generosity and gratitude. The Dragnet episode where an alky denizen of a men’s hotel gets taken in and questioned because someone stole the Baby Jesus from the Parish Creche, and the street guy was seen leaving the service with a bundle wrapped under his arm. Turns out, he had a packet of clothes he was taking to the cleaner, because he wanted to look his best for the hotel’s Christmas caroling that night. The Dragnet cop tells the priest, “I’m sorry, Father, the guy’s story checks out. We don’t have any leads on who stole the Baby Jesus.” Just then a sweetly smiling 4 or 5 year old Mexican boy walks up the church aisle pulling a bright red wagon, and in the wagon is the Baby Jesus. He speaks Spanish to the (Anglo) priest, who explains, the Firemen’s association gave red wagons to the poor kids in the neighborhood, and this boy took Baby Jesus home to thank Him, and now he’s bringing Him back.

I can’t think about this story without the tears coming.

Merry Deep Dark Winter Holiday.


Comments:
For the Christmas season also: before bros christmas movie nightmare warner , might as well get in the spirit early this year!
 
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