You know, I should know better because I am part of the tradition. So are about 95 percent of the folks who inhabit these great Untied States of America, whether or not they care to admit it. I suppose saying that I am a part of the …oh, let’s make it a title…”Tradition” make me a little bit smug. But, I really have no right to be smug, don’t you know. What with all that’s happening around me now and for the next couple of weeks I am once more going to be torn between what I find myself doing and the nagging feeling that I should be doing something more.
Every year at this time the Christmas rush starts gathering momentum like a great avalanche. (Aside: Do I notice a trend, in keeping with everything else about this time of year to change the name of what we “do” to something called the “holiday shopping season”?) During the next few weeks until December 24th we’ll be unable to turn anywhere without being assaulted by reminders in the form of advertisements in every kind of media, crowds of people, impossibly clogged roads and a sort mania that one has a duty, in this world, to consume, and to do it on a vast scale. (Good Saint Aldous Huxley, pray for us!)
Or else? Well, or else financial and economic ruin will result for the nation; ruin greater than cliff jumping. The business sections of papers and journals like the New York Slimes regularly carry stories on how fingers are being crossed and brows knit in hope and worry in corner offices all over the land. They want us to spend and are afraid we won’t.
And so, we must shop. It amounts to an obligation of good citizenship, I think, more important than voting often (and early); especially in light of the utter failure of anyone we elect to do anything at all constructive anywhere at any time. It is as if we are solving our own mess by buying more and putting it all on the card. And, it seems to me to be a responsibility we have assumed with unrivaled determination and a kind of manic joy akin to the feeling madmen might get by hitting themselves over and over with large pieces of wood. One asks: to what good end, aside from the positive one of staving off another recession if one believes the grim forecasts from those bean counters and entrail readers?
Well, so that us and the kids (It’s always the kids, isn’t it, the little Darlin’s?) can have a good Christmas we always answer. Really?
Now, don’t get me wrong. This won’t be another of those “Put Christ Back in Christmas” exhortations; another foam flecked, fist shaking, roof raising rant. That horse has left the barn long ago. Nah, I’m, sure you already have every answer you’ll need, the best one being, “Huh?” But, if we shop till we drop will that save us from hobo camps and bread lines next summer? Must we exhaust ourselves in the interests of our fellow citizens and little Contemptua and the twins, Aspergone and Lubricious who just won’t be happy until they awaken and see $2,000.00 apiece worth of shiny plastic and metal things made in Indonesia, Bangladesh and China by kids their age, kids who eat one meal a week, scattered all over the play room? Have we really an obligation to go out and spend hundreds on that new AIKIDO coffee pot that is also a flat screen TV, a poncho and a fly rod? Is it the right thing to do if you love your country? Is it?
I guess I don’t love America enough, or in the right way, because I’d like not to do that. Yet, in spite of myself I enter the lists, and do battle with my fellow consumers in the interests of “truth, justice and the American way.” Sometimes when I am in the middle of this civic minded frenzy I hear a voice deep inside me, a small whisper. “Whoa,” says the little thing, weakly. “Wait a minute. You know better.” It asks, “Is this the “spirit” of Christmas? Are you lighting a light in the darkness?” But, then, the next flyer from Wal-Mart arrives full of stuff everyone doesn’t need but can’t do without. There’s no escape from the exhortations, the temptations, to buy. There’s no release from the obligation to get the next thing, the “new” thing, because it really is our duty so to do. Fail in that and the lights will go out, the whole tinsel covered structure will come crashing down.
I’m torn because I know something else is going on. I came of age in a time and place among people who seemed to intuit this isn’t all there is. They lived with an understanding that something more exists both beyond and mixed in with what we can see and experience with the small bundle of only five senses we possess. And, that fact set limits on them. They gave over to the “mystery” of the things greater than them. They knew that they were not the measure of all things, that no matter what they did, how hard they tried they would…on their own..never be the best they could be.
But, that’s a subject for another day.
This market madness which affects us more or less all year long, but especially so at this time of year, has about chased that sense of there being more to life than a time share in the Colorado Rockies so far down the road it just don’t count no more for many if not most of us. And, poor kids, Clytemnestra and Rubicon will never even suspect it exists, plugged in as they will have been since age two. Too bad.
We spend now, what is it, close to three months buying and getting and the day formerly known as Christmas begins when the kids wake up on December 25th. It begins right around Halloween, and is really over when all the toys are opened, the videos take and the lights on the camcorder shut off. Gorging, drinking, football games and bouncing girls in fur trimmed bikinis have more to do with blood sport in Coliseums than anything a civilized people would engage in. When the day ends, when Uncle Grumpus, Aunt Morbidia and the cousins have driven off (Thank God!) all we have left is the feeling Miss Peggy Lee used to sing about: “Is that all there is?” The lights are out. Actually, despite the dancing reindeer and descending Santa out on the lawn, they never came on. The lights never really came on.
The Feast of Christmas used to take a while to get ready for: four whole weeks. It had a name, Advent, which meant something, someone, was coming. I’ll leave you to wonder who or what that might be. The way one got ready was to engage in a little interior house cleaning, practice being nice to each other and that jerk across the street, and clean up one’s act, generally. Then Christmas came, the long awaited and welcomed time, and the celebration lasted for twelve days. Some even kept it for forty days. Imagine that! By that time the year had turned and light was growing. The world of sense mirrored that of the spirit. How odd, that those ignorant ancestors of ours had a better idea?
I should know better, all right. For crying out loud I do know better. All that buying and all that getting, all those lights on all those trees and dancing blow up dolls on lawns can’t hold back the night.
Only one Light does that.