Holiday cheer is in short supply in 2020. Under the weight of rampant news the Coronavirus, political turmoil, and economic uncertainty, I find myself desperately grasping at any yuletide diversion.
If you are similarly in need of such a diversion, you’ve come to the right place. This episode is based on an essay I wrote in 1995. It was originally published in several regional print publications, and was eventually included in the collection There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays, published by Papier-Mache Press in 1997. To my surprise, the book is still available.
So, for your holiday enjoyment, here is “It’s New, It’s Improved, It’s Christmas.” Let’s see where it goes...
The holiday season is a time of rituals. Some of these rituals — the shopping, the music, the decorations, and the food -- are comforting in their predictability. But the relentless nature of the shopping, the music, the decorations, and the food can also leave you curled into the fetal position, whimpering in some dark corner.
How you react to the various rituals depends a lot on your general disposition and your credit card balance. For my part, I love Christmas. But there is one Christmas ritual that really tangles my tinsel, and that’s the seasonal editorializing about how the modern celebration of Christmas pales in comparison to Christmases past.
It’s not that the old notions of how to celebrate Christmas aren’t all cozy and romantic -- you can’t binge watch marathon showings of “It’s a Wonderful White Christmas Carol Story on Thirty-Fourth Street” without shedding a teardrop or two into your plate of Christmas nachos. It’s just that the loudest cheerleaders for “old fashioned” holiday celebrations reliably overlook the fact that back in the day people didn’t have the option of doing it any other way.
Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh? No thanks. When Christmas morning rolls around I’m happy to have a well-equipped SUV warming up in the driveway for the ride to grandma’s place. I figure a horse-drawn sleigh is big fun for maybe ten minutes. After that you’re going to want Old Dobbin the haul ass back to someplace warm where the eggnog is spiked and the family can gather in the flickering blue glow of a giant Hi-Def television to contemplate the true meaning of football.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Sorry, no fireplace. We’ve got a furnace for heat, and stuffing nuts in there voids the warranty. Any of the roasting we do these days is in the microwave, and I’m pretty sure that if you put chestnuts in the microwave they would become little Yuletide hand grenades. Although, if you’ve got a snootful of Yule Grog, watching chestnuts explore in your microwave might be a real hoot.
Some people may see microwave ovens as a symptom of creeping non-traditional holiday-ism. But I’ll be you that if microwave ovens were available in Charles Dickens’ day, the Cratchits wouldn’t have had to entertain an uncharacteristically giddy Ebenezer Scrooge for however long it takes to cook a fine, fat goose.
Holiday entertaining is, in fact, the one area that even the most severe critic of modern practices would have to admit has not changed much since Tim was Tiny. A good holiday celebration, then as now, still involved lots of food, free-flowing drink, and a gathering of family and friends -- some of whom you’re as happy to see as a subpoena. Just as the Cratchit’s Christmas was spent with a man who, for all they knew, had suffered some kind of head trauma, so the modern holiday gathering include relatives or acquaintances who, because they watch too many talk shows, and/or have poor personal hygiene, and/or fail to maintain scheduled medication, you would normally avoid like a plate of frosted botulism. But in the spirit of the season, you smile warmly at the mystery uncle wandering around half-crocked, holding a clump of mistletoe over his sweaty, balding head.
Charles Dickens’ story wouldn’t have become the holiday classic it has if, having spotted on their doorstep an insanely grinning, raw-poultry bearing, fresh off a rough night Scrooge, the Cratchits had pulled their shades and pretended not to be home. Which is probably what I would have done.
Instead, knowing full well his reputation as a career grouch, they welcomed him into their home, giving us a touching story that teaches a valuable lesson about how a little Christmas spirit can get the boss to pry a little cash out of his seldom-opened wallet.
Sure, Christmas has changed over the years. It now starts just before Halloween. And the modern Christmas involves a lot more technology. But that just means a bigger, brighter, louder Christmas, with lasers and holograms and stuff. But even with all the noise and glitz, and by my count three entire cable networks devoted to fatally syrupy holiday romance movies, the holiday season still represents a time of hope that the nut jobs of the world will wake up and realize that peace on earth is a win-win proposition for everybody. If making Christmas bigger and louder and shinier helps to get that message across, fire up the lasers.