Sometimes I’ve wondered what it would be like to live maybe a hundred years ago and be celebrating Christmas
without all the commercialized holiday hoopla that we have today. I mean, you know, before big box stores and mass advertising and marketing focus
groups and blue light specials.
Wait, are there still K-Marts around? I mean since Walmart took over everywhere?
I suspect back then the holiday was celebrated more simply. Maybe not as simple as in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where people were expected to go into work on December 25, but still with a lot less hubbub and desperate shopping, clogged parking lots and – for now, at least – waiting in six-foot intervals just to get through a store’s door.
As it turned out – in a classic case of life imitating fiction – the influence of the Dickens’ novel inspired people to start observing Christmas Day with family gatherings, generosity, and seasonal food like fruit cake, mince pies, and various eggnog libations. But I’m not too sure about figgy pudding.
If that’s not enough, Dickens is also attributed with popularizing the expression “Merry Christmas.”
But don’t forget, those Puritan forebears up in New England outlawed the celebration of Christmas, and it wasn’t until 1870 that Congress declared it a holiday. We all have to thank President Ulysses S. Grant for that Presidential Proclamation. I mean, who wants to be called a Scrooge?
Speaking of Dickens, one of the best Christmas movies – IMHO, if I may – is the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol. There are other good ones, like the one where George C. Scott played Scrooge. It runs a close second.
If I may, there’s a scene in the 1949 movie Battleground in which the army chaplain is holding Christmas service for a squad of troops during the Battle of the Bulge. Just as he starts to lead the men in prayer, an artillery barrage in the distance drowns him out. He says, “The organist is hitting those bass notes a little too loud for me to be heard. So let each of us pray in his own way, to his own God.”
This one minor scene reminds me of spending more than one Christmas Eve apart from my family and loved ones, whether in Southeast Asia or in knee-deep snow guarding an ammo dump in Colorado. And I’m thinking that right now – Christmas, 2020 – there are thousands of servicemen and servicewomen out there in the world somewhere celebrating “in their own way.” This year, when V and I can’t be with our out-of-town kids and grandkids this weekend because of some stupid disease, I stop grumbling and hark back to those times and remember how much lonelier Christmas can be.
A far cry from growing up in a small college town, where our house was filled with the music of the Nutcracker Suite, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, carols sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and symphonies by Bach, Liszt, and others. We kids were up before the sun rose to see what Santa left and we giggled when we saw that there was a half-eaten cookie on the plate we left for him. In our house in the fifties, Santa Claus was, to quote Winston Churchill (totally out of context), “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
That was until I saw A Miracle on 34th Street with Natalie Wood on TV, the movie that proved Santa Claus was real, as verified by the U.S. Postal Service.
Besides A Christmas Carol, I’m watching, or rather re-watching, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bishop’s Wife, and Holiday Inn, featuring Der Bingle singing White Christmas. I know, I know, they’re all from the 1940s and most are in black and white, but much more satisfying than the cynicism of Bad Santa or The Ref. On the other hand, I’m waiting for something like a Better Call Saul Christmas episode.
I saw a recent poll asking people the question: Is Die Hard really a Christmas movie?
“Survey said – ding ding – yes.” With 73 percent.
I’m not too sure about that, but that’s just me talking. Although it’s a great action movie and Alan Rickman is one of the best-ever villains to watch, what pegs it as a Christmas movie is Vaughan Monroe singing Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! over the closing credits. Am I overthinking this?
I don’t know if you noticed, but winter officially began this week, as if it feels like it wasn’t here already. Just ask the folks standing outside waiting in line at Walmart. Anyway, on Monday the winter solstice happened at 3:02 a.m., which gave us only had nine and a half hours of daylight from sunup to sundown.
Frankly, I’ve always looked forward to the winter solstice because it means we’re on our way to longer days and hey before you know it, those spring flowers will be blooming.
And the coronavirus will be wilting.