Challenging times. We can barely afford lunch, and along comes Christmas. No one seems too happy about this development. Some even seem a little panicked.
Turns out the Grinch was just a little ahead of his time. Scrooge too. Christmas contrarians have so much to work with. Exhibit A: video of Black Friday shoppers crushing other shoppers. In America, it's just not the holidays until someone gets stitches.
Yet we all require the thought that better things lie ahead. It's in our nature — in the ribbing of our souls — to believe in forces greater than ourselves. Perhaps it is a sign of an enduring humility. You'd like to think that, right? That in a world of provocation and ego run amok, that some of us still acknowledge that we may not have all the answers … to life…or science …or matters of religion.
So we turn to capitalism and Santa Claus. We turn, once again, to Christmas.
Me, I don't have any answers, but I have a few survival tips:
—Birch logs are the best logs, they burn crazy blue.
—Always keep the tree twine. Brothers tie up brothers with it, sometimes sisters and even themselves. These days, it's frowned upon to tie up your children. But it you keep the tree twine, your kids will eventually tie each other up. Remember to release them after New Year's.
—Do not decorate alone. It's almost ceremonial the way Americans untangle lights — there should be a Eucharist involved and maybe a paramedic standing by. Christmas isn't really Christmas till you've witnessed your old man take the Lord's name in vain when an ornament hooks his thumb like a bass lure.
Yoooooooouch. Merry **&%^$%&*^%#^ Christmas!
It's comical how we're able to flip the switch on Christmas. Madison Avenue has been celebrating since September, and one insane L.A. radio station has been playing holiday songs since, what, March? But the rest of us prefer Thanksgiving as the starting gun. Often, even that seems like too much Christmas.
What a confounding holiday this is. Like the blue in a birch log, we're not sure where it comes from. If it doesn't symbolize the re-emergence of God — a sequel, a comeback — then why has Christmas survived so long? There must be something to it, a holiness, a spiritual cleansing, the answer to some intrinsic human need.
The actual date is uncertain, so somewhere along the line they just decided on Dec. 25, when the days were short and the torches shone brightest. In the middle of winter, no one went to war. So there were a lot of folks just sitting around arguing. Soon, we had a major holiday.
William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas. The Vikings used to celebrate the season by hanging battle trophies on fir trees. Similarly, we wrap new SUVs in gargantuan, blood-red bows.
Sure, in that sense, it can be a downer holiday — a beacon on our outsized greed, desires, loneliness, impatience. Market forces can ruin Christmas, as can people. But bad as it all gets, they can never take away church choirs and candles in a window.
Or that greatest of American traditions: the made-for-TV holiday movie, so cheesy you should pair it with wine.
I saw one the other night in which eight strangers ended up stranded in an old church on a snowy Christmas Eve. I don't know what country it was supposed to take place in, because no one swore, no one drank, no one hit on the other guy's girlfriend. No one even took a selfie. Might've been Vermont.
Anyway, the point to mentioning Hallmark movies is that we should all find comfort this season in something silly and somehow satisfying. Might be a tacky Christmas sweater, or a Thomas Kinkade print. Might be, as my youngest suggested the other day, surprising the struggling family up the street with a tray of home-made cookies.
Could be anything — for yourself or preferably others. Simple as a phone call, grand as a new SUV. Whatever it is, it should embrace, as the Vikings once did, the element of surprise.
"Dad, do you still dream?" some kid asked me the other day.
"What good would that do?" I asked.
"Do you still dream?" the boy insisted.
Yeah, once in a while. I dream of parking spaces at the Galleria and Marlo Thomas in figure skates and a sweater. Of cozy holiday parties with glasses everywhere, and candles and birch logs and Christmas tree twine.
Sure, kid. I still dream. Especially now. We all should.