Monday, December 06, 2004

Wither "It's a Wonderful Life"?

'Tis the season, as they say. Lots of folks are elbowing their way into the stores to buy stuff for themselves, oh, and some gifts, too, on the side.

Welcome to the United States of Appliances, where "It's a wonderful life" = "Made in China."

People sure do seem to want to express their thanks to Jesus and their love for their relatives with gifts that use batteries or plug into the wall. And most of it made in China. I often wonder what the Chinese think of making all this stuff, putting it in boxes and sending it by the shipload to America.

"Dear, I love you so much, I got you this portable TV/DVD player for the bathroom. And the kids won't ever have to complain about having to look out the window of the Suburban again because I got them portable DVD players for the back seat of their very own so each can watch their own movie. We won't have them figeting or having to share anymore. This'll solve that. No more driving us crazy. This is going to be a great year."

Seeing the ads and the stuff stacked up in stores, you'd think Americans didn't have enough clothes to go a season or two without a few new armloads, and it seems most are currently absolutely starved for appliances. Me, I'm not feeling too appliance deprived. Don't think I'm needing a bathroom TV or a pantini oven or a heated towel rack or a cork screw that weighs five pounds and has over a dozen moving parts. Neither am I sure which kid has been nice enough to deserve another computer game so that they won't ever get bored with killing cartoon figures in the same old ways. Parents are falling for this stuff - joining the NEW and IMPROVED Mayhem-a-Month Club. And is it any wonder we're not making leaps and bounds with our childrens' civic virtues? It seems only a minority realize that almost every video or computer game actually punishes their children.

Sure, there is the beauty in giving beautiful and even lavish things, but the glut of lavishness, so much so that we seem enslaved to quantity over elegant simplicity, just spoils the show. Entertainment center envy is not a good reason to keep up with the Joneses. I'm sure some gift exchanges are lovely and graceful, but the glut of stuff is what we see.

A conscientious minority have been pointing out the absurdity of Christmas for decades. And yet a few of the seven deadly sins seem to run the Christmas charade more than do the humbler virtues. The last two months of the year become a capitalist orgy of sales and cash registers ringing angels into a heavily financed heaven and returns - don't forget the returns afterwards, some happy, some downright argumentative and even fraudulent - keep your receipts! Gotta do a spreadsheet on the holidays.

The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" remains a Christmas classic because it is entertaining nostalgia for what now seem like some obsolete values, such as whimsy, community and humility. "It's a Wonderful Life" is about a lot of things, but the crux of the story is an attempted suicide, let's not forget, and it's lessons are the same as those espoused in the lovely and even humbler "Charlie Brown Christmas," with it's tiny tree losing its needles at every jostle.

What would a truly Christian nation do for Christmas? Perhaps give loaves of bread, bottles of wine, spices, fresh fruit, food, firewood, notes, time, candles, a feast, simple things, small and graceful things, support for the poor, the sick, the despondent, the lonely, even continuing attention through January and the rest of the year.

That is what a Christian nation would do. That is what Linus reminds us. And if not through miracles or prayers or saviors then at least through a renewed appreciation for small and humble and simple things, like a little tree, some songs and company, a security blanket we don't want to let go of. This time of year, we see the barrage of ads for luxuries and appliances, and yet some of the rational recoil, suffering consumption backlash and not expecting a star to guide us. (December and early January are high times for suicide - for some the glimmering gaiety is a mirage.) Some of us may even feel outcast and downcast, wanting to clutch our security blankets, wishing not merely but profoundly and fervently, for the warmth of a fire, a manger, a home, and in that flickering, fleeting and fragile candlelight, in a face or the faces we adore, in the shadows and earthen tones and human forms, a gaze of love, a long and tender gaze that sticks with us and which we hold dear.


At 12/06/2004 11:55 PM, Blogger Regina said...

We both blogged about our views on Christmas on the same day. Read superficially, it sounds like you're "anti-presents" and I'm strongly "pro-presents," but really both posts have a lot more than that going on.

At 12/07/2004 7:19 AM, Blogger Aleksu said...

Thanks Lawrence, I really sorely needed some companion on this lonely crusade against "Christmas".

I am an animist, I do not believe in any of the Bible/Quran/Tora stuff, but I do believe that Jesus' message (if he ever existed) is greatly missunderstood.

If the so called Christians would just sit back and learn the message of the one who's birthday they celebrate, they would realize how empty the whole modern version of Christmas is.

When invited, I do celebrate Christmas, as an opportunity to be with family and loved ones, but I always feel as a stranger, I see all these gifts, I see how fast they are unwrapped and toss to one side, and my soul aches. Sometimes I feel like volunteering to go somewhere over the Christmas Season to help build houses or restore schools, if I could only afford to stop working and go away.


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