Wednesday, December 27, 2006

No Sanity Clause

Why do we put up with it? At this time of the year, when the days are short and the ground is cold, Nature is telling us that we're not so different from bears. We should eat a lot and find a warm place to sleep until April. Instead, we have invented holidays -- Solstice, Saturnalia, Festivus, Isaac Newton's Birthday -- that require us to dress up, decorate our homes with potentially deadly items (many involving fire), add crippling debt to our credit cards, and expose our seasonally depressed immune systems to crowds, alcohol, and oppressively bad music. The funeral industry could hardly have come up with a better promotional idea.

Christmas -- as we might as well call it -- has been a source of stomach-tightening discontent for centuries. The first Druid to harvest mistletoe from an oak tree in the bleak mid-winter was probably told to take that fungus right outside again and stop tracking snow into the mead-hall. Enjoined on pain of death to sing a hymn to Baby Jesus, some Romans went on muttering "Saturnus" under their breath until the Christians had to cut out their tongues to make a point about the new god in town. It is recorded that Frau Luther spent the entire Weihnacht cleaning up wax drippings and rolling her eyes after Martin decorated the very first Tannenbaum with candles and those little pretzels with the vanilla icing. I could go for some of them right now, in fact. Overeating is another of the season's dirty secrets, for which we have the permission of Irving, Dickens, and other nineteenth-century writers who didn't stuff themselves all year and were given to long walks, too. I think the fruitcake is a nineteenth-century invention; didn't Mark Twain learn to plumb the Mississippi by tying one to a line and throwing it in the water? And the music, if you can call it that. No terrestrial song contains the words "chestnut," "jingle" or "pa rum pa pum pum," so what planet does this stuff come from?

As if we didn't have enough trouble, Christmas has become No Man's Land in the increasingly ludicrous culture wars. Nobody can have missed the fact that it now begins with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a wholly secular and mercantile event; but the right-wing rabble saw a chance to invent some secular-Darwinian-lesbian-Islamofascist "War on Christmas" that sensible people feel obliged to deny, using up valuable time they could spend napping. I'm always sorry to see the ACLU, usually among the most sensible, playing into their hands by filing lawsuits about "religious symbols" on public property and defending the right of weary cashiers to say "Happy holiday" instead of trying to guess what exactly you're shopping for. The Christmas the Fox News pulpit-pounders have in mind ceased to exist long ago, of course, but like the Bush regime, they don't let reality get in the way of a good, paranoid rant. So if the creche goes up, the menorah must also go up, and if not, then the trees have to come down, and Santa is all right because he's the distant relative of a Turkish bishop, but Frosty the Snowman is strictly treyf unless he's accompanied by a simpering Virgin and a shepherd with his painted hair peeling. And I say, enough.

If we were honest, really honest, we would adopt the menorah as our national symbol, and not just in December. Because it usually features candles, or those weird little orange bulbs, we forget that the menorah symbolizes the one thing American life cannot do without: oil. How miraculous would it be if the oil we have right now were to last, oh, eighty years? Think of the wars we wouldn't have to start, the Saudi asses our politicians would not have to kiss! Think of oil executives driving around Houston in their ten-year-old Chevys, their wives trundling shopping carts with industrial-size cases of frozen waffles through HugeMart, dreaming of the shoe sales at J.C. Penney, while tumbleweed blows through the parking lot at Niemann-Marcus. Best of all, we could give Messiah a moratorium and listen to Judas Maccabeus, a perfectly swell Handel oratorio and a lot shorter. I swear by Beelzebub, if I have to hear that chorus one more time I will run amok like King Kong. "HA-lelujah! HaleLUjah! HaLAYlujah!" Make up your mind which syllable to emphasize, will you! Yes, oil. We'd go right on burning it and not even making token efforts to find other energy sources, but we're going to do that anyway. Planet's broken. We can't fix it. We can only move to higher ground and keep a good eye out for angry, displaced bears. Bears who want only to sleep until April, which is what I should be doing.


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