We all benefit from a little Christmas in our lives
What would we be like without it?
Allen Kaleta photo
I tend to wish a Merry Christmas to anyone who conceivably might be Christian.
I want to encourage them.
I like Christmas. It serves a good purpose, and not just economically.
I feel that way despite reasonable personal justification for the opposite opinion.
As a child, I was among those non-believing public school students who stood and sang Christian songs with everybody else so as not to appear weird.
I realized relatively soon, however, that I had lost the battle to avoid looking weird. I lost by a nose.
So like my father before me, I found myself changing the words of that hoary old favorite of The Salvation Army to “Onward Jewish soldiers, under Star of David.”
Surprisingly satisfying. Jewish soldiers won wars.
But I was careful never to take my own religious proclivities too seriously in December. That was the time for the Christians, and they did such a good job of it.
They still do.
After Thanksgiving, they stop looking at all we heathens as enemies of the race, but as objects of sincere pity. That may not sound that great, but it’s a big improvement.
“We’re having all this fun dressing up a whole big country in red and green. And all you poor Jews and such can get out of this is Chinese food and a day off!”
But we actually get much more than that. We get a nicer country. If we squint, we might even forget what a rotten place this can be the rest of the year.
Christians are in a charitable mood as Christmas approaches. And it's not just money. They open doors for people, they say nice things and they rarely fire anybody.
Food banks fill up (Heaven forbid the people starving the rest of the year be deprived of Christmas dinner).
All cynicism aside, people actually pay attention to the needs of the less fortunate far more at Christmastime than any other. And it is never confined to Christians. The rest of us act just like them, either out of shame or just getting into the spirit of the thing.
People say they hate Christmas songs and movies, but somebody must love them. Otherwise, how did Mariah Carey, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin get all those nice houses?
I have an irreligious friend who has been coming home from work every day this month and watching what he calls “The Bad Christmas Movie of the Night.’’ Usually dedicated to an unremitting diet of sad documentaries, he seems to like watching flicks in December where everything turns out good at the end.
I know a couple of Jews who happily gave a Christmas concert at an old folks home.
They want to be a part of something nice. I understand.
A few years ago, I agreed to play Santa Claus at McCutcheon Elementary School's Christmas party, because their regular Santa couldn't make it. It was the first time in a long time I'd done anything at all meaningful in the Uptown neighborhood. I no longer had to go to a place that held bad memories and I didn’t want new ones.
But because of Christmas, I felt obligated to revisit a part of my life I had intentionally left in the rearview mirror.
I was not asking children what they wanted for Christmas that day, because I wasn't supposed to get their hopes up.
So I asked most of the kids, “What was the best part of this year?”
One girl whispered that it was the birthday party for her brother. Why his party, not her own? I wanted to know.
It was, she said, because he won’t be having any more birthdays.
“Bad people got him,” she said.
Is it okay for Santa to cry?
When I composed myself, I think I told her it might be good to always remember him on his birthday.
Even though the school didn't need me to play Santa the next Christmas, I came back to sort donated boots and coats. I wanted to be a part of the Christmas miracle. That’s incredibly corny-sounding, but it really is a bit of a miracle.
I think of it as a kind of reboot of our humanity. We put the brakes on the way we usually are and try to spend a month, give or take, being more human.
It's a little bit like the Jewish High Holy Days, only everybody does it. And it's easier. No jumping out of your seat all day to chant in a foreign language. No fasting. In fact, there are nice cookies.
The Christmas reboot is significant. Can you imagine what we would be like if we didn’t try to stop being mean and miserable for a while each winter? We wouldn't just have bad years. They'd get worse and worse.
Maybe you feel that despite Christmas 2020, many people acted especially badly last December and January. Perhaps. But let me inject this thought.
Without that Christmas spirit, the bad stuff might have been worse. And because of it, it might have been a little easier to accept.
So be proud of all the goofy Christmas stuff you did this year. It's important. Maybe even a little heroic.
Merry Christmas to all of you saints and heathens, heretics and atheists. And a Happy New Year.
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