BROOKLYN, N.Y. — My son went to an elite high school in New York and one of his best friends is from India. They get together whenever they’re back from college. He’s a very reserved kid who still doesn’t seem entirely comfortable being an American.
“Are you Muslim or Hindu?” I ask him.
“Hindu, sort of.”
“Do you celebrate Christmas?” my wife asks.
“I think so,” he says. “My mother hasn’t quite decided yet. I went to a Catholic elementary school and my parents didn’t want me to feel left out so they always had a big Christmas tree. Now that I’m graduated, though, I’m not sure it’s going to continue.”
“So you’re sort of straddling the cultures right now.”
“I guess so,” he says. “But I’ll tell you one thing. People in New York are always a lot nicer around Christmas.
It’s true. And it’s nice to see that somebody outside the culture recognizes it.
When we moved into our Brooklyn neighborhood fifteen years ago, the black family across the street had a teenage boy who had a lot of very loud friends. They’d have parties on the stoop and play deafening music. I had to over a couple of times and asked him to turn it down. He cooperated but despised me as one of the yuppies that were ruining his neighborhood. My wife and I tried to be friendly, giving him a graduation present when he finished high school, but relations remained very frosty.
Then one Christmas morning I walked outside my house at ten o’clock in the morning and ran right into him. We were the only people on the street. After a moment’s hesitation, we smiled at each other and exchanged greetings for the first time in five years. Ever since then things have been fine. Today he’s married and has a child of his own and we talk all the time. It just took one Christmas morning to get things started.
By all odds, Christmas should be the most depressing time of the year. It’s the solstice, it gets dark ridiculously early, it’s already cold and you now the whole winter is still on the way. Catch yourself in an early November mood and you’ll know how miserable December could be.
Yet it’s just the opposite. It’s the “the brightest time of the year,” “that time of year when the world falls in love,” and all those other clichés that are absolutely accurate. People are the friendliest, most relaxed, kind and generous. Why? Because their good will makes it so.
Not every culture has this. Not every culture has a general truce when people forget the competitions and complaints of the rest of the year and exchange good cheer. And for this we have to thank Christianity.
Christianity is a religion based on forgiveness. After all, it was Jesus who told people to “turn the other cheek” and promised the forgiveness of sins. As a cultural trait, this tendency toward forgiveness and reconciliation is one of those habits of the heart that is little noted and much underrated.
ABOUT A DECADE AGO, a political scientist named Robert Axelrod published a very influential book called The Evolution of Cooperation. Axelrod based his research on a game called “The Prisoners’ Dilemma,” where two people have the opportunity to cooperate in a situation where each can also betray the other. If both players cooperate, they both get a middling reward. If one player successfully betrays the other, by refusing to co-operate while the other tries, then the betrayer gets a big score. But if both players betray the other, they each get nothing. Axelrod invited mathematicians, ethicists, and computer theorists all over the world to submit strategies for the game, then played them off against each other in an extended competition.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?