Last Call

Christmas Below the Gnat Line

A skirmish in the war on Christmas.

By From the December 2013 issue

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I’ll risk cliché by saying it seems like we just did this a few months ago. Cliché perhaps, but true nonetheless. Hours and days last as long as ever, but the years whiz by.This isn’t a complaint. Christmas is joyous and I like it, even with its aggravations. There are fewer of those now as the family is smaller. Attendance at Christmas dinner at chez Thornberry, once a boisterous affair with young and old human celebrants in double figures and numerous dogs probing all perimeters for handouts, has dwindled, in the words of the song, to a precious few. 

But these few are indeed precious. And recognizing this is a good part of what Christmas is for, even though carols, presents, decorations, and parties remain in the forefront of what has been largely a secular celebration. This was the case even before our cultural transmission belts and their keepers went post-everything.

For those who haven’t converted to celebrating the Winter Holiday (what thin gruel that is), Christmas is for reflection on salvation and redemption, on the meaning of life beyond the wrapping paper, Christmas cards, and that silly-looking red coat on Mom’s Maltese (which the dog has the good sense to dislike). There’s no time like Christmas and New Year’s for summing up and renewing. The renewals don’t always last, but this is when we give them a shot.

Speaking of shots, it’s a cheap one to carry on about gift-giving and the “over-commercialization” of Christmas. Just what is the seemly level of commercialization of a sacred day when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus? Those who manufacture and retail the gifts we find under the tree must make a living too, though the advertising barrage from before Thanksgiving through the year-end sales illustrates the maxim: Nothing succeeds like excess.

Gift-giving can be a burden, but done with consideration can demonstrate the affection between giver and recipient. My Christmas present for 1947, a Lionel electric train, sits atop a bookcase in my living room. It delighted me on that long-ago Christmas morning, and delighted my parents to see me so happy with it. Dad is gone now and Mom is 95, but the train still brings pleasure in its now-inactive state (the long inoperable transformer looks like something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab in that 1931 movie). The next year it was a bicycle, which immediately shot to the top of my Greatest Hits list.

So let’s not be tough on Christmas gift-giving. Unless of course we’re talking about fruit cake, which I believe in some magazine’s survey of preferred and un-preferred gifts finished below no gift at all. I’m convinced I could get all the people in the lower 48 who like fruit cake in my dining room with space left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive unit. In uniform. Writer Calvin Trillin suggested that there is only one fruit cake in America, but the people who receive it as a gift give it away to others so quickly that the motion gives the impression that there are many fruit cakes. Some label this theory fantastical, but I don’t believe it should be dismissed out of hand.

Getting into the Christmas spirit requires more imagination in Central Florida than on the mainland. There is no time here that can be referred to with a straight face as winter. (We have only two seasons locally—summer and mid-summer.) Carols featuring a “Winter Wonderland” or “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” lose a lot in translation this far below the gnat line. There may be store-bought icicles on the tree, but there are almost never any real ones outside. 

If the season brings any authentic grinches, they’re the secular disturbers of the peace on earth who in recent years have attempted, with some success, to drive a stake through the heart of Christmas. I’m speaking of the happy holidays (in lieu of merry Christmas) crowd who insist the public, even the commercial square, be cleansed of any hint of religion, especially of the Christian variety.

This year there has already been at least one skirmish in the War on Christmas. Despite courts repeatedly ruling that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit religious music in government schools, apparatchiks of the Wausau School District told a choir director his group could sing only one religious song for every five secular ones at his school’s “winter concert.” The nonsense-averse director responded by disbanding the choir group.

It’s difficult to tell if these silly restrictions are ideologically motivated or simply stupid. They’re authored by the same kind of folks who recently suspended a boy from school for eating a pop-tart into the shape of a gun, so it’s surely a bit of both. The architects of these insanities claim that Christmas traditions are offensive to non-Christians. That emptying a beloved holiday of meaning would offend many of those who celebrate it either doesn’t occur to these villains or is of no consequence to them. As Christians aren’t one of the cultural left’s certified victim groups, their feelings are of no account.       

But red-blooded TAS readers have never been buffaloed by such small-bore tyrants as these. So be of good cheer. Wish your friends and neighbors Merry Christmas rather than happy holidays if you wish. Listen to as many sacred songs as pleases you. And I’ll celebrate the birth of my Savior and his message of love. Even if it’s 85 degrees on the 25th. 

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.