By Charlie Mitchell
OXFORD – Yes, Virginia, it would be easy to compile a list of 10 things that make Christmas wonderful and perhaps, in the spirit of the season, that’s what should be done … mistletoe, random acts of sharing, children’s eyes and clarion notes of joy sounded by church choirs.
But this is real life. Where there’s a plus, there’s sure to be a minus not far away.
Hence, some major distractions:
• Commercials and commercialism.
In any 24-hour TV cycle, it would take a detective smarter than Dick Tracy to discern Christmas is a religious holiday. Seriously, there is absolutely no indication in any popular media that Christmas has anything to do with Christianity.
• Insipid movies shown between the aforesaid commercials.
Now there are Christmas classics – Bing Crosby, Jimmy Stewart and Frosty the Snowman come to mind – and there are what the superstations tell us are classics. They’re not. Every comic who ever appeared on “Saturday Night Live” has at least one holiday movie to his or her credit. Every one of them has a script as shallow as a birdbath, yet starting a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, these movies are shown around the clock.
• The Grinch and “A Christmas Carol.”
Dr. Seuss? I’m a big fan. “The Cat in the Hat.” “Green Eggs and Ham.” Nice work. Feeds the fertile minds of young readers. Yet Seuss’s train jumped the track with “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” In its many incarnations, this story (including insipid movie versions) is simply rotten. Yes, it may have a redeeming ending, but the whole Grinch concept is deeply flawed. It’s junk, brain pollution.
In contrast, when Charles Dickens penned “A Christmas Carol” in 1843, he wrote a wonderful story, instructive at many levels. His characterization of a “Scrooge” as a bad thing may well be at the root of how excessive gift-giving came to be part and parcel of the modern holiday. (Think about it. If Scrooge had been created as a decent fellow merely interested in balancing the books, would people be maxing out their credit cards this week?)
Regardless of the merit of the original narrative, however, Bob and Tiny Tim have been butchered and compressed into variations ranging from George C. Scott’s (good enough) to Donald Duck’s (which quacks folks up). In a word, from school plays to sitcoms, “A Christmas Carol” has been, to say the least, overdone.
• Christmas albums.
Tracking along in the same “entertainment” path, it seems every person who has ever recorded a song of any type has felt compelled to issue a collection of Christmas songs, often called “holiday music.” The value of these is directly proportional to the talent of the vocalist, generally. Faith Hill? Yes. Johnny Mathis? Yes. Liberace, NSYNC, Glenn Campbell? Not so much.
• Rotten kids.
Spoiled children are not too hard to find any time of year, but Christmas brings the worst of the current crop to their favorite haunts, the “big box” stores. Wailing, demanding, pushing, cajoling, begging and slapping their little sisters. Mom may say, “Santa is watching you, Rufus.” Rufus, however, cares not. Indeed, Rufus will often respond with words that remain inappropriate (so far) for publication in a newspaper.
• Bad Santas.
Not bad as in bad behavior, bad as in bad appearance.
The standard has fallen precipitously. I saw a mall Santa who must have been 17 years old and weighed 120 pounds. Regardless of anything else, zit medicine should not be on Santa’s list for himself.
• Re-gifting and guilt-gifting.
Now your Aunt Martha, living on limited means, is to be forgiven if she passes along the tin of cookies she got from the home health care team. After all, she is a diabetic. Otherwise, giving people stuff you got as a present is in bad form.
Too, a sentence often overheard among shoppers this time of year begins, “I have to get a gift for …” Short answer: No you don’t. A gift should be from the heart, out of love and appreciation – not obligation.
• “Downer” news stories, including silly columns.
This time of year we of the media seem determined to remind you that not everyone has a happy holiday. I’ve never been sure why we do this. Perhaps we’re trying to be “fair” or “balanced.” And it certainly is true that the ills that accompany human existence seem magnified at Christmas.
But it could be a hint about something very true: The best way to have a Merry Christmas yourself is to do your best to create a Merry Christmas for someone else.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.