Friday, December 23, 2011

A Yuletide Rumination

It's that time of year again, isn't it? (For some retail store chains it's been that time of year since before Halloween.) And along with this time of year there are many people who are torn between celebrating, ignoring or denouncing the Christmas season.

As for me, being a Christian, and someone who has for several years had a love affair with ritual and ceremony, I enjoy the thought of having a special season, culminating in a special day, to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note, however, that I did not say that I enjoy the thought of shoving that particular celebration down the throats of any who disagree with me. To those outside the orbit of Christianity, I can only hope that my life may persuade you to think about things you would not ordinarily consider. On the other hand, there are those who claim to be solidly inside the orbit of the Faith who oppose Christmas because it's supposed to have evolved from pagan holidays, and because we don't see Christmas celebrated by the apostles in the book of Acts, yadda yadda. To such people, whether they be Plymouth brethren, Jehovah's Witnesses, subbotniks (субботники), or others, I have a deal to offer you. If you promise not to rain on my parade, I promise that I won't insult you by wishing you Merry Christmas (or Happy Birthday, for that matter).

I have to admit, however, that lately I can't really get into Christmas. Partly it's because for the last few years, I haven't been able to attend church on Christmas due to visits to relatives. But increasingly it's because in this country, the Christmas season has been so thoroughly corrupted to serve the interests of capitalism. Every aspect of the season – even those aspects that were once baldly religious – has been converted into a Pavlovian goad to make people buy stuff. (Just this week I was at Trader Joe's and on the way into the store, I heard a non-stop stream of pop-soft rock arrangements of religious carols and other seasonal music being broadcast into the parking lot, thanks to the outdoor intercom system.)

Christmas has become the complement of the 4th of July in a certain way. Independence Day is supposed to be a celebration of freedom, yet “freedom” in this country has been redefined by corporate interests into a justification of addictive behavior. Christmas on the other hand is a commercially broadcast appeal to go out and act like an addict. For those who don't choose to live like addicts, Christmas has become a dangerous time of year. Just try bicycle commuting on a daily basis any time between Thanksgiving and New Years and you will see just how dangerous, as you find your life being threatened by tantrum-throwing consumatron beasts in big SUV's. (How many people will be trampled to death or pepper-sprayed at stores betweeen now and New Year's?)

The pushers who run our society have succeeded in turning Christmas into a rather strange season. And this particular Christmas promises to be very strange indeed, as the consequences of our addictive behavior increasingly catch up to us. One of those consequences is the weather. Around here in the Portland metro area, it has been very unsettling – not in a violently demonstrative way, but in a quietly creepy, unsettling way.

For one thing, there has been almost no precipitation this month. According to the Weather Underground site, average precipitation for December should be 4.32 inches. We have received less than two tenths of an inch so far. Not one flake of snow has fallen in the Portland metro area since October. Daytime high temperatures have been exceeding historical averages – not drastically, but by enough to cause concern for those who should be paying attention. I can't predict the future, but I suspect that this may turn out to be a very dry winter. A dry winter may mean a hot summer, and an extreme fire danger, which is not typical for this area. There is a lot to burn here. We may also be introduced to something else that is not typical to this area, namely, drought.

Even with this year's La Niña weather, global average temperatures are beginning to move into dangerous, potentially irreversible territory. Atmospheric CO2 levels are now at 390.31 parts per million. Our addiction is destroying our climate, yet like many dysfunctional families whose members are addicts, our society is unwilling to talk frankly about the consequences of our addiction. This week, as I walked through my neighborhood, I was treated to a sight that I haven't seen since I lived in Southern California – houses decorated with Yuletide lights, Santa Clauses, and fake icicles – and not a speck of snow on the ground. It would be most ironic to find that some of the residents in those homes were listening to Bing Crosby singing about his dreams. This year I think I'll buy myself a weather thermometer for Christmas.

I must bring this short meditation to a close. I will shortly be driving down to So. Cal., and I have a few things to do yet. My MP3 player is loaded full of interesting stuff that I haven't yet heard. One thing I have is a LibriVox recording of The Slavery Of Our Times by Leo Tolstoy. It promises to be good listening for those who don't want to be addicts. Merry Christmas.


Aimee said...

This year, I am enjoying Christmas with my mexican relatives in oaxaca. Mexico has not yet traveled as far down the path of Christmas consumerism as the states have; Christmas still revolves around mass (for the religious) and food and family. The most consumerist tradition is the piñata - which is pretty cool, even though it does seem to promote rapacious greed and violence! My kids just beat a mermaid to death with a stick. Even though I am out of the country for the holidays, I still feel
Bound to buy gifts for everyone back home. They will be giving me gifts, and I can't bring myself to accept without giving.

TH in SoC said...

"Beat a mermaid to death"? Ouch! ;)

Thanks for a fresh perspective from another country.