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Christmas Then And Now

Posted by acdtest on December 21, 2003

Christmas Then And Now

often wonder this time of year whether my perception of the Christmas season over the last three decades or so is peculiar to me, or is in fact a perception in accord with the reality of the thing. The Christmas season has forever been my most favorite time of year, and the one (and only) time I wished I were a Christian rather than a Jew. Sounds strange, even disingenuous, I know, coming as it does from a deep-in-the-marrow Jew and atheist such as myself, but it’s true nevertheless. Until age thirty or thereabouts most of my Christmas seasons were spent — strictly voluntarily and non-professionally — singing in, and at times helping prepare, various church choirs for concert engagements in churches around the city as well as for special Christmas services in their home venues. The season has always been for me a time of music, both in fact and as manifest spirit, and so it seemed for most of the rest of America, Christian and non-Christian alike. For the better part of the last thirty years, however, the season’s manifest spirit, as expressed not only in music-making but in all manner of public celebration, has, as a national affair, gone largely AWOL.

That lamentable disappearing act occurred by degrees over the years; quietly, insidiously, almost surreptitiously. In searching for an instigating or animating culprit for that slow dissolution one might, for instance, imagine pointing an accusatory finger at the season’s increasingly crass commercialization. But Christmas has always been commercialized to greater or lesser extent. The season’s tradition of gift-giving fairly guarantees it. And while it’s true that the season’s commercialization has never been so openly, shamelessly, and ferociously pursued as during the post-1960 decades, it seems to me that commercialization is not the culprit. Indeed, commercialization was largely responsible for making the season the national celebration it used to be.

Another suspected culprit at which one might imagine pointing an accusatory finger is that poisonous excrescence known as PC. As always, whatever it lays hands on — even if only fleetingly and peripherally, to either admonish or caress — is to some degree destroyed by its touch, and the public expression of the Christmas season — the outward manifestation of its spirit — was certainly no exception. But that outward manifestation could, I think, have survived whole even PC’s malignant touch were it not for another, contemporaneous postmodern development.

Over the past three decades there has taken place worldwide what might be called The Great Wising Up; a phenomenon almost wholly attributable to the inexorable forward march of technology, especially as it has impacted communications, and the easy and light-speed-fast dissemination of information and knowledge. Hardly a bad thing, you might argue, and I’d certainly have to agree. Nevertheless, for the nonce at least, there’s something quite bad about that phenomenon; the same sort of bad that typically obtains when a life-long pauper, through a windfall not of his own making, suddenly finds himself filthy rich. Through lack of experience, and therefore understanding, he simply has no idea how to manage or even deal with the windfall beyond the knee-jerk response of squandering all or the bulk of his newfound wealth freely and wantonly, with little serious thought given to how it might best be used for his own long-term benefit.

All by itself that would be bad sufficient, but with The Great Wising Up came also a dangerous species of hubris; one that glories in debunking and devaluing the immaterial — all that’s impalpable and unkickable; a relentless demythologizing of all mythologies. And the manifest expression of the spirit of the Christmas season was among that hubris’s very first casualties. Over the past thirty years that manifest expression has been in the process of dying a slow and drawn-out death. Although its lingering shadow may still be generally discerned for the week or so prior to the 25th of each December, it’s but its shadow only, growing more pale and ever more faint with each succeeding year except within the circles of those devout Christians for whom nothing would be capable of dissuading the full and public manifest expression of the season’s spirit for the season’s full term. For we nonbelievers and non-Christians, however, who for an entire month each year (beginning just after Thanksgiving) used to be able to bask in the reflected glory of that manifest spirit courtesy of its ubiquitous and inescapable pervasive public expression, it’s gone missing; passed on perhaps forever.

I for one mourn that passing, and wish things had worked out differently, but know that such wishing is but a futile exercise. So the best I can do now is to try each December to make that spirit manifest in full for myself alone for the entire month through music alone. It’s not quite the same as experiencing that spirit communally nationwide through music and public celebration as in times past, but there’s nothing for it, and so it will have to suffice.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


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