When Christmas Had Spirit

The Rain God SmallI remember a sparkling time that used to exist in American society when I was a boy but disappeared when I went to war. This time of spirit began about two weeks after Thanksgiving. A holly wreath would suddenly appear on the aluminum-foil-covered front door of a neighbor’s house. The mailman would suddenly say, “Merry Christmas!” as he passed by.

A day or two later, shops downtown would fasten a bundle of silver-painted pine cones to their front doors and hang giant Styrofoam candy canes in their windows. Peg, the scruffy vendor who hawked peanuts on the broad walkway to the statehouse and stood on one good leg and one wooden leg, suddenly offered two bags of hot goobers for a half dollar.

At school, teachers retrieved an enormous pile of colored construction paper from their closets and placed it on their desks. Choral directors tacked notes on the bulletin board announcing practice times for the Christmas performance.

Christmas time had arrived and the town erupted in festive colors! Cheerful decorations of green and gold ribbons, blue and silver stars, and red and white bows, nestled atop street lights on Main. Little white snowmen, with red mufflers and black hats, appeared beside cash registers and tiny Santas, fat and jolly, dressed in red winter clothes and a wide black belt with a silver buckle, hung from store shelves. The huge conifer in front of the statehouse was draped with red and green lights and covered with large silver and gold ornaments. Townsfolk placed electric candles of blue and white in their windows, opened their curtains, and revealed shimmering multi-colored Christmas trees within.

Not only did the town–now sparkling, glistening and gleaming in every corner—look different than it had just a few days before, people behaved in a new way. Strangers were more cheerful, more polite, more spirited than they had been the prior week. They were more purposeful yet more animated. The advent of Christmas time released them—people in all estates and stations in life—from some dark burden and citizens were happier, smiling and humming a Christmas song as they walked about. The shoe shine men at the train station sang carols in harmony. Peg dropped a peppermint candy into every bag of peanuts he sold.

Alms solicitors with red pots suspended from black tripods appeared at the entrances to fancy shops and Toys For Tots bins popped up in the lobbies of department stores. People gave with a joyous flourish and a look of expectation.

City dwellers jostled packages in huge shopping bags as they hurried about searching for gifts; they peered at the large bronze clock in the town square, not to learn the hour, but to assure themselves that time was passing, was moving them forward. The scrambling citizenry knew something was coming.

The fresh new spirit in people made them feel something should be coming. Desperately the increasingly jubilant townsfolk hoped that the coming would change them all so that life could always be as it was in this sparkling time: purposeful, spirited, happy, convivial.

Church houses hung grand wreaths on their doors to proclaim that what was coming would come to their solemn domains. Townsfolk festooned their doorways with pine boughs and mistletoe and decorated their Christmas trees with Shiny Brite glass ornaments and sprays of glinting tinsel. They referenced the latest McCall’s magazines as they created centerpieces and baked Christmas cookies. They consulted the Sears catalog when helping their children write the Christmas wish list that would accompany the milk and cookies left for Santa: BB guns, Betsy Wetsy, Radio flyer wagons, doll houses, roller skates, Slinkys, yo-yos. Parents took photographs of their glowing Christmas trees with Brownie Hawkeye cameras and assured the children that what was coming was coming to their houses.

And so it was in that spirited time long ago that on Christmas Eve the land was gripped with joy and excitement and rippled with the hope that the people’s burden of routine existence would remain lifted forever and they would live with brimming spirit every day of their lives. Sleeping children dreamed of this joy in the form of toys and drowsing parents dreamed of this joy in the form of peace.

In the deepest dark of Christmas Eve, the coming came and the people were magical: they were filled with wonder and love for life. What had come was simply the day the people had agreed they would live with ardent spirit and celebrate the joy that was in them. The coming was Christmas Day.

The church houses claimed that they had created Christmas but everyone knew this was not true. Christmas had always belonged to the people. In ancient times the people celebrated the winter Solstice, the moment when the sun first reversed its decline and regained its strength, assuring that life, if it could survive the winter than began in that same instant, would flourish. The winter Solstice lifted from the people the dark burden of desperate survival and mere animal existence.

The day after it had arrived, Christmas departed and the town and the houses slowly lost their festive colors, peanuts were once again a half dollar a bag, the shoe shine men stopped singing, and weariness crept back into the world. But the people knew that after the next Thanksgiving had passed, they could briefly put off their yokes once more. They knew the spirited time would come again and something within in them could shine once more.

But the coming will not come again. The people have killed Christmas.

They no longer yearn, even for a brief time such as Christmas, to live with great spirit. Spirit has been replaced by mood so the people have created a new coming, dedicated to sensory delight and nothing more. Atop the cold carcass of Christmas, the people have erected the spiritless carapace of ChristSpendmas.

Hallowed now are Black Friday and Cyber Monday, rituals in which SavyMerchants convince SmartShoppers that Giving A Thing As A Gift is the same as Gifting A Thing As Self. Led by the Retail Houses, the Church Houses and the American Dream Houses, the people now seek only sensory delight. And this is all they shall have.

ChristSpendmas has created a new coming. But the new coming will not arrive to liberate the spirit from the necessary drudgery of the world. The ChristSpendmas coming will appear to close the door on humanity, to extinguish the inner light that once allowed the human to escape from the beast.

ChristSpendmas heralds the end of the human spirit and the re-absorption of the human into bestial experience. The last humans will resist becoming animals again and they will pound on their gadgets hoping to find a way to bring back the spirited time.

But there is no app for restoring humanity.

The last humans will beget humanoids and these creatures will slink back into the trees with no memory of the spirited time when they had known love, honor, beauty and truth.

Happy ChristSpendmas to all and to all, sensory delight!

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