The day after Halloween I went to the supermarket to get a few things — including cheap candy — and I knew at once that it really was November, because overnight the plastic pumpkins, paper black cats, and cardboard witches had been discarded in favour of plastic garlands, paper ornaments, and oversized cardboard candy-canes. Who likes this sort of thing? My Christian friends say it's too commercial; my secular friends blame the Christians.
Benjamin Franklin once observed that guests, like fish, start to stink after three days. Christmas stays for eight weeks, and it stinks to high heaven by the time it departs. Go to any supermarket or shopping mall in the next month and you'll get a small taste of what it's like to live in North Korea. Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Merry! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!
Don't even get me started on the fact that parents this time of year are encouraged to lie to their children ("Santa's coming!") and that the handful who don't are considered downright mean. ("What kind of commie parents don't wanna lie to children?") I was personally disabused of the notion quite early. I went to an elementary school with a moderately high number of Jewish students. In some cases, their parents told them the lie, too — it's useful in terms of behavioral modification, after all — but one Jewish friend of mine spilled the beans early in the second grade. "There's no Santa, you know," he told me in whispered tones. It was like somebody threw the doors of my prison cell open. Of course! It all made sense now! It's a conspiracy - and the parents are in on it! This touched off the first major theological debate of my life, as the class divided between believers, deniers, and agnostics on the Santa Claus issue. "The preponderance of evidence suggest that a fat man could not fit down the chimney." "So, you wish us to believe that the presents just appeared on their own?" "No, the presents were bought gradually, in a series of stages." "But if there's no Santa Claus, how do know when to be good?"
I'd like to say that we outgrew Santa Claus, but all societal indicators suggest that we didn't. Go to any supermarket or shopping mall in November and December and the sense of living in a totalitarian state is completed. There he is: the Jolly Leader, his red and plump and happy visage staring down from everywhere, his slight creepy impersonators whispering into the ears of children, and unremittingly we are reminded that he is watching us and assessing our behaviour. Even when we're sleeping.
It's a G-rated blog, so I'll spare you my real thoughts on seasonal television ("This week, on a very special episode, Dr. House learns the true meaning of Christmas") and the never-ending succession of vapid Hollywood films about dysfunctional families that, wouldn't you know it, learn the true meaning of Christmas. (If you can watch the second half of this trailer without feeling queasy, consider a career in political speech-writing.) But television can be turned off and movies evaded. In our wired world, however, music is omnipresent in almost any public place, and here at last we come to the crux of the matter.
Nothing so erodes the soul this time of year as the incessant repetition of the same songs. As everyone knows, there are only about sixteen actual Christmas songs, which explains why the Dixie Chicks' Christmas album has nearly the same lineup as Dean Martin's. The occasional efforts of past-their-prime pop stars to create new Christmas songs (think of Bryan Adams barking "there's something about Christmas time!" in your face nonstop for five minutes) are dismal and depressing. I don't mind the serious devotional music. I can handle (sorry) Messiah, but if I ever have to listen to Jessica and Ashley Simpson's duet of "The Little Drummer Boy" again, I'm joining the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada.
Last year, I noticed that the supermarket was still playing it in early January. I asked casually, and a psychologically broken stock boy — you can see why military PsiOps units play the same song over and over before interrogating terrorist suspects — told me that their policy was to "taper off" the music, because some customers (classic examples of the Stockholm Syndrome) complained when it ended all at once.
In high school, my friend Geoff, a veritable Mozart with the pun, used to help me create lyrics of our own for some of the more clichéd Christmas songs: "oh, come let us ignore him"; "chipmunks roasting on an open fire"; "oh holy knife"; "deck the halls with Buddy Holly"; and, my personal favourite:
Frosty the snow guy,
Was made of acid snow
He melted and died,
But nobody cried,
'cause he was just pollution, you know.
But this schoolboy fun was like standing against a tidal wave of imposed sentiment. For the secular, there was and is no means of self-defense that doesn't involve being socially ostracized. Joy! Joy! Joy! Merry! Merry! Merry! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Jolly Leader is Watching You.
The religious, by contrast, can find solace in the comparatively modest observances in their churches. On the way to work the other day, I saw an immense billboard, placed by a local church, that said, "Jesus is the reason for the Season." This has to be the worst recruiting slogan since the U.S. Army bragged about doing more by 6 AM than most people do all day, but it's nonetheless true that it's not the Christians who bother me at Christmastime. I actually attended a midnight mass once (a failed attempt to impress somebody's parents) and it was nice to go somewhere in December and not hear the words "Ho! Ho! Ho!" If the son of God really did come into the world to redeem us for our sins on or about 25 December 0001 AD, that would be something worth going to Walmart about. But a fake holiday manufactured by the toy industry is not worth suffering through crowded parking lots, long lines of grumpy people, and listening to the Bachman Turner Overdrive singing "Takin' Care of Christmas."
So, I quit. I quit. I hereby and henceforth resign. Last year was my last Christmas. In fact, I wrote the lyrics to my very own Christmas song about it. You can make up any melody you like:
Last Christmas, was my last Christmas
Please stop bothering me
I don't like Rudolf, I don't like Frosty,
I won't sit on Santa's knee.
Last Christmas, was my last Christmas
Please leave me alone
I don't want stockings, I don't like stuffing,
I hate all of Santa's clones.
Last Christmas, was my last Christmas
Oh, won't you just give it a rest?
Stop with Santa, stop with sleigh bells,
Just go to church and get blessed.
Okay. I know what's coming. People — including ones who have never read a page of Dickens — will call me "Scrooge", or remind me of the opening lines of Dr. Seuss's most beloved book:
The Grinch hated Christmas
The whole Christmas season
Now please don't ask why,
No one quite knows the reason.
Rubbish. We all know perfectly well. He was at the mall and heard "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" once too often — which is to say, once — and said, "That's it. I've had it. Those smug little Whos are going down this year." His problem is that he caved in the end.
Altogether, now: "It's the most curmudgeonly blog of the year."
Now tell me that the tune of that stupid song didn't just jump into your head.