Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
If America and Americans wish Christmas to be Merry and the Holidays to be Happy, nothing on earth could stop them from making it so. Do we really wish it? I doubt it. Merriment and happiness require heart's ease and heart's ease abandoned us four years ago. We remain shivering, incoherent, and paranoid--about our enemies, about our leaders, about each other.
This is a fact, wherever you may want to assign the blame.
So the symbols of joy have faded and even the non-specific festooning of the shrubbery with thick nets of little white lights is becoming more and more subdued, the lights fewer and more wan, the spaces between them bigger, the number of tree trunks and bushes decorated with them diminishing. At least this is so in my town.
There is an insurance building in my downtown district which has a huge Birth of Christ diorama, 1 1/4 life size and nearly a block long, with Magi on Camels, Angels hovering expectantly, Shepherds and Sheep peeking around Stable corners, and the Trio of the Creche locked in the required gestures of wonder, adoration, and glowing magnificence laid on the hay.
I remember the same diorama, in front of the same insurance building, as a child, barely in school. It has been lovingly preserved and the effect of it is postively eerie. Not much else of the decorations of Christmases past is left in Columbus, the diorama is probably an official antique [50 years of age is the criterion], and yet it shows almost no signs of wear--perhaps a little color fading, but nothing more. Dorian Gray facing the world, rather than his mirror, could not look better preserved.
As I remember it from childhood, the unashamed bravura of the display's great size and grandiose gestures reflected a feeling of celebration that was everywhere, and the diorama itself, in that context, was in no way outlandish.
It is outlandish now.
The America which once held that assured and wholehearted feeling of celebration of the season is utterly and completely gone. This is also a fact, assign the blame where you will. And Christmas will enter Columbus, Ohio as unspectacularly and quietly as a couple in marriage, May and December, May big with child and riding a donkey, ready to be tabulated, looking for an inn.
As a people we are exhausted. Simply exhausted. Numb. Unappeased anger, neurastesic fear, and aching bewilderment leave us no room to be merry. None. Good King Wensislaus caught the last plane to Prague years ago. And there is no room at the inn.
Our bewilderment is so deep that the decorations themselves can be overwhelmingly meaningless or absurd, as if they were put up in a fit of absence of mind. The obligatory wreathes and soliderly ranks of the red and yellow poinsettias in all the building foyers are simply pro forma. They are as conventional and meaningless as the cloyingly sweet flower arrangements under the pink lights at an open casket funeral.
In front of the downtown office of the largest bank in town stands a lone railroad crossbuck, without gate and without tracks. It stands there in all weathers every day of the year, puzzling mightily anyone who looks at it for the first time. You might guess it the work of an erzatz Claus Oldenburg clone, tenured to the eye teeth, chronically cheating on his class and his office schedule, in the fair-to-middling Art Department of some dreary University.
At Christmas they make the red lights flash and put an array of eight bullhorns on a tripod next to it. I have a vague memory from over thirty years ago of a traditional Christmas parade in the form of a fake steam engine, pulling Santa, his reindeer, and his wrapped presents on flatcars. I don't believe I ever saw it in the flesh and I can't remember any public reference to it for decades.
All that seems to remain of it is the flashing crossbuck, one light with a droopy eyelid, the bullhorns, and a scratchy continuous tape loop of a small steam engine starting:
It repeats over and over, all the livelong day for weeks, without the sightest hint anywhere of what it now has to do with Christmas--a ghost train steaming to some unknown destination amid the city busses, the police bike patrol, the cheaper or dearer dress suits, and the power polyester blended skirtsuits.
Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come.
But Christmas still putters through the city gates, tries to find lodging, and rests in a humble stable. Those who have faith in the Incarnation can find it if they choose. The angels still sing of it. If you wish to follow them, go visit my friend the Anchoress, and read down the latest two pages of her Faith category, then afterwards read the links that you find there.
Santa Claus may not be coming to town, but it is still the Days Of Ceasar Augustus, and no one in the inn has a clue about what has just happened.