Santa Claus was made popular by Coca-Cola and advertising.
Santa Claus is worse than a lie. He’s a substitute for Jesus Christ that represents materialism rather than Christ’s tenets and beliefs.
Santa Claus, Rudolph, and all the other Generic Winter Holiday icons – from Frosty on down – are some of the minor reasons I hate the modern American Christmas.
Except I like the Grinch. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is the only decent Christmas myth of the 20th century.
Let me tell you all what Christmas means to me. Because I grew up with it, back in Victoria. I know you’re all thinking, “but Jillian, you’re a Jew!” Yeah, well, so is my mother, and she loves Christmas because she didn’t have it growing up. Which is why she puts a week of nonstop work into Christmas, sewing our names on our stockings, and preparing the Traditional Turkey Dinner With Trimmings. And my English father’s birthday is on Christmas Eve, which means more celebration, including Dad’s favorite dessert, my mother’s patented coeur de creme cheesecake.
So Christmas in my house, growing up, was a production. We do a lousy job of believe in the birth of Our Lord And Saviour Jesus Christ in my house, but we do a heck of a job with music, with carolling, and with Ye Olde English tradition. And that’s what Christmas is about to me now.. It’s about getting a mandarin orange in my stocking, every year, in reference to the one and only orange Dad got every year at Christmas. It’s about having a stocking, with my name sewn on it. It’s about listening to the Messiah while opening presents, and singing carols in the Village. It’s about having a Yule log and holly branches and mince pie. It’s about tradition, and it’s very, very much about two things: family, and music.
At the start of every Christmas season, usually two weekends before Christmas (the first Saturday after the 15th), we would pick the holly from the backyard to place along the door lintels and the tops of the picture frames. I would pick cedar boughs to attempt to weave into a wreath. And, with great ceremony, we would drag the Christmas tree out of its storage space under the front porch. Despite living in British Columbia, when I was growing up, we couldn’t afford a real tree for years – and then, when we could, we were sentimentally attached to the old tree: a classic fake fir tree, the kind with branches that screw into a wooden base.
The tradition was the same evrey year. My father, my sister and I would put the tree together, and decorate it. We pulled out the same decorations, year after year, from the Decorations Box: dozens of metallic glass balls, a string of old-fashioned lights, a twelve foot strand of tinsel. We had a handful of painted figurines, of newer decorations, but nothing ever matched. It was a mishmash of colors and sizes and eras of decorations. And every year, we had the same angel on top, a fairy princess angel, with sawdust limbs and a china head and a tinsel halo, who always looked drunk. My mother would make the joke about the angel having had one too many brandies, as my father or I tied her onto the top plastic branch. Then we’d flick the lights on, and go about the rest of our Saturday, and admire the tree until it came down, as per ritual, on New Year’s Day.
In the years I was in high school, the tree had to go up after I came home from carolling with Oak Bay High band. For the last week of school, every day after school and on the Saturday morning, eight or ten of us would go into the Village and play classic Christmas carols. And that was just one of the entirely too many band or choir events I played in. I played trombone for seven years of public school, which meant seven years of band performances at Christmas. The Oak Bay High School Band and Choir Christmas Concert was an entire production, with six or seven ensembles performing, and I was usually in at least three – a couple concert bands, a jazz band, a choir.
And then there was the singing at home. My father loves to sing hymns and carols, and has a perfect baritone to do it with. My sister has a beautiful, professional caliber voice. I have an average mezzo-soprano. Or had, as a younger girl. But I played piano at a high level as a teenager, and so, every single year, for the last few nights before Christmas, I’d go to the piano after dinner, and warm up with a couple carols before my family came in to sing. And every year, we sang the same classics. “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Hark the Herald Angels”, “Once In Royal David’s City”. I played “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” and and “We Three Kings” and “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” and “Good King Wencelas” and a half-dozen more, every single year.
And occasionally, I would break out into a few notes of “Frosty” or “Rudolph”, the 1940s jazz cadences that signal the start of the songs. And my father would bellow “No bloody Christmas songs! Those aren’t carols, they’re Christmas songs. Christmas isn’t about Santa Claus, it’s about Jesus Christ being born!” And I’d segue into “Joy To The World”. Because Dad had a point. Christmas was, well, Christmas. It was a world-wide holiday (as I’d learned in “Christmas In Other Lands” books as a small child) and every country had its own traditions. But every country celebrated it as a religious holiday, as opposed to a holiday to sing songs about icons created on Madison Avenue.
(I actually like playing “Rudolph” – as a piano player, it’s a fun piece – but don’t tell anyone!)
There was other carolling as well. Occasionally, there was a group of carollers in our neighborhood, a memory that I always associate with the carollers in Wind in the Willows. There was a Christmas sing-along in the Oak Bay Village a few times in the 1980s. I sang with my Girl Guide groups. I sang with my school choir at the nursing home. But when I think of Christmas, I think of singing classical Christmas carols with my family, standing around the piano, in a room with a roaring fireplace and a lit-up Christmas tree, every year for over a decade.
So, to make a long story short, that’s one of the myriad of reasons why Christmas in America makes me so angry. Because the Christ has been bled out of Christmas, it’s eliminated all the carols that went with the birth of Christ. It eliminated all those unearthly beautiful hymns that were written and sung for the occasion, because they mention a God that the holiday was created to celebrate. It’s not my religion, but I loved hearing carols sung for joy by those who did believe, who did want to thank God for the birth of Christ by raising their voices to Him – and I, I, the unbeliever, love to sing for the joy of the holiday itself. “Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels.”
There is still a great deal of happiness in Christmas in America. It is still a time for family, and a time to show kindness to one’s fellow man. The TV stations still run variations on Dickens’ classic every year, from the 1954 Alastair Sims version to Bill Murray in Scrooged. And it’s a holiday when we do express a lot of gratitude for being together, for family. But even that’s taken second billing to Christmas as an industry. Now, because the stores have to get in those few extra days of money, Christmas starts the week after Hallowe’en. And, as Dad says, “by the time Christmas gets here, you’re bloody sick of it.”
The result? A holiday that’s overinflated to be universal and ubiquitous so that more merchandise can be sold – yet is diluted and decimated because it expressed religion. It’s still Christmas, people. Until you bring back some serious mistletoe and human sacrifice, it isn’t going to go back to being the Druid festival that the Church ruined. And no, stampeding people at Wal-Marts doesn’t count as human sacrifice. It’s still a holiday created for the Birth of Jesus. And in a country run by a God-freak like W, where the walls between Church and State only apply when the Church doesn’t pay for political campaigns, the only reason for ruining Christmas like America has is, is because it’s just more profitable. If people realized that it’s really Christmas, which was never about merchandise, as opposed to the Winter Holiday At Which We All Buy A Lot Of Crap, then it would be Trouble.
So. If you see me growling this season, it isn’t because I’m a Jew who hates Christmas. It’s because I grew up with Olde English Christmas, and this season is a mockery of the celebration that took place in my home. It’s a holiday reshaped by the evil advertising industry (which pays my rent, so I suppose I can’t complain – I imagine my old Agency had a lot to do with it). I’ll cheerfully break out a Yule log and make a plum pudding, and I’ll put up Hannukah lights on a small tree. I’ll send out Chrismukkah cards, and I’ve scheduled a Craftmukkah party already.
But I’ll be damned if I will acknowledge Santa Claus, or sing one note of a cheesy song about him or his buddies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to very loud gothic-industrial and psych myself up for Bar Sinister tonight.
Merry Xmas, y’all!