Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holidays, Holy Days, Wholly Dazed

Our Christmas tree got erected last night and decorated today, the latest it has been up in living memory. This is at least partially due to the disarray caused by our summer visitors (i.e. the bedbugs) and the fact that a lot of our seasonal doo-daddery is obscured by boxes, bags and Rubbermaid containers that contain the clothes that we can no longer trust to the embraces of our closets and furniture. It is partially due to having or being offspring or siblings, as in-laws and others drifted in for Fenya's choir concert and holiday visitations. But the tree is up at last, and we hope the Christmas cards will be sent out shortly, but I will apologize now for any that are late, and I am sure some will be.

I've never been the proselytizing type, but I have striven not to hide my faith under a bushel, either; at least, not once I started understanding I had one, at any rate. It turns out almost everyone does, really. We all do things or expect things based on a belief in things we can't prove or disprove, whether it is a Supreme Being, the Spirit of Creation, the Son of Man or more everyday examples like love or friendship or simple human goodness. I have a friend who is an atheist (one of many such friends), who I sometimes think has faith in a quantity that puts mine to shame, because of his devotion to democracy in a province with both a historical aversion to change and a cultural appetite for apathy. I recently came across a Franciscan blessing that made me think of him, and others like him:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain in to joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

As a Christian, it's a foregone conclusion that Christmas should be an important time for me, and it is. Much the same can be said for my being an overgrown kid at heart, but I think Christmas has a lot to offer, both as a sacred and a secular occasion. For instance, I find it fascinating that two of my favourite Christmas stories have no overt references to the Nativity: Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

My love for the works of Theodore Geisel is a matter of public record, so we need not go into further detail here, but my favourite thing about A Christmas Carol is how, like Shakespeare, the heart of the tale can be imagined and re-imagined in countless ways, and still retain its integrity.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favourites, not so much because I am a fan of the Muppets, but because Michael Caine puts in a wonderful performance, and having a narrator (even one as unlikely as Gonzo the Great) gives us even more opportunity to hear Dickens' wonderful use of language. Even with as strong an example as this, however, it was still with no insignificant amount of trepidation that we all went to see the new Disney version, which is about as far from Alastair Sims as you can get and still be in the same medium considering it is not only a) in colour but b) computer animated in c) 3-D and projected on d) an Imax screen. I can picture Fenya or Glory talking to their grand-children in the distant future: "Oh, yeah, before Steve Jobs' clone created the iJack neural interface, we would go two or three hundred at a time into a darkened room where we had to put on funny glasses just so we could get even the slightest suggestion of depth from pictures they projected onto a blank wall!"

I needn't have worried; Dickens' tale is practically bulletproof, and say what you will about Jim Carrey, for a guy who made his bones doing little more than funny faces, he can be a hell of an actor with some decent material. Granted, there is a lot of theme-park, roller-coaster nonsense in-between the more familiar scenes to help justify the fact it is in 3-D, but the heart of the tale remains intact, and even the gimmick of having Carrey play all three ghosts comes off surprisingly well through some actual thespian exertions and some inspired design choices.

Most importantly, though, it is still a ghost story, and one of the best, which is what makes (Spoiler Alert!) Scrooge's eventual redemption so gratifying, whether it is shown to us by Patrick Stewart, Bill Murray or Jim Carrey.

Bill Murray's speech at the end of Richard Donner's Scrooged is another good one, which has little to do with any faith in particular but everything to do with values, the linchpin of Dickens' classic. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of terrible stuff in Scrooged, but the bulletproofing holds up like Q-Division made it, and in the final scene, Murray's eminently hate-able TV executive Frank Cross has a moment of pure satori where he says "I get it now," and "It's Christmas Eve. It's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be."

I've always had more time for the "Don't forget the reason for the season" crowd as opposed to the "Keep CHRIST in Christmas" folks. I don't see any percentage in being defensive, and Jesus never struck me as a guy with a huge ego. I think he would see Frank Cross' speech and smile in appreciation, not glower in condemnation because he didn't get a personal shout out, but your spiritual mileage may vary. At any rate, whatever you choose to believe, December 25th will be Christmas, and you may as well have a merry one, which I encourage you to do.

As with so many things, I think perhaps the denizens of Whoville said it best:

Welcome Christmas, fah who rah-moose
Welcome Christmas, dah who dah-moose
Christmas day will always be
Just so long as we have we

Merry Christmas, my friends.


  1. Good post, Steve. We would like to go see the new "A Christmas Carol" too, but we're busy enough that it may not happen before Christmas, and there seems to be little point in going afterwards...
    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

  2. Yeah, despite seeing it in Imax 3D, I think it is a solid enough movie that it will still be enjoyable on the small screen.