A recent UbuntuForums poll got me thinking about Christmas and why it upsets me. The reasons, in fact, have little to do with me being an Atheist.
Growing up my family’s Christmases were not particularly religious. We had the lights, the tinsel, the presents, the tree, the music. All the trappings of a winter celebration in a Christian derived religion. I knew that it is supposed to be about the birth of that Jesus dude but outside of one or two songs it really wasn’t broadcast much. To me it was more about being with family, taking stock of the previous year and your life in general, being generous, kind and so on. I guess a good way to put it using the original Southpark as a benchmark, I’d be rootin’ for Santa. So all of the trees, the lights, the tinsel really holds no religious connotation for me. What upsets me about Christmas is the fact that people trample all over it. Two examples head my list and they both deal with Christmas music.
First on the list are the store that decide it is appropriate to have Christmas items for sale weeks prior to Halloween. One of my Halloween traditions is to watch Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas” so the idea of mixing Halloween and Christmas is no problem for me. But when the local Wal-Mart started selling Christmas ornamentation by October 9th I just got grumpy. 3 months for one holiday? C’mon! The fact most retailers spend a good 2 months on the Christmas music being piped through the intercom drives me, as a customer, batty. I weep for the mental stability of the employees that have to endure 16% of their year subjected to Christmas music!
That of course, brings me to the other offender. Mannheim Steamroller. I liked a few Christmas songs until the ol’ Steamroller got ahold of them and utterly destroyed them. The prime example is “Carol of the Bells”. That song, in its original form, always evoked feelings of loss and sorrow in me. Often played near the end of the year it is a piece of music I associate with the moments of reflection I feel is a part of Christmas. One particularly rough year I simply needed to hear this song. I searched far and wide and all I could find was the Steamroller version of it. The version which is set to a pop beat and made unbearably upbeat and sickly sweet. In a phrase, they butchered it beyond belief. While the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s metal-esque version it still a bastardization at least it tries to retain that melancholy quality of the original.
What makes Christmas, and indeed any holiday, a special time of year is two fold. First it is that it comes and it goes in a short time frame. I love Halloween. It speaks to the latent Goth in me. Even so I wouldn’t want the whole of the nation to dress up and blare out Halloween music starting around the beginning of August! A week, tops, is good enough. Enough for the collective mass to get into the spirit of things, to make that connection, and to put it away lest it lose its specialness from over exposure.
The second is that there are traditions which give us direction. These celebrations were not originally about mass consumer consumption. Not that I get down on that part, I’m a free market Libertarian kind of guy. But the three holidays in the end of the year mean something Halloween is the end of summer moving solidly into fall. It is the beginning of the rituals of hunkering down for the winter. Thanksgiving is really the last big feast. The final harvest is in. Christmas is on the onset of winter. It is the end of the year and the beginning of rough times meteorological speaking. There is so much blather about Christmas cheer that this notion of reflection, of taking stock, of putting a close to the year and preparing to endure the transition into the next is lost. Each of these holidays have their traditions based on what the signpost each holiday represents. When someone takes something as melancholy as “Carol of the Bells” and slaps it over an upbeat pop beat they’re screwing up traditions. It would be like setting a 4th of July, Sousa march as an Opera. It does not work!