by RIP RENSE
(Nov. 30, 2006)
of you nice readers suggested, in response to my pleading boredom and
(news) burnout on column writing, that I write about Christmas.
Not very original, but
then, you can’t avoid this topic any more than you can avoid uh. .
I try not to write about
Christmas, truth be told (and it seldom is), because I do not like
Christmas. No no, this is not a “bah humbug” column. I just don’t like it.
What, after all, is there to like?
It’s not commercialism. “Commercialism” does not begin to describe the orgiastic
venality of the “season.” It does not begin to describe the corporate rape
of soul and heart that drives even the poorest among us into hock every
The jolly sight of
hundreds of working class folk lining up overnight to buy discounted plasma
TV’s only makes me think of those same TV’s in mountainous trash piles in
China five years from now, burning new carcinogenic pollutants into the sky.
After their owners have finished sitting stuporously in front of them like
heathens before idols, tanking up on “Dancing With the Stars,” pro foop-ball
(formerly “football”) ---mistaking these activities for life.
I object to modern
Christmas with every bit of ethic and morality in my being. I realize this
is perhaps not a potent threat, but still, I object to
humans being brain-whipped by television to go out and buy things in order
to be “happy.” I object to fact that demographers and other robberbarons
skate to the bank on “yuletide” guilt.
I think that's very
Christian of me.
Loathsome. It’s mostly desecrated with distorted electric guitars,
beatbox rhythms, and that awful melismatic wailing that people mistake for
singing nowadays. Either that or (ulp) the lobotomy-in-a-CD that is John
Tesh and Kenny G. It gives me an almost physical pain, this stuff. It, too,
is contrived, conceived, designed, and dispatched by marketing types
pandering to lowest common denominator kneejerk Pavlovian drooling.
Doubt it? Then why was
the “war is over (if you want it)” chorus deliberately deleted in recent
years from the Muzak renditions of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas?” Don’t
offend. Don’t make them think of war while shopping. Who are the
brain police, Frank Zappa asked long ago? Well, between the “Christian”
right, Neocons, and Wall Street, I think that’s got it pretty well covered.
I particularly dislike
Christmas in Los Angeles, where it is usually bright, sunny, and quite often
hot on Dec. 25. I’ve lived here most of my life, sad to say, and while
out-of-towners forever swoon at the sunshine, I find it intrusive,
oppressive. You live
under sun 350 days a year, and it starts to feel like a torture lamp. When
we get clouds in L.A.---just plain white fluffy clouds, folks---I almost cry
tears of joy. Actual rain? Too glorious. As I type this, a fiendishly cold
Santa Ana wind condition is in place outside, aided and abetted by the
guest-who-won’t-leave in the sky. The air is as dry as the dust in Bush’s
head. Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling toooooo.
Christmas is---or has
become---an atrocity. Look at the ritual: buy lots of things you don’t
need, wrap them in paper (that will probably not be recycled), give them to
people who probably also don’t need them. Have big parties. Eat huge amounts
of food. Excrete huge amounts of dung. Imbibe huge amounts of alcohol. Throw
up. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Fornicate under the tree.
No, I don’t begrudge you
people your pleasures. Have a Christmas ball. But to quote George Harrison
in a wonderful little song he gave to Ringo, “Wrack My Brain,” “What I
have, you don’t want/ What you want, I can’t give/ I got out of touch with
you and yours/ The way that you live.”
Of course, I also object
to having this whole Christmas psychosis foisted on me every year, because
yes, I have to “celebrate” it, too. Which brings up Christmas depression,
and the ensuing spike in suicides. People are put upon to feel “joy,” and to
be with “loved ones,” but ladies and merry gentlemen, these things are not
easily had. And they are not automatically had by buying a tree, tying a bow
on a plasma TV, and saying “honey” at the beginning and end of your little
No, you’re right, it was
not always this way. Things used to be simpler---“A Christmas
Story”-simpler. The gift-giving tradition didn’t start going haywire until
after World War II, apparently, a time when people had no idea what to do
with their lives and lots of time to do it (paraphrasing Mae West.) The
proliferation of media to well beyond saturation point---with cell
phones, computers, TV, radio, and movies, when are you really free of
it?---hypertrophied that tradition.
And as I have written
in the past, capitalists have abandoned all obligation and pretense of
obligation to the community. That is, make money regardless of consequence.
Hence rap songs about raping “ho’s.” Ho, ho, ho! O holy night? This
as I am fond of terming it, holds Christmas as the holiest time of year, and
with good cause. Santa gotta bag fulla money, honey. There is little that is more
repulsive to me than capitalism without conscience, unless it is the sight
of William Kristol, and nothing is more capitalistic and conscience-less
than Christmas in the United States of Amerryca.
There are other factors.
As one grows older, one remembers the innocent Christmases of youth more and
more as if they happened to another person entirely. And one remembers all
the not-so-innocent Christmases of alcoholic relatives, estranged relatives,
strange relatives, fighting parents, sitting alone in apartments on the big
Eve, etc. One also remembers a great many people who, given their
preferences, would rather be celebrating any kind of Christmas than resting
in a pine box, six-feet-under. (Pets, too.)
Let us not forget the
“religious,” either, God help us. Fanatic fiends hell-bent (I hope) on
converting others, on dumping their cretin notions of “morality” on the
world. . .are on the brink of ruining the world. The “Christian” right
celebrants of Christ’s birth (which happened in the summer, anyhow) are just
a shade or two more “Christian” than the Taliban.
But enough holly-jolly
observations to make your spirits bright! You might be proud of me, to
know that yes, I have tried to ignore all this, and to participate in the
holiday in my own small way. I confess, for instance, that I even enjoy
Christmas lights (that spring up with less frequency each year) on eaves and
fences and trees. I like the very symbolism of lights, for starters---that
of brightening, enlightening---and they are just plain pretty. I like being
reminded of beauty at such a time of sad and ugly human behavior.
Because I don’t like the
feeling of exclusion on Xmas eve, and because I am no longer solo, I set out
a few years ago to. . .do something. What to do? Why, go to a church. I
figured that it might be pleasant to hear carols without hip-hop beats, and
perhaps a pastor or preacher would have something valuable to say, if
innocuous. Well, I was right on the first count.
But in about five years
of going to Christmas Eve services at Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, and
Lutheran churches, I encountered only the most maddeningly insipid and vapid
of sermons. It was quite astonishing. I mean, I ask you: “come home for
Christmas?” What is this, an ad for a bank? It was intoned by a little
fellow with a little voice, and it was the biggest part of his little
It made me come home for
Christmas, all right. Couldn’t wait to get the hell out of that church.
Then there was the
doofus reverend who actually said, through great drifts of Catholic
incense---I kid you not---“be all you can be.” Yes, this was his Christmas
sermon. He’d borrowed the goddamn U.S. Army slogan, for Christ’s sake.
Luckily, I did finally
stumble across a little brick church in Westwood. Inside, I found exactly
what I had hoped to find, and what should be found in every church---instead
of the dunderhead liturgy about “swaddling clothes” and all the
self-righteous and highly political proselytizing by hard-core evangelicals
and goofball zealots. I found reason.
The reverend held forth
sanely, sincerely, intelligently---and in such a way that it made sense
whether you were a believer or not (not.) How Christian! What’s more, the
reverend seemed to regard the story of Christmas and much symbology of the
religion as just that: metaphor for the valid and useful and truly Christian
teachings of cooperation, coexistence, kindness, even love. The choir
consisted of three or four elderly ladies, the organist sort of got carried
away with fanfares and flourishes as he played (charming!), and once or
twice there was, of all things unlikely, a saxophone/ piano rendition of a
carol or two. It even made that phoneybaloney “peace be with you” handshake
with strangers-you-will-never-see-again marginally bearable.
I’ve gone back every year
to this, the Village Lutheran Church.
Of course, the reverend
is a woman---Janet Bregar---and the attendance is tiny---just a dozen or
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