Friday, December 01, 2006

The doctor is in. 5 cents please.

Katie and I watched the Charlie Brown Christmas Special a few nights ago and I realized that Charlie Brown reminds me of me.

At the beginning of the show, Charlie Brown is kind of lamenting the fact that he doesn’t feel the “Christmas Spirit”. He doesn’t receive Christmas cards, his dog has “gone commercial” by participating in a Christmas lights decorating contest for money, his sister wants Santa to bring her cash, and he, as always, doesn’t feel like he has any friends in general. In fact, he laments the fact that this time of year where everyone is happy emphasizes his unhappiness. In other words, he feels like Christmas is mocking him.
I often feel similarly about Christmas. I have many complaints about Christmastime in America. I will briefly explain each one in turn, hopefully I can keep myself from ranting too much.

1. “Christmas Songs” about snow and winter (rather than Christmas).
2. Commercialism, for lack of a better word. I saw a Wal-Mart advertisement last year that showed an obviously wealthy family opening up laptops and other expensive electronic luxuries on Christmas morning with soft Christmas music playing in the background. They were trying to associate luxuries with family time and Christmas. It made me ill.
3. The idea that Christmastime is a special time of year where we pay attention to people in need. The part of this that is never said but often implied, perhaps unintentionally, is that we don’t care about anyone else come January. Also, the idea that Christmas time is a special time where we contemplate the importance and divinity of Christ’s birth.
4. The tendency for the value of tradition to trump the value of anything else (logic, civility, etc.). Many years in my family there was an argument about whether we were supposed to get dressed out of our pajamas before we opened presents or not. Those on both sides of the argument would often cite tradition (“That’s how we always do it.”) as if that settled it.

I guess that list will do for now. In short, the way that most other people celebrate Christmas bothers me. This is nothing new – at least some of the above are things that have bothered me for many years.
Two years ago, when we were living in Colorado, I mentioned my Charlie Brownish problem with the Christmas season to my Home Teacher, who was a middle aged man with sons older that I am. He listened and then told me that it shouldn’t keep me from really celebrating Christmas. He suggested that I should actively celebrate the Christmas season in the way I think it ought to be celebrated and let that suffice.
After he left, I realized how very right he was. I could complain all day long about the actions of other people during this or any other time of year and it wouldn’t do anybody any good, least of all me. Since then I have been trying, with at least slightly noticeable success, to be more cheery and try to celebrate Christmas in such a way as to not offend myself.


Nick said...

1.) I love the christmas songs about snow and winter (as long as the songs themselves are good), especially "I'm dreaming of a white christmas", and "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire". They also serve as good "middle ground" songs for schools to celebrate christmas without ticking off any liberals.

Speaking of good christmas music, I've discovered the past few christmas's that there are tons of "sacred" (as opposed to secular, winter songs) music that we as a culture have forgotten. Theres the Alfred Burt Carols, all the old German and English carols, and old carols from basically every other European country.

2.) I couldn't agree more.

3.a) Yes, true we should pay attention to the poor all year long, but is there no redeeming value in having a time of year where we do a "little extra"? Or even a time of year to remind us that we should be generous to the poor in general? I also think that if we as a society were to discontinue this aspect of christmas, it would not translate into us as a society being anymore generous the rest of the year, so lets keep what we have (I didn't think you were suggesting this, and I reiterate, we should be generous all year round)

3.b) This is the one I have a problem with. I think it is wonderful that we have basically a whole month to devote to remembering the divine birth of Jesus. I don't think this lessens it's importance during the rest of the year, just as commemorating the atonement once a week during the sacrament does not lessen it's importance during the rest of the week.

Did I even understand correctly what you were saying on that one?

4.)Yes. Stupid traditions are stoopid with a capital OO. What are your feelings on christmas traditions in general, though? Can a tradition have any value simply because it is a tradition? Like eating a certain meal on christmas eve or having an activity that you do every year but does not necessarily teach about christ and yet brings the family together to do something fun? I'm guessing yes, and that you're just talking about traditions that defy common sense.

JonnyF said...

1) The true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with winter. It is a worldwide holiday and only falls in winter in the northern hemisphere. Even here in the northern hemisphere, there are many places where it doesn’t snow. Fun as the winter songs might be, they distract me from my aforementioned struggle to celebrate Christmas. We do not have songs to celebrate spring, summer, or fall, so why winter? Answer: because they appeal to the sentimental value many people place on winter/snow because of the timing of Christmas. I think, say, an Australian Christian would be justified in wondering if an American really gets Christmas if he or she spends a lot of time singing “”White Christmas”, “Sleigh Ride”, and “Winter Wonderland”.
Also note:
-As far as we know, Christ was not born in the winter, so celebrating the two should be kept separate.
-When Frank Sinatra wishes me “And may all your Christmases be white”, he is actually wishing that I will never be able to visit my parents in green California for Christmas.
-I have high standards for all songs. I have a problem with many popular songs, hymns, and even actual Christmas songs for various reasons. For example, the second verse of “Away in a Manger” bothers me because I think quality content was sacrificed big-time, probably for the sake of form. Seriously, what does a story (apocryphal anyway) about Jesus not crying when the loud cows wake him up have to do with Christmas? If you have to sacrifice content for form’s sake, then you are no more a lyricist or poet than Fezzik from “The Princess Bride”. (“Anybody want a peanut?”)

3a) Having one month of generosity is indeed better than none. However, if someone is generous and claims to care about the less fortunate in December but then ignores them in January, did he really care about those people or is he just acting out of some seasonal sense of obligation? The way people some treat it and the way some people talk about makes we wonder if they genuinely care or are just, well, faking. Maybe this one is more of a Holden Caulfield complaint than a Charlie Brown complaint. Like I said, though, I can resolve to be generous all year long despite my perceptions of others.

3b) Well said. The people I am complaining about are the ones that by their actions during the rest of the year don’t indicate any respect for Christ, but then profess a respect in December. It’s the same complaint I have with Sunday-only Mormons. Of course, that doesn’t keep me from going to church, and it shouldn’t keep me from celebrating Christmas either.

4) I mostly agree with you, but common sense is uncommon, so I prefer to be more rigorous. I say traditions have no inherent value. Traditions can be good or bad (or even wicked, as described in the Book of Mormon.) A tradition’s merit is based on what it actually involves doing and not on its status as a tradition.

My tradition rant has its seed in my experience as a missionary. Polish people (like many in the world) feel that their traditions, good or bad, are part of their national, cultural, and personal identities. Many consider rejecting tradition unthinkable. I ran into this with regard to religion, but it was also apparent with regard to holidays, especially Christmas. The traditional Christmas Eve dinner involves carp as 1 or 2 of the 12 traditional courses. So what’s the problem? Carp is bony and gross. When I asked about the tradition of eating carp, everyone in the family confessed that they didn’t like it and not one of them could think of anyone they knew that actually did like eating it. They traditionally kill the carp right before cooking it, (you know, so it’s fresh) so many families keep it in the bathtub from the time they bring it home from the supermarket until Christmas Eve (sometimes several days). I never asked what they do about bathing during that time (most Polish residences have just one bathroom) because I was afraid of the answer.

If you agree that some traditions are stupid, you have to admit that the “tradition status” of an activity doesn’t make something good or bad. You must judge activities on their own merits. If you have a Christmas tradition of playing a rousing family game of Pit, then that is a good tradition – not because it is a tradition but because it is fun and promotes family togetherness. If, on the other hand, you have a Christmas tradition of playing a family game of Phase 10, then that is a bad tradition because it is boring and promotes whining. (“Hey why did you skip me? Jon has more points!”)
Christmas traditions that dictate unimportant things – like the order of opening presents versus eating breakfast and what kind of food you eat for dinner – are fine. But, like I said originally, there is something wrong with the picture when someone thinks preserving this kind of tradition is worth any kind of bad feelings in a family.

If you have a tradition (habit?) of overanalyzing everything and being a stick in the mud, then…

erin said...

Speaking of really good Christmas carols, I've found a couple in the last couple of years that I just really love. I think both of them are old English carols...but I just say that because most are. One is "Angels From the Realms of Glory" and the other is "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day." The second one has about 12 stanzas describing the life of Christ and how he calls humanity (individually) to salvation and exaltation--to his dance--and beautifully illustrates our Savior's role as the leader of the dance. If you go to this site you should be able to find it:
The first one is one that powerfully links the baby Jesus with the Creator and King of Kings. There are some versions that have been altered to be more trinity-friendly, and some that leave out my favorite verses, but this site has them pretty good: (When I've heard the Mo-Tab sing this, they leave off that last verse...not that it's not doctrinally sound, but they probably just want to be clear.) I love these carols! I also love sleigh ride and white Christmas. I'm not sure, but maybe some of these winter and snow songs are still an expression of the real Christmas. I may be stretching this too far, but maybe just like our religion embraces all truth everywhere, maybe all real joy and good feelings are possible or at least meaningful because of Christ and therefore part of Christmas? Maybe that's a little too 99-cent-holiday-card. I don't know. Obviously you don't have to worship snow or crackling chestnuts to worship Christ, but maybe the influence of Christ is so powerful that it permeates everything connected with the celebration and makes it a special (there's a Utah word for you) season? A lot of people are probably being trite and cute and cheesy when they sing about the joy of getting upsot out of the rickety sleigh, but maybe a few are just expressing the tangible joy that comes when people tend to raise their eyes to a higher way of living (I seriously considered capitalizing Way). Anyway, there's what I think. I do think it's pretty funny when radio stations who claim to play only Christmas music from Thanksgiving to New Years will play anything that even mentions winter or cold or the color red.

This is a long post, but the part about the extra generosity or social pressure to give at Christmas time made me think of something I heard really recently...something that sounded well-put. I thought it was at the Christmas devotional last night, but I think it's from Dickens' Christmas Carol, which I read last night (that's one of my favorites). Let me go see if I can find it.
Ah, here it is. This is the part near the beginning when the gentlemen come to Scrooge to ask him to donate to the poor. Jon, I've always felt the same way--that it's just downright hypocritical how we go try to satiate our consciences by giving out our oranges at Christmas (or singing at the rest home?) at Christmas and then not doing anything else the rest of the year. The passage goes like this: '"Under the impression that they [the poorhouses and prisons] scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,' returned the gentleman, 'a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.'" I was reading this part thinking, yeah, right--you want to gather some money to give one turkey meal to these poor and then forget about them until next Christmas? The next line is: "'We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?'" It doesn't resolve all the problems in the world, but there's an explanation of why this time of year prompts the explanation none of you probably needed. :) I wish we were all together and I could read the whole book to you. You can read it in under an hour, I bet, and gosh, it's a good one. I especially love what Marley's ghost says to Scrooge: "'Oh, captive, bound, and double-ironed,' cried the phantom, 'not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little shere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!' 'But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. 'Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!' It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again. 'At this time of the rolling year,' the spectre said, 'I suffer most. Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?'"
This is way too long, but I'm going to post it all. :) Merry Christmas to all of you!

Julie C said...

1. The songs remind me of the season, which puts me in a good mood - I have very happy memories of Jenny, Steven and I sitting downstairs watching White Christmas on Christmas Eve before we all settled down to sleep. If it bothers you, you don't have to come visit me around Christmas. :)

2. I think it can be fun to have a chance to find things that you hope your family & friends want or will like. I don't like shopping during the holidays, but that's because the stores are crowded with unhappy people. But I love the look on someone's face when they can tell you really thought about them that year. But of course we should be careful of extremes in either direction - it's not all about gifts, but it's also okay to enjoy that part of the season.

3. I'm split on this one. Anything that reminds us or puts us in the mood to share is great, but feeling forced to share because of the time of year is not. And I think that it's a good time to focus on Christ, just like every Sunday, every FHE, every time we go to the temple...but maybe it's also good to have extra reasons to think about the miracle of His birth.

4. One of the greatest things I think about traditions is that we can create our own in our own families as we grow up - when I think about Christmas as a kid, I know we had the nativity story (usually with paper puppets) Christmas Eve, with family prayer, and we got to open our pajamas. Christmas morning we didn't come upstairs until maybe 9:00, when we opened our stockings. Dad made homemade waffles, with whipped egg whites folded in, and we had that with grapefruit and probably some other stuff for breakfast. Then we went back out and opened gifts one at a time, taking turns. When I went to Dan's family for Christmas, I was shocked at how different their traditions were - they all ripped into all their packages at the same time! Christmas Eve was different, and so was Christmas Day. But Dan and I can make up what we think we want to do - and then that is OUR tradition. But really, Tradition for the sake of Tradition is silly - Tradition because I like it is different - why not try something else one year - if I really hate it, I can always go back the next year.

Other things I think about at Christmas are...playing games, building puzzles, Legos, and having the gas fireplace on, decorating the house and tree, making fudge and caramels and divinity, delivering little packages to our neighbors, and reading all the books I get for Christmas right away. We haven't made candy for years, but I hope to start that tradition up in my own family again.

Nick said...

As a public service announcement: In my preparations to go caroling this year, I really wanted to do a little more than "just the hymnbook" christmas carols. So I went online and found a website that had lots of the public domain carols in pdf form- in four part harmony. It didn't have all the songs I like, so I installed the music program that randy gave me a few years ago as a reward for doing his homework for him (thanks randy!), and have arranged a bunch of other ones that I like for 4-part choir. Here is a list of carols that I now have in pdf, and if anyone wants any of them for whatever reason just tell me and I'll email you:

Angels we have heard on high
As lately we watched
Away in a manger
Bring a torch (who are jeanette and isabella?)
Coventry carol
Deck the hall
ding dong merrily on high
The first noel
Fum, fum, fum (whats a fum?)
Gloucestershire wassail
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Good christian men rejoice
Good king wenceslas (which does not mention anything about christmas, but whatever)
Hark the herald angels sing
Here we come a wassailing
The Holly and the ivy
Infant holy, infant lowly
I saw three ships come sailing in
It came upon a midnight clear
Joseph dearest joseph mine
Joy to the world
Let it snow!(Sorry, JonnyF)
Lo, how a rose ere blooming
O Come all ye faithful
O come o come Emmanuel
O little town of Bethlehem
On the night when Jesus came
Still still still
The Christmas song (chestnuts roasting....again, sorry JonnyF)
The Happy Christmas comes once more
We three kings
We wish you a merry christmas
What child is this
White Christmas (JonnyF-.....oh, nevermind)
Silent Night

By the way, JonnyF- Some of these songs supposedly are "traditional Polish", such as 'Infant holy, infant lowly', and 'On the night when Jesus came'. Do you recognize them? I guess I should put the Polish names for them, but...I didn't.

erin said...

Will your program tell guitar chords for these songs, too? That would be awesome and I'd do your homework for you in exchange. ;)

Nick said...

Yes, it can. Go to this website for tons of songs, with guitar chords. (you have to click on a song, then there are several options to choose from, one of which is lyrics with melody and guitar chords)

Some of the others on my previous list I did myself, so tell me which ones you want converted to guitar chords.

I'll email you my homework in a bit...

JonnyF said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JonnyF said...

I guess "On the Night when Jesus Came" would be "Gdy sie Chrystus Rodzi." Does it go like this: hmmm hm hmmm hm hmm hmm, hmmm hm hmmm hm hmm hmm...?
Seriously though, thank you all for you comments. It looks like points 2, 3, and 4 were agreeable in some form to most of you and point 1 was unpopular. Good to know.
Merry Christmas to all! White or not.

Nick said...

yes, it is hmmm hmm hmm hmm hmmmmm hmmmmm, hmm hmm hmm hmm hmmmmmm hmmmm...