This isn’t a movie review. This is a rant.
I’m writing this directly after returning from the event I’m ranting about, and I’m writing while still in the full blush of fury. This is a practice with precedent in countless flame-wars, and while it may be ill-advised, I’ll go ahead and feel bad about it later. Right now I’m MAD.
But we’ll start with backstory. That’ll let me cool down a bit.
Five years ago at the Ward Christmas Party (note to those not familiar with Latter-Day Saint Lexicon: Ward=Congregation; about 100 families. In Utah they’ll all be fairly close neighbors, too.) the program was centered around a full-costume re-enactment of the Nativity. It included nativity events peculiar to Mormon beliefs — the revelation that Christ would be born into the world the next day, and the day-night-day during which there was no darkness — but all the rest of it would have been right at home in pretty much any Christian church on the planet. There was a choir singing hymns, a narrator reading the text, and players reciting lines as shepherds, angels, magi, and the rest. There were congregational hymns.
Five years ago Santa was cordoned off in a back room. The kids loved being able to go sit on a pillow-padded lap and whisper Christmas wishes through a fake beard, and while MY kids knew better, they still played along.
That’s right, my kids knew better. We’ve never taught a belief in Santa Claus in my house. We’ve explained that it’s fun to pretend, and that some people get fooled in the pretense. Our policy is a simple one: any faith, any belief system, any mythology taught in my home will be one which Sandra and I believe to be true. No Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, and no Santa.
Santa doesn’t come to my house, but in years past when we’ve had more to share, we’ve signed gifts to others as if he did it. “Secret Santa” is redundant, and “Sub for Santa” is more so as far as I’m concerned. If you’re going to Kringle somebody’s front porch with a dinner they badly need and gifts they can’t afford for each other, THEN you pretend to be Santa, and everybody knows (or SHOULD know) that a neighbor who doesn’t want his or her good deeds touted has done a good deed here.
Okay, that’s the backstory.
This year the Ward Christmas Party began, as usual, with a buffet dinner. There were decorations on the tables, and Patches fished the gumdrops out of them one at a time, carefully sucked the sugar off of them, and then with great consideration for others put them carefully back. I got worried, though… all the decorations around the room — ALL of them — were straight out of the Polar Express mythos, which is the Santa myth modified to make grown-ups feel guilty for not playing pretend anymore. In fairness, grownups SHOULD feel guilty for not playing pretend, and for becoming unimaginative, and especially for not playing with their kids. But Santa ain’t all that, and the Polar Express story only works for me on the “I should play with legos with the kids more often” level. As a metaphor for belief in Christ, it falls flat on it’s cherubic little face, loses the bell from its pocket, and then expires alone in a snowdrift trying to sell matches.
As I was saying (huff, huff, huff), I walked around and saw not ONE bit of Christ-centered Christmas decor. No manger. No angels. No camels. There was a little bit of gold trim here and there, but mister Frankincense and mister Myrrh never made it into the building. There were no donkeys, no magi, no shepherds, and no sheep. You know all those tasteless jokes about “don’t do this because it makes the baby Jesus cry?” Well, kids, knock yourselves out. Baby Jesus couldn’t make it this year.
I had to stop for a reality check: I’m in a CHURCH, at a CHURCH SPONSORED CHRISTMAS PARTY, and I can’t find the Baby Jesus ANYWHERE. Even the music was lacking — I enjoy Christmas songs about snow, and bells, and even sleigh rides because winter is fun. But the songs that really WORK for me are the ones about redemption, about peace on Earth, about glory to God in the highest.
The program began, and it was a reading of The Polar Express, with players on stage, a train that rolled around the room, and good friends of mine playing the parts of Santa and the Narrator. I was very nearly physically ill. It ended none too soon, and then my oldest began to cry because they’d just announced the age limit for getting to ride on the train, and she was too old. Fortunately we managed to sneak her onto the train by explaining that a) she was very very sad, and b) she had to hold Patches so he could ride.
The kids waited in line to sit with Santa (my good friend Scotty), and their reaction was predictable. I could read their thoughts right on their little faces: Who is this guy in the funny suit? How does this game go? What do I need to say to him to get one of those candy canes he’s doling out?
We got candy canes, we got little sleighbells (“you know what sleighbells are for, don’t you kids? They’re a high-frequency emitter whose sound doesn’t get damped much by snow, so sleighs don’t crash into each other in downtown snowstorms. Not that anybody was dumb enough to go out in a storm like that back then. Now put it back in your pocket.”), and we got some cookies. We came home. I came in here to write.
I know full well that Christ wasn’t born “in the bleak midwinter” as the carol goes. The best guesses at his actual birthday (based on taxation practices, per the story) put it sometime in the spring. Modern revelation (more mormon stuff. Pipe down, you) puts it at April 6th of the year 0 AD. The “merging” of Christmas with the Winter Solstice is a matter of historical fact. The wiccans, gaians, druids, and pagans in the crowd are welcome to a bit of righteous indignation for this. I note the passage of the solstices and equinoxes (equinoci? equinoxi?) myself, and while I don’t do any zodiac magic in the buff, I am happy that the days are (for instance) going to be getting longer any day now.
In short, I can understand, in these modern times, how the Christian meaning of Christmas can get shuffled off to one side, or even lost. I’m okay with that in a shopping mall. I’m absolutely NOT okay with that in Christian Church.
(As a quick aside to those who continue to claim that Mormons are not Christians, and who are about to object to me calling a Mormon Church edifice a Christian Church: Before you say anything, have you been listening to any of this? Go beat up on SANTA, not ME.)
Bah, humbug. I’m still angry, but I’ve cooled down a bit. I was very careful not to speak my mind at the party, because the participants obviously put a LOT of time into that production. It was also obvious that they meant for it to be special for the kids. These people meant well, and deserve more than my scorn. That said, it STILL breaks my heart to know that they put all that effort into what was basically no more than a little carnival for the kids. How could THAT MANY PEOPLE all unreservedly charge down what seems to so obviously be the WRONG PATH. It’s like they all climbed on that stupid train. “It only goes to the North Pole and back. Sorry, no stops in Bethlehem. No, the Baby Jesus doesn’t ride this train. Here, kid, have a bell. Maybe if you fall off the train and get lost in the snow somebody can find you before you fall asleep and die.”