I came to this lost letter between two tempters late this season. Justin Wainscott found it somewhere and offers it to us for the useful instruction it has. The senior tempter advises his pupil not to try to turn his charge against Christmas all together, but to weakness his reflection on any of the details.
Keep him distracted as much as possible. “Keep him overly committed to all sorts of things (yes, even good things). Make sure he goes to every party and feels obligated to go out and purchase a gift for each one. Make sure he attends concerts and dinners and charity events. If his calendar isn’t full, you’ve failed.”
Failing that, keep him sentimental. “By all means, let him sing and be merry. Hell knows we have made good use of those kinds of things just as much as we have misery and gloom.”
Failing that, he has one more suggestion, all of which make for good advice for the coming year.
How many Christmas songs do we play that don’t have anything to do with Christmas? “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with a new cute video from Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé) is a winter song, not a Christmas song, but then “Silver Bells” is a Christmas song, and it has very little to do with it.
“My Favorite Things,” “It’s a Marshmallow World,” “Let It Snow,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman”? Not Christmas songs. How did “My Favorite Things” get on the seasonal playlist anyway?
Maybe the same way a movie set in December with Christmas trees, perhaps with a Christmas party, gets labeled as a Christmas movie. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or a movie set near Christmas? Is Home Alone one? (BTW, the score from Home Alone has good Christmas music. “Star of Bethlehem” is marvelous.)
Dixie-Ann Bell writes, “5 Reasons Little Women is a Great Christmas Movie” She enthuses over the theme, and oh my word! I tucked the main theme from this Thomas Newman score into my head years ago and forgot where I’d heard it. I don’t remember where I thought it was from; I think I ruled out Emma and Sense and Sensibility.
Scrooge did not recognize the fog surrounding him. J. G. Duesing writes,
When Scrooge is first greeted by the caroling of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” he responds such that “the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog.” Dickens’s fog is not dismal or dark, Chesterton says, but rather something that draws in and, in the case of Scrooge, corners. Fog “makes the world small …”
This photo comes from the Walker family collection. Theoretically, it should be easy to guess the year, because there’s a calendar right there. But my scan doesn’t have enough resolution. I could consult a perpetual calendar too, but that sounds like too much work. It’s probably the ’30s or ’40s. Certainly well before I was born. My guess would be the ’40s, because I don’t imagine there was money for so many presents in the ’30s. Though it was a large family, and this probably works out to one for each member.
This was the “old parlor” in the house where I grew up. In my time we just called it the living room. The first Christmas tree I remember stood in that very spot, though I recall that one as being somewhat taller and fuller. Later, Dad would knock out a wall and we moved the tree to a different location. I think that carpet was still there when I was very young, and possibly that sad sofa. But we had different curtains by then. They were heavy, and printed with Grandma Moses scenes.
One of those influences was Queen Victoria, who shared her family traditions with the world just as Christmas was beginning to be accepted again in America. (Alabama was the first state to make it legal in 1836.)
As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum summarizes things in The Battle for Christmas, what was once marked by liturgical celebrations at church and festivities in the village, revolving around public rituals and civic activities, eventually turned into a domestic affair, revolving around a children-centric holiday, marked by extravagant gift-giving and, in time, commercial-oriented activities.
Tom Flynn in The Trouble with Christmas adds this remarkable fact: “[It is] surprising how small a role the churches played in the Victorian revival. From its inception, contemporary Christmas was primarily a secular and commercial holiday. The parsons were as surprised as anyone else when after a century-long hiatus, the pews started filling up again on Christmas morning.”
Add to this Dickens giving us the Spirit of Christmas instead of the Spirit of Christ and various artists portraying St. Nicholas as a secular toymaker.
Here’s Sissel singing the most famous Norwegian Christmas carol — Jeg Er Saa Glad Hver Julekveld. Generations of Norwegian-American kids have learned it by rote and sung it for church programs. As did I.
The art here is not really appropriate. It’s not a Santa song. It uses the lighting of the Christmas tree to meditate on the wonder of the Incarnation of Christ. The child sings that he/she loves Christmas because of Jesus.
What a weird season this is turning out to be. I enjoy what I’m doing for a living, but working part-time, from home, turns out to leave me less free time than I had when I was an upstanding cog in the system.
I usually put up my Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving, and I start writing my Christmas letter around the same time. Now it’s the 5th of December, and I’ve done nothing! Nothing!
I have failed as a Norwegian. Christmas is one of the things we do. My ancestors are ashamed of me.
But tonight I’ve put in six hours already, and I have a little latitude on the deadline, and I’ve made a personal commitment to starting the Christmas letter this evening.
Heaven knows I have a lot to write about. Mostly about my new semi-career, the schedule for which is the reason the letter will be late.
My Christmas letter is kind of an annual epic production. First I write it in English, then I translate it to Norwegian, for the recipients over there. Those letters have to go out first, because of postal transit time.
And there was something else, wasn’t there? … Oh yeah, the tree.
Well, the actual old tradition was to decorate and light it on Christmas eve. I may end up being traditional this year.
I’m not in favor of spending a lot to finance fantasies of Christmas perfection, nor do I endorse the sort of gluttony and the psychological overload of “special moments” that makes us feel as though Christmas is a celebratory marathon to recover from rather than savor. Yet, the basic impulse toward excess is not wrongheaded. In fact, given the theological meaning of Christmas, it’s altogether fitting in its way.
R.R. Reno says the incarnation of God is most expensive, most exorbitant gift ever given. That doesn’t totally justify our modern day Christmas excesses, but it does give them a little room. The problem is less with our excessive celebration and more with how we view our excesses in comparison to God’s.
God does not give himself to us by assembling the good things of life into a giant banquet. Instead, we get Jesus.