A lot of people take me for a Scrooge, a label I am happy to embrace. I despise “the holidays” and make a point of never acknowleding Thanksgiving* or New Year’s Eve, and I refuse to say “Merry Christmas” to anyone until the evening of December 24, the earliest juncture at which I will tolerate Christmas music. Even then I will leave the room rather than hear “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or—gag me—“Wonderful Christmastime.” Our children are not being raised to believe in Santa Claus, and I have nothing but contempt for those songs and for the chintzy detritus of what I call “the Santa religion,” a postmodern cult organized around the notion that the commemoration of the birth of our Savior has anything especially to do with shopping or spending time with one’s family or wearing sweaters or drinking egg-based beverages. Media reports on the amount of money spent on Christmas gifts and its relation to GDP would have me reaching for my revolver, if I owned a revolver.
It’s not just the commercialization of the Nativity itself, tedious and banal as it is, to which I am objecting. I hate the fact that even Catholic children tend to have no idea what the blessedly cheerful season of Advent is about. I hate the fact that mothers and fathers across this country are pulling out their hair trying to figure out how they will be able to afford the new Nintendo rather than sitting down with their children to read the opening of Luke’s Gospel. But what I hate most of all about the Santa religion is the fact that it impinges upon Christmastide, which, properly speaking, lasts from December 24 until Candlemas on February 2, when Catholics celebrate the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For my family this 40-day span is one of uninterrupted raucousness: we—myself excepted—sing, we dance, we listen to records, we drink Perrier-Jouet, we smoke cigarettes, we light candles, we read favorite books and watch Star Wars, we stay up late, we make enormous meals, we pray and go to Mass. We also buy as many non-Santa-related decorations as we can find and fill the house with electric lights in every conceivable color. For weeks on end we do everything—from washing our hands to turning the pages of David Copperfield—through a constantly shifting quasi-psychedelic red and green filter. The Incarnation of our Lord does not demand proper meals or parties at fixed times with guest lists and polite wrapping and unwrapping of gifts purchased out of a sense of obligation. It demands total abandonment to the joy that comes with affirming those extraordinary words “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est”: “And [He] he was incarnate of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
Don’t give up on Christmas, folks. There is almost another whole month left, and many of the things you’ll want for celebrating it properly will never be cheaper than they are today. Step into a CVS or a Target and look at the discount bins. You’ll find that you can buy lights and stars and tinsel 75 or 80 percent off. Get a bunch of the big tacky silver cardboard stars and as many of the red and green strobe lights as you can find. Buy an extra fake tree or two and put them anywhere—the bathroom, your neighbor’s lawn—that isn’t decorated yet. Hang stockings on the backs of every chair in the house and put candy and other little presents in there at random intervals for people to discover. Put Bing Crosby singing “Adeste Fideles” on the turntable and turn the volume on your receiver up to (at least) 60. It’s too late to take advantage of that curious discount on proper champagne that you find for whatever reason at supermarkets around December 30, but you can keep it in mind for next year. Just remember not to buy any Santas.
*The only thing special about it is that it is the one day of the year when I watch the NFL. Go Lions!