Sunday, November 29, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving is not even cold in its grave. Leftovers are still in the refrigerator. It's not even December. Yet my first Christmas card was in my mailbox yesterday. It was from my sister-in-law ... er, that is, my brother and his wife. I know she loves most holidays, so her eagerness to get started on Christmas is no surprise. In truth, the fact that she's a recent, first-time grandmother is probably what prompted the early cards. There's a photo of the little angel inside the card.

I have no doubt that this woman would call herself a Christian (heck, she may be one for all I know), but I further doubt she celebrates the birth of Christ at Christmas. I imagine she celebrates her joy in her family, and the special feeling of excitement that Christmas brings -- and who cares if it's simply residual childhood hysteria or the mob rule of gift-buying or the thrill of making special foods and putting up special decorations, the thrill of tradition-building or tradition-confirmation or tradition-breaking? Who cares what the source is? Christmastime feels good.

I think Christmastime feels good to Jews in America and Muslims (if they've been here long enough to get swept up in it) and whatever else we've got here. Hindus? Taoists? Is that even a religion? Who knows? Who cares? Christmastime is fun and warm and fuzzy.

One year, I celebrated the Chinese New Year with a small Hispanic family in Bogotá, Colombia. I got swept up. I twirled around, clanging my bag of money over my head, screaming and yelling with the best of them, making enough noise to chase away the bad spirits, as directed. I backed up into the celebrants behind me, all of us yelling and tumbling and laughing, to make way for the giant dragon roaring and swaying its way through the crowd. I felt exultant as I walked through the mist of lavender water the Buddhist priests sprayed on me as I left the celebration.

Did I believe the Blessing of the Money ceremony actually blessed my money? Hmm ... Since it was Colombian money and I returned home the next day, I'd have to say no. Was I now a Buddhist because I bought a candle and paid for it to be lit and placed in a room with hundreds and hundreds of other burning candles? Uh, no, but I'm glad I got to feel the astonishing heat of all those candles. I felt my hair move in the heat waves from so many tiny flames. Talk about the power of numbers! Years and miles and cultures away, I walked into the Mint Room at the Celestial Seasonings Tea Company in Boulder, Colorado, and felt the stunning yet exhilarating opposite sensation: Cold so cold it felt like my eyes were breathing frosty air ... except it wasn't cold at all. It was merely minty -- minty twenty feet tall and fresh from a workout.

The point is, I just don't think the motive behind the good feelings matters so much. As you know if you've been paying attention (and you know who you are), I don't have a television and I don't read the papers or listen to the news on the radio. Even so, I know there's fuss about the Obama family having a "holiday" tree instead of a "Christmas" tree. I love it that the Christians who object don't seem to know that the word holiday means holy day. They're so ready to be riled.

A tree by any other name would smell as piney.

Let's take a moment and look up yule, okay? Oh wow. This is fun. The word is taken from the Old(e) English word for the pagan midwinter festival, but after the 12th century, it means, ah, Christmas.

I got all fussy a week ago about the term African American. I was told that it's the politically correct version. I'm pretty sure that the PC versions of anything are just to shut up the real rabble-rousers, the squeaky wheels. The rest of the population doesn't much give a hoot. I'm that way with the term woman. I'm not a chick -- and certainly not a chic, which I'm seeing way too much on Facebook -- or a girl or a gal. I'm a woman. Hear me screech. But I'm finally, after too many decades, getting it that woman is just the PC term and most of that population -- women (and you know who you are) -- either don't care or prefer the term girl. I'm making a leap and suggesting that African Americans are the same way. They're probably just fine with being black. I grew up with them being colored, then black, then Afro hyphen American, and now African American.

Of course, I want to say, in a pouty, defensive tone, "Well, then, why aren't I called an Italian-American?" but then my mother's side, the Huckabone side, leaps up and adds Irish and Swedish and god knows what all. The wordsmith finally takes its head out of a book long enough to remark, "Africa's a continent, not a country," so at least I can make my whining easier: "Well, then, why aren't I called a European-American instead of a white person?"

I don't even know what we're trying to define here. I mean, if the guy's black, I can tell just by looking. If he's white, ditto. Those basic colors -- which, by the way, go together really well (cf your traditional wedding) -- don't describe the actual skin tones of Negroes or Caucasians, so we know that's not it.

Not to mention: We're all from Africa anyway, so what's all this noise? Furthermore, what's that got to do with Kwanzaa, er, Christmas?

I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who loves to give gifts and loves to get gifts but hates Christmas because it's expected that he should give and get gifts. My thoughtful, compassionate response is: tough noogies. Get out there and enjoy the lights and the corny music and the good cheer. Yes. Merry Christmas to all!


Anonymous said...

"Women" and "girls"? You missed one. Step within the walls of a church (if you dare) and learn that we have been transformed into "ladies." I find that image--redolent of hat wearing, Bible study, socials, and service projects--just as ill fitting as the aforementioned categories. Which is odd, because I have nothing against any of these activities (except maybe hat wearing), and have participated willingly in all of them. It's just that it's been at least 15 years since I wore any garment below my waist that didn't have a separate hole for each leg, and no one who truly knows me would ever use "lady" to describe me--even if I'm on my best "ladylike" behavior. But what's in a name, anyway? -- Eunice

Diana S said...

I've come to realize that this holiday season is about celebrating many of things my European ancestors celebrated before their holidays were spiked and appropriated in the name of Christ. I'm European-American and I celebrate Christmas without Christ, I celebrate the feel good, I celebrate family, I celebrate sharing gifts, I celebrate mistletoe, I celebrate the birthday of my husband, the birthday of my sister in law but I do not celebrate the birth of Christ. I'm happy to gather around the yule log on a cold night. You get the idea. Does this mean that while I'm at a Christian friends home on the 25th I'd refuse a piece of Happy Birthday Jesus cake, heck no, its cake and I like cake. Cake is good!