Despite my Christianity I am not the most cheerful Christmas celebrant. The weird mixture of secular and religious rituals puts me ill-at-ease. I like to keep my religion austere and my "to do" list short. Modern Christmas celebrations don't lend themselves to either of these goals.
If I had it my way, we would all sing "Veni Veni Emmanuel" for a few weeks, then have a special Mass and be done with it. I love this hymn because, though thoroughly Christian, I think it expresses a universal longing of mankind in winter: the cry for light in the darkness. The English version says,
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
I imagine that Druids celebrating the winter solstice sang pretty much the same thing: "God/gods/trees, bring us light, because darkness sucks." I have no problem getting behind this idea and taking time to share the emotion of it with my fellow humans.
So what is up with that Santa dude and how did we let him take over our lives for months on end? Why is my shopping list a mile long and why, even though I am now living in China, do I have to listen to songs that sound like they were written by acid-dropping preschool teachers?
Spending Christmas in China has taken my already mixed emotions and stirred them into a fine froth. The Chinese have for centuries avoided the adulteration of their culture by Western ideas. But someone really dropped the ball in the last several years, because there is Christmas shit everywhere here. Santa is ubiquitous, as are lights, trees, and musak versions of cutesy tunes about snow that talks.
The Chinese people seem to simply tolerate having Christmas shoved in their faces. (And if this is their impression of what the West is all about, it's a wonder they are still giving us visas.) The version they get is all the commercial fluff at its cheesiest. Furthermore, most of it is pretty mixed up. At Ikea, I saw a heart-shaped Christmas wreath with a bunny in the middle. Does Ikea sell this crap worldwide or is it a special product for China?
To me, all the Santa images speak. They ask, "You're not getting toys for your children? Did you get your tree yet? Have you sent any cards?" And people accuse churches of promoting guilt. Sheesh, Santa.
So now there's a freaky Santa with a bunny hanging in our dumpy apartment, some toys stashed in the bedroom for the kids, and I'm pissed off at the West, the East, and myself for falling for this load of commercial bullshit.