Bah, Humbug!

I don’t like Christmas. Okay, that’s not entirely true. To be precise, I don’t like what Christmas has become: the slick, sappy, overly-commercialized capitalistic extravaganza that now constitutes the holiday season—a season that begins shortly after Labor Day and runs through the end of January.

I didn’t always feel this way. Looking back, I have some wonderful memories of childhood Christmases in Indiana. There was snow on the ground, presents around the tree, a dinner table covered with food, and rooms filled with family and friends. For me, things changed when I took a job in a grocery store. From that day on, I began to associate Christmas with cranky customers, howling kids, long hours, and even longer lines of people purchasing things they didn’t need for people they didn’t particularly like. And all this in the name of “Peace” and “Good Will” to our fellow humans beings. Even among church-goers, the slogan “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” has become a commercially successful shibboleth which has helped line the pockets of many a Christian bookstore owner.

At its heart, Christmas is an inherently bittersweet event—as well it should be if viewed from a theological perspective. A baby (the incarnate Creator of the universe) is born to an unwed mother and her fiancé in a backwater town at the edge of the Roman Empire. The birth is met with rejoicing by the local shepherds and a host of angelic visitors, yet three decades later, that same boy would grow up to die as a criminal on a Roman cross. Likewise, that baby’s mother would live to see her husband die and her beloved son tortured and killed at the behest of an angry mob. We give presents to our loved ones today in imitation of the astrologers who traveled from the east bearing gifts for that Hebrew child. But somehow, these aspects of the story are lost amid the twinkling lights and the department store Santa Clauses and songs about chestnuts and red-nosed reindeer. What went wrong?

The story of Christmas is the story of redemption, and at this time of year, people are encouraged to demonstrate the better aspects of human nature. As a result, charities get more donations, the needy are cared for, and people generally tend to be a bit nicer to each other—at least for awhile. For a few individuals, the redemptive aspect of the season lives on throughout the year, and it is their goodness and generosity which makes our society’s materialistic excesses seem even more distasteful.

In retrospect, perhaps it’s not Christmas I dislike as much as it is the noise that drowns out the newborn baby’s cry from the dusty stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps this year will be different. Given the current state of the economy, people don’t seem to have as much money to spend this Yuletide season. This may be bad news for the economy, but in a spiritual sense, maybe it’s a good thing. With fewer gifts to unwrap, people might actually begin to realize what the season is truly all about. I’m sure if Santa were here, he would agree.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Short story: Santa’s Gift

This was a scene I originally wrote for a sketch comedy group I belonged to ages ago. It was never performed, but I always liked it so dusted it off recently and converted it to a scene. It was mostly dialogue anyway.  I hope you enjoy it, and Happy Holidays!

Merry.......... christmas..?
Image by Nicolai Kjærgaard via Flickr

Inside the cozy living room of a well furnished suburban home, Harold, a tired and middle-aged man, sat in a plush chair next to the crackling fireplace with his wife, Kelly.

Bundled in a sweater, Kelly watched as snow drifted down past the window. She smiled happily and sipped from a big mug of hot chocolate. Harold, scowling morosely, took a long swig from a can of beer.

Kelly looked at her husband, glowing with contentment. “There is just something magical about Christmas Eve. Everything seems special. The air smells cleaner, the snow seems whiter, even the cold doesn’t seem so… cold. You know what I mean, Harold?”

Harold looked at Kelly and sighed. “Yeah, it’s like a storybook come to life.”

Kelly rolled her eyes. “Oh, here we go. I thought maybe you were going to skip your annual Christmas pout-fest, but I guess not.”

Harold shifted in his chair. “I just don’t like it, okay. A lot of people don’t like Christmas.”

Kelly set down her mug. “Yeah, but MOST people like Christmas. Even if you’re not Christian there’s still all the pretty lights, the decorations, the spirit of giving…”

“..the marketing, the commercialism, the fat man in the beard…”

“Santa?” asked Kelly.

“Yeah. Him.”

“You can’t not like Santa! Do you ever watch the children’s faces when they see him at the mall? It’s like magic.”

“Poor little bastards.”

Kelly threw up her hands. “Harold! Every Christmas since we met you’ve been like this and you never tell me why. It doesn’t make any sense!”

“Then just ignore me,” Harold replied, scowling. “I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“I’m not going to ignore it this time! I want to know why this day bothers you so much.”

“You wouldn’t understand. Just trust me on this and let it go, okay?”

Kelly yawned a huge, face stretching yawn, wobbling slightly in her chair. “I wouldn’t understand? I think you would be surprised at what I… understand.” Kelly shook her head and tried to focus, but was fading fast. She tried to go on, “…but if you won’t talk to me, how can you expect me to… ohh… expect me to… Hmmm… to…”

Kelly fell back in her chair, fast asleep. Harold looked at her and grimaced.

“Oh crap, here we go. I’m gonna need a reload…” Harold reached behind his chair and came out with a fresh beer. He popped the tab and took a long drink.

From the flickering shadows in the fireplace, Santa Claus faded into view. He was the epitome of the Christmas legend, from the big sack of toys to the rosy cheeks to the jolly belly.

“Ho Ho Ho! Meeeeeerry Christmas, Harold!”, Santa bellowed.

Harold sighed. “You’re late this year, fatso.”

Santa beamed. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Harold. There’s been a lot more good boys and girls this year so I’m running a little behind”

“You could just skip our house, you know.”

“Now how could I possibly do that, my little friend?” asked Santa, reaching for Harold’s cheek to give it a pinch.

Harold knocked Santa’s hand aside as he rose from the chair. “I can always hope,” he said.

“You’re such a kidder, Harold” said Santa. “Now, let’s see what you’ve been up to this past year.” Santa pulled a phone from his jacket and punched a few buttons. “Hmmm… you’re doing pretty good this year. Definitely in the Nice column! Ho Ho Ho!”

“Lucky me.”

Santa tsked. “Although you’ve still got that surly attitude of yours. We started using a computer Child Ranking Database that automatically calculates the Naughty and Nice score for every child. Oh my, it saves us a load of time.”

“Great, even Santa is into computer surveillance these days.”

“Ho Ho! Anyway, it looks like you helped three old ladies load groceries into their car, volunteered 142 hours at an animal shelter, and turned down repeated sexual advances from Julie in Marketing.”

“I think I’m the only one who turned her down,” Harold replied, giving a small shudder.

Santa punched a button and grinned. “Oh, you aren’t far wrong on that one! Ho Ho Ho! Julie’s definitely on our Naughty list.”

“That’s just more information than I needed. Are you done now, Santa? Can I have my life back for another year?”

“You know, Harold, I just don’t understand why you are always so antagonistic. Most people would love a yearly visit from Santa Claus.”

Harold lunged towards Santa, one fist clenched, crushing his beer can in the other. “Most people don’t think you really exist! MOST people haven’t had you visiting them every year since they were seven!”

Santa smiled jovially. “That’s because you were a special boy! I still recall the first time I saw you at the mall. You wanted so badly to sit on my lap, but your mom wouldn’t hear of it. You just kept staring at me with those big, brown eyes of yours while she led you away. I said to myself, Santa, you should make a special stop for that young man.”

Harold wiped some spilled beer from his shirt. “Special? That wasn’t the word my parents used when I tried to tell them. ‘Hey mom, guess who was in our house last night? Santa Claus, complete with magic powers, big beard, smelly reindeer, the whole works!’”

“Hmmm, well, I told you to keep it a secret,” admonished Santa.

“At first it wasn’t too bad, just a pat on the head and a pitying look. Each year I thought I dreamed it, but then you showed up again the next year and I was convinced all over again. But as I got older I didn’t get pats on the head anymore. You know what I got? I got therapists! I got medication! I got fucking Santa Claus intervention!”

“Ho Ho Ho! I remember the year I had to visit you in that youth psychiatric hospital. You were a tough boy to find, young man!” Santa waggled a finger a Harold.

“There’s no hiding from Santa Claus, is there? I tried, I sure tried…”

“A different place every year there for a while, as I recall. Isn’t that when you started trying to film me?”

”Hell yeah, I wanted proof. But nooooo, Santa doesn’t show up on film.”

“And wasn’t your chimney covered in garlic one year?”

Harold looked a little sheepish. “Well, after you didn’t show up on the video tape I had a theory that maybe you were related to vampires.”

“Ho Ho Ho! That’s a good one! Still, I liked the garlic better than the years you tried to pass out drunk before I arrived. You were such a mess, I’m glad you gave that up! Do you have anyidea how hard it is to clean vomit out of this suit? Mrs. Claus was getting quite mad at you, you little rascal!” Santa winked.

“Well, how was I to know you could instantly sober me up. They never talked about THAT ability in any of the songs.”

“I mainly use that trick on the elves. Cute little guys, but can’t hold their liquor. Sometime remind me and I’ll tell you the story of the Christmas Eve Party of ’68. Ho Ho Ho!”

“Lovely. Then of course I also found out you’re bulletproof.”

“Oh my, I almost forgot about that! No, you can’t kill Santa with a semi-automatic, Harold.”

“Or a double-barreled shotgun.”

“Or a grenade. Boy, was your house a mess. I’m glad you gave that up when you met Kelly.”

“Dammit, Santa! Can’t you at least show yourself to her? If I tried to tell her about this without proof I’ll end up divorced.” Harold spread his hands pleadingly.

“Ho Ho Ho! No can do!”

“Then how about at least leaving a gift? 25 years being stalked by Santa Claus and I’ve never actually received one lousy present! Come on!”

“Now Harold, Santa exists because little children all over the world believe in him. If I left proof that I was here all that would be over.”

“Then can I at least get a ride in your sleigh for once?”

“Nope, sorry, that’s for official Christmas business only.”

“You know what, Santa?”

“What’s that, Harold?”

“Santa Claus is an asshole.”

Santa’s belly rocked as he laughed. “Ho Ho Ho! A man has to have his hobbies, even a magic one like Santa. Now give Santa one of those beers, and I’ll be on my way.” Santa reached behind the chair and took a beer.

“Don’t let the chimney hit you on the ass on the way out.”

Santa pinched Harold on the cheek, who this time didn’t resist. “You’re such a kidder, little Harold! Now be a good little boy, because Santa Claus will be watching! Bye bye, now!”

Harold watched morosely as Santa turned towards the fireplace and faded from view. As soon as he vanished, Kelly began to stir in her chair.

“… if you won’t talk to me… Hmmm… expect me to understand why you hate this day of the year so much.” Kelly looked around sleepily.

“I’m sorry, Harold,” Kelly said, getting up and stretching. “Look, I didn’t mean to fight about this.”

Harold sighed and set down his beer. “It’s okay. I’m sorry I made you upset.”

“Don’t you worry about it! Everyone in the world is entitled to their little quirks, even my Harold Goldstein.” She gave Harold a quick hug.

Harold wiped away some tears with the back of his hand. “You’re right,” he said. “Let’s go light the Menorah.”

~ end ~

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]