christmas

Happy Easter

It’s happening again.

 

It’s worse at the end of the year, but it happens now, too.

 

“Happy Easter!”

“Happy Easter?”

“Happy… Sunday?”

 

Every time there’s a religous-themed holiday, someone inevitably complains. Yes, there are the complaints about commercialization, or the True Meaning of [Fill in the Blank], or how the day brings out the worst as people horde over slightly-underpriced doo-dads. But I’m not talking about those.

 

I’m talking about the paired complaints: “I wish they wouldn’t wish me Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever,” and, “Why can’t I wish people Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever without someone biting my head off?”

 

I mention “Christian” holidays above, because they’re the ones I hear most about. But I have no doubt there are similar arguments about Kwanzaa, or Diwali, or Vesak, or any other holiday that has a deity (or two or three or more) at its center – or at least at its genesis, since that argument that the once-Holy-Days have converted to nothing more than “Retail Day #7” or “Buy Overpriced Roses Day” certainly has some merit.

 

I digress. Sorry. I do that. Squirrel!

 

In all seriousness, though (yeah, like that’s possible for me), I hate this argument, this “Respect my religious holidays vs. “Respect my lack of faith/belief/interest in your religious holidays” dispute. Because it makes it about belief, and in so doing, it utterly misses the point.

 

Yes, the holidays have the beliefs themselves as their basis. Though you don’t have to believe in Christ to celebrate Christmas – at least in the trimmings: presents and cocoa and a wonderful excuse to be nicer to each other – you can’t have Christmas without Christ. You can’t have the holiday without its history. You don’t have to ascribe to the stories, but they’re there, and without them you don’t get the holiday – package deal.

 

Similarly, you can run around pelting people with colored powder, exchange gifts, and enjoy some of the greatest food of your life no matter what you believe… but that doesn’t change the fact that Diwali doesn’t exist without its history, without its god-stories of Krisha and Vishnu and King Rama.

 

Easter, of course, is the same. I love Cadbury Eggs, and that enjoyment is completely separate from whether or not I believe that one day a tomb was empty because its inhabitant had risen up and ascended to Heaven. But without that ascension story, Cadbury Eggs probably wouldn’t exist (and the world would be all the poorer for it).

 

Now, note that I call these things “stories.” I mean no offense to those who believe them – I’m a believer myself, and will be celebrating Easter this Sunday with egg hunts and food and family, but also with time in church, time in prayer, time talking to my children about what Easter means to us.

 

So no, calling them “stories” is not an insult. On the contrary, it’s a compliment. Calling them “facts” would actually lessen them in certain respects, because facts are what control our lives, seen or unseen, believed or not… but “stories” are what we choose, what we as humans have that is separate from every other creature. Every animal – every bit of matter, for that matter (see what I did there, ha!) – is governed by “facts.” By the realities in which we exist. Perhaps those realities include this God or that, or none at all… debating that isn’t the point of this essay.

 

Stories, though… if facts provide the framework, then stories provide the potential. Stories are what we choose to believe, and in so doing, point us toward what we hope to become.

 

And that’s the point of “Happy Easter” or “Merry Christmas” or whatever Holy-day that enters a greeting. It is about a story.

 

Stories are wonderful things. They entertain, they enlighten. But at their heart, the greatest magic they weave is this: they create communities.

 

An example – and please trust me, I actually have a point to all this, ya just gotta bear with me and pay close atten – SQUIRREL!

 

Sorry, where was I?

 

Right. Example.

 

Picture this: I’m in line for the newest Marvel movie. Behind me is a 15-year-old girl. Suddenly, I whip around and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think Iron Man’s gonna DIE in this one?”

 

What does she do? In all likelihood, she’ll respond with a good-natured laugh, and then her own personal fan-theory about what’s going to happen; maybe something she heard about the plot on the internet. Someone a bit down the line will shriek, “Spoiler alert!” when she does that, and everyone laughs.

 

Okay, now picture this: In an alternate universe where everything’s the same, only here I’m in line at McDonald’s. Suddenly, I whip around to the same 15-year-old girl, and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think they’ll ever bring back the McRib FOR GOOD?”

 

What does she do? In all likelihood, she laughs nervously, says, “Uh, maybe?” and then steps back a pace or two while covertly getting ready to hammer 911 onto her phone before the coo-coo can eat her face off.

 

What’s the difference? Same people. Same middle-aged guy and same teenager. We’re standing just as close to each other in both situations; we’re even wearing the same clothes, for crying out loud. So why the disparate reactions?

 

 

[continue to the rest of the article…]

 

 

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

Happy Easter (part 2)

The answer is simply this: because there is no story associated with the McRib. Sure, you might like it or you might hate it, but there’s no group-fable about the origin of the McRib, its slow ascent from the Barbecue Pit of the all-knowing Ronald McDonald, and its return to that savory underworld to bathe itself in the Sweet River of Semi-Sauce.

 

Marvel, on the other hand, does enjoy that group-story status. No one is claiming that Cap and Iron Man and the others are really gods (well, maybe a few weirdos at a Comic Con or two), but they are well-known enough and popular enough that they have become an indelible part of our lives. Their stories have permeated our culture, and our beliefs in regard to them define us, at least in a small part. If you doubt this, try posting “Marvel sucks” on a major internet forum and watch the near-genocidal war that begins as the DC vs. Marvel armies mobilize.

 

So… stories. Remember when I said that they create communities? That’s tremendously important, because it means that they define our friends and our enemies.

 

Do you know who is an American (or Paraguayan, or Ibo, or anything else)? It’s not really someone who lives in the U.S., or someone who holds a legal citizenship, or any of the political responses – there are exceptions to all of them that make those unworkable as a definition. No, what makes someone an “American” is that that person believes the same stories as the other Americans. They believe this is the greatest country on earth, or we have the greatest freedoms, or our healthcare sucks. They even believe the patently false stories, like that one about George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope.

 

We believe the stories… and anyone who doesn’t isn’t “American.” Anyone who doesn’t isn’t part of our tribe.

 

Anyone who doesn’t… is a potential enemy.

 

Sounds awful stark when you put it that way, but it’s true. Beliefs are our most prized possessions, so anyone who shares a different one – or even worse, actively seeks to denigrate or destroy ours – is at best a potential threat, and at worst a current target of attack.

 

Stories create communities. Stories forge bonds. Stories determine whom we accept, whom we reject; whom we love, and whom we hate. Because the stories are us.

 

Now here’s the thing, the point of this whole article: the stories are also how we invite others to be a part of us. Think about it – in high school, you gather with your friends and giggle or complain about what the teacher did, what that other kid said, why your parents are bigger jerks than her parents. At work, you gather around the water cooler to gossip. You meet someone new, and immediately you ask, “So what do you do?” or “Where do you go to school?” or any of those questions meant to elicit a story. Then you tell your own story, and now you have a shared set of stories – the creation myth of your own little clique.

 

How does it relate to “Happy Easter”? It’s because if someone says, “Happy Easter” (or, again, “Diwali” or “Kwanzaa” or “Day of the Festival of the Great Deity of Sesame Street” or anything they view as a religious greeting), they are not saying, “Believe what I believe” – no person, no matter how religious or how naive, believes in conversion-by-greeting.

 

What they are saying is, “I like you. I value you, either as a friend or just a fellow human with whom I share this world. I want you as a friend, and so I extend my most precious stories to you. You don’t even have to accept the story; the fact that I offered you something valuable and though you did not accept it for your own, you treated it with care and respect, is enough to create our own story, you and I: the moment I said I loved you, and you said you loved me back.”

 

It is not about forcing a belief on someone – at least for the overwhelming majority of us. It is just about the story of me, and what I see as the story of you, and the possibility of creating the story of us.

 

I believe in stories. I believe in communities. I believe the best tribes are the most inclusive, and I hope someday all of us will be included in that one Great Tribe of friendship. Not full agreement, not even full peace. But the recognition that we are all brothers and sisters, and fight as we might, we will be family at the end.

 

So, to you all, I say, “Happy Easter.” Because that is part of my story, and in saying it, I hope that this moment can be the first part of ours.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com

A Very Merry (Scary) Christmas

It’s an age old story.

Everything’s blissfully quiet. You settle down for a long winter snooze after putting on your coziest winter jammies. Then… a clatter atop the roof! You jump out of bed and run to the window. To see Santa and his reindeer above you! And then…

Santa PULLS OUT HIS MACHETE/CHAINSAW/MACHINE GUN COMBINATION AND MURDERS YOU!

Oh… did I forget to mention that before going to sleep you were banging your teenage girlfriend like a kettle drum while your parents were away on business? And that both of you were smoking weed? And drunk? And probably were mean to the mousy girl who manages to be both quiet and a bit disliked, and spunky with a definite will to win?

Yeah, I musta forgot to mention that. Because if I had, you would have seen the Santa-murder thing from a mile away.

Now listen, I’ve already talked about the fact that Santa is a vaguely creepy guy, as well as possibly being a bigot. But what I haven’t talked about is (coincidentally) the very thing you were going to ask Santa this year when you go and sit on his lap*: the intersection between Santa and horror movies.

There are a lot of ’em. The fairly recent Silent Night, about a psycho Santa with a flamethrower. The older schlock-classic Silent Night, Deadly Night, about an abused child who grows up and dresses like Santa so he can murder some nuns (seriously). Silent Night, Zombie Night, about… well, you can probably guess that one.

And this year we have another entry: the horror-comedy Krampus, about Santa’s evil opposite.

All of them have one thing in common: they didn’t do that well in the box office.

Why? A lot of them are well-received by the horror community, many of them making people’s horror “top ten of the year” list. Many develop cult followings over the years.

So why don’t they make big bucks at the b.o.? Why the tiny splash instead of the surging tsunami that will inspire people to dress up as Bloody Santa, the Christmas Killer next year?

I think it boils down to this: most of us still hold some things as sacred.

Wait, don’t jump to conclusions. Lemme ‘splain.

Christmas brings a lot of things to mind: presents, family, friends, parties, and (if you’re religious, as I am) a baby in a manger. But one thing it doesn’t bring immediately to mind is memories. Not even specific ones, but more a vague remembrance of Christmases past, of good times tinged with the sepia tints of happy memory**. We remember, at least subconsciously, the times of our youth, when we didn’t really know or worry about bills, about relationships, about work, about the millions of cares that press out much of our hearts once devoted to joy.

And then a Christmas horror movie comes along and attacks those foundations. And most people don’t want that. Some can’t even handle it.

Horror is, when at its best, subversive and/or moralizing. You only have to look at Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, with its commentary on commercial America; or even the first Saw, which beneath a gory surface told a story of priorities — of the importance of cherishing what we have. But as dark as horror becomes, we shy away when it does violence to our foundations. It is all right to question society, to posit that we are not where we should be.

It is another thing entirely to say, “Where you came from isn’t safe. The memories you base happiness upon is a lie. Santa isn’t really real — because a constant of our mythology and our culture is his everlasting goodness, and that goodness can be perverted.”

And we just don’t like that. Sure, there are horror junkies who will watch anything “horror.”: torture porn, weird movies from Eastern European countries, Justin Bieber videos. Those are the ones who accept the stories right off. But then the movies generally drift into obscurity. Even cult classics tend to become such not because they are effective horror, but exactly the opposite: because they kinda suck. And those cult classics only garner their largest audiences when time has stripped away any horror the movie once had and allowed it to become a joke. Doing a shot every time Santa says, “You can guide my SLAY tonight” right before impaling someone with a reindeer horn.

There are those who will watch. Who can get past the damage the movie seeks to do to underlying assumptions and necessities of our reality.

But, for the rest, the movies just don’t work. Because even in a world grown more and more cynical, less and less sure of anything… it seems some things are still important, some things are still sacrosanct.

Some things are — dare I say? — still sacred.

Merry (scary) Christmas.

* This, by the way, is getting out of hand. It was one thing to do this when you were a kid. But now, as a grown-up, you’re making it weird. And the buttless chaps don’t help.

** If your memories aren’t sepia, then you just aren’t a good person. And no, your color blindness is NOT an excuse.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

Santa Claus: Christmas Terror

It’s my favorite time of the year. The wind is blowing, I look absolutely fabulous in a variety of amusing sweaters, and the tiny children who ride past my window on their bicycles have gone into hibernation for the winter. Also, I had most of them killed for riding past my window.

The other thing I like about this time of year is obvious: it’s coming up on Christmas. Now, for those of you who don’t understand why I like Christmas so much, all I can say is that you’ve obviously never had the opportunity to go Christmas caroling with my family. And for those of you who have had that opportunity, all I can say is I’m sorry. And ask you to please re-think the restraining order.

Tempering my enjoyment of the time of year, though, is the fact that I’m away from my family. Not far away, or even away for a super-duper long time. Just far away enough to make me realize how sad I would be if I were farther from them. And how happy I would be to be closer to them. And how much the same I would be if I were exactly the same distance from them as I am right now.

Because Christmas is a time for family. For friends. For presents.

Ah, presents. The reason for the season. I mean, what says Christmas like a bunch of shrieking middle-aged yahoos* body-checking each other like members of the Federal Prison Hockey League** in order to save thirty dollars on an Xbox 360? What says Christmas like folks going to office parties where they will proceed to get completely blasted and act like shmucks in front of the people whose respect they depend on in order to function on a daily basis?

When did Christmas become more about Black Friday than about Silent Night? When did Christmas become more a day to grab-grab-grab than a day to give-give-give?

Of course, there are obvious culprits. People or entities*** who have become easy scapegoats to blame for the commercialization and denigration of “the most wonderful time of the year.” Like Walmart, or the “liberal media,” or Selena Gomez.

But it’s not Walmart’s fault. And it’s not the fault of the “liberal media.” It’s probably at least somewhat the fault of Selena Gomez, but that conspiracy is so deep that I dare not speak more of it, for fear that hordes of Disney Channel Security Minions will appear at my door to drag me away and bury me next to Walt’s cryogenically frozen head.

So whose fault is it (other than Selena Gomez’s)?

Simple: it’s Santa’s fault.

I mean, think of it: we teach our children to wait with baited breath for a giggling fat guy who sneaks into people’s houses while they sleep and rearranges stuff. Don’t get me started on the fact that he clearly suffers from some kind of weird reverse discrimination (“You must be ‘this’ short to work here”), and that he ranks up there with the cruelest of all pet owners (“Yes? ASPCA? Is it a problem if I force my animals to drag my way-heavy toosh to several billion locations on a single night?”).

Excited for Santa? This sounds like the kind of person we should teach them to call 911 about.

But worst of all is the simple fact that Santa teaches us to wait for presents to come. The first Christmas wasn’t about people waiting for a guy with a thing for fur-lined crushed velvet outfits to come along and drop things underneath a tree we killed for the occasion.

The first Christmas was about a group of shepherds, who left their livelihoods behind to take a trip that would improve their lives.

The first Christmas was about a small family making do in a horrible situation, and somehow finding a way to make it all work.

The first Christmas was about a boy who left his father’s home and went to a strange and hostile place where he would be taunted, tortured, and eventually killed… and did it on the off chance that he could make the people there better.

Christmas isn’t about Santa. It isn’t about presents. It isn’t about waiting for the gifts to come. It is and always has been about going out and finding what needs doing, and doing it. About finding beauty, and elevating it. About giving of our selves instead of our stuff.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. Because it reminds me how far I have to go. But leaves a star behind to light the way.

* Not to be confused with “Yahoo!” Please don’t sue me, internet giant!
** I would totally watch those games.
*** Entities is a funny word. It makes me think of an alien making love to a Sasquatch. Because that’s the way my mind rolls.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice