Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas Commercialization's Pure Origins

I have made a terrible mistake, and it's time I apologized to my thousands of readers, esp. those who look up to me as a fount of unimpeachable wisdom, and to take full responsibility for my words (no actions were involved), and to undo with better words the bitter seeds I have cast into the wind like a professional athlete making it rain in a high-end gentleman's club.
Token kitten to attract viewers

My own recent research revealed -- just last evening after pork pie and tea -- that the gaudy and vulgar commercialization of Christmas -- even the odious capitalistic orgy of consumerism we call Black Friday -- began with the best, the purest, the most innocent of intentions, not unlike that moment when some indigenous American, no doubt a distant ancestor of Pocahontas herself, gave birth to the practice of sucking the smoke of burning tobacco into our lungs to seal a peaceful deal, a practice that eventually led to the death of 480,000 Americans a year.

But he meant well. His heart was in the right place. That old, old proverb was as true then as it is today: "Even a well-intentioned act may result in a major shit storm."

And now I learn the same is true for what seasonal scholars call the "Santa Clausification of Major Corporations."

This epiphany -- nay, revelation, more like it -- came to me not when I was taking the donkey express to Damascus, nor as I napped under the Bodhi tree, but in a dusty second-story room of a custom house while working on a scholarly essay entitled "Custom Houses: What Are They, Really?: A Hermeneutical Study of the Sources and Settings of Custom Houses and Their Use as Framing Devices in Nineteenth-Century American Literature."

Thumbing through a pile of fading, partially torn, lacunae-laced manuscripts, I happened upon one held together, scroll like, by only a partly sucked or licked candy cane. What caught my eye was the name of Our Lord (Jesus) following what appeared to be a first name comprised of three letters, the last of which was "y."

Cary Jesus? Toby Jesus? Moby Jesus?

My curiosity about Jesus' given name or forename or, if you will, Christian name, led me to carefully unfurl this possibly hallowed document. What follows is the sweet fable I found upon those sticky pages. 

The story's framing device is an old, old grandfather answering his four-year-old grandson's simple question: "Grandpapa, how did Christmas get like this, with bad traffic and meany drivers and everybody buying lots of stuff and mommy all stressed out and in a hurry?"

The grandfather, whose name is lost to posterity, responded thusly:

"Long, long ago, . . ."

"Grandpapa, this isn't going to rhyme, is it?"

"No, no, Twydmark. This is prose. Now let me continue. Long, long ago in a land far way, a land along the same mythic lines as Elysium, Brigadoon, Shangri La, Xanadu, Atlantis (but less soggy), Arcadia and Bithlo, there lived a CEO with an obsession so strong it bordered on being whatever is more than an obsession.

"That obsession was with the Baby Jesus and it began when the CEO was just a little girl, about your age, and her father, a lowly but respected wheelbarrow repair specialist, told her the Nativity Story he had stumbled upon (literally) in the gospel according to St. Luke, the beloved gentle gentile physician.

"She was so taken by the story that she entered the psychological state called 'fixation,' other examples being Lot's wife whose fixation made her literally the salt of the earth, and every lead character, male or female, in every Tennessee Williams play.

"Therefore, she could not bring herself to advance a single letter beyond the seventh verse of the second chapter of Luke. This good lady went to her grave with no knowledge of the parables, the Beatitudes, the walking on the water, the healing of the blind, the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection.

"So she never became a Christian, or any other religion for that matter, and never entered the arid, rigid, reductive arena of doctrine. Nor, for the record, did she ever marry nor did she consummate her love for another, male or female.

"But the Baby Jesus! My God! A tiny human, probably weighing no more than three kilos tops, in arguably the most precarious and vulnerable time of his life, still so close to the other world from whence he came, his tiny arms and legs tightly bound by swaddling clothes, providing warmth on a cold Christmas night (according to tradition) while allowing him no more freedom than Hannibal Lecter in full security garb, minus the garish mask.

"And how could the little guy's first resting place not be redolent of donkey and cow manure, not to mention the natural bowel and bladder evacuations of humans, including his mom and titular but not actual dad, with no plumbing available anywhere near the stable, and certainly not within walking distance?

"And what dismal prospects lay ahead for such an unfortunate son, what else but an unjust sentence to the unpopular side of a middle-school cafeteria and, throughout childhood, to be the least of these children of God?

"And those beautiful eyes that could not be his father's eyes, his father being of spirit and thus invisible, as was the seed issued from no tangible origin and then progressed unseen to the oocyte with help from a combination of thermotaxis, chemotaxis, motility hyperactivism, all the while obscured by a Harry Potteresque Cloak of Invisibility, until the divine seed finally found its home, fusing with the oocyte plasma membrane.

"Granted, Twydmark, some of this diction may be a bit obscure for a four-year-old, but it is far too early for me to explain to you in layman's terms (pardon the pun) the reproductive copulatory acts of human beings.

"So where was I? Yes, the woman's empathy providing vivid images of the little baby and its harsh surroundings, devoid of obstetricians, gynecologists, boiling water and Purell Hand Sanitizer, and she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart, and she kept them there, lo, even until she came of age and was promoted to CEO of a retail corporation.

"And in her first meeting with board members, investors and lawyers, she told them of her love for the little Baby Jesus, and told them why he owned her heart, elaborating on the poor kid's inauspicious beginnings.
Hugo van der Goes
"And her heart was full, and she wept intermittently, every two or three sentences, and she told -- did not ask -- her audience that henceforth the corporation would celebrate this baby's birth -- a baby so far down on society's ladder not a single newspaper, not even a weekly, referred to his no-frills nativity -- by lowering prices for families like the Christs (she had heard the expression 'Jesus Christ,' and understandably assumed Christ was Joseph's last name; scholars now know that is not the case), families who lacked the means to enjoy civilization's most basic necessities.
"She acknowledged to the squirming investors that, by God, their profits would take a hit, but try explaining 'profit margin' to a homeless baby surrounded by livestock droppings. She used her warm, gentle, nurturing woman's heart to touch the corporate dudes' practically nonexistent empathy, achieving this mini-miracle by threatening to fire them all on the spot if they resisted her compassionate and therefore alien plan. 

"'Someday,' she told them, 'We may even begin these sales before Thanksgiving. The poor are poor year round.'
"And verily, they did as she said, and thus began, with the most charitable and altruistic intentions, the Christmas season now trampled and scarred beyond recognition, beyond repair, Twydmark."

"I get it, Grandpapa! The illegible word was 'Baby'!"

Twydmark was right, of course, but this rambling parable surely offers a more profound truth. To plagiarize Bertrand Russell and invert his meaning, if we live in a world of rotten apples, we must assume a tasty ripe one is hidden in there somewhere, just as hope lay dormant on the bottom of Pandora's Box.

Goodness, good will, and generous solicitude may lie deep, deep beneath the surface of crass exploitation, greed and neglect. Thus, even our Great Nation's leaders, including the deranged one in charge, may well have a conscience and a heart, too small to be detected by either MRI or CT scan, but still capable of being kindled, perhaps by our tale of the CEO whose love of a helpless infant moved her to love all of humankind, even the unwashed, underpaid, underfed, underchurched and unattractive.

Just pondering that possibility cheers me up considerably. So long cynicism, hello hope and, to quote Saint Raymond Carver's parable of compassion "Fat," "Life is going to change. I feel it."


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