How I love it. How, growing up, I looked forward to it. A ritual in our home — eyebrows glued to the cold windows as we drove up to the country Friday night, ogling all the Christmas trees and lighted eaves and elves along the way . . . watching March of the Wooden Soldiers with Laurel and Hardy (defeating the bogeymen!) and Amahl and the Night Visitors (opera a little slow for a 7-year-old, but my mother loved it) and, of course, most profoundly, It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol.
Decorating our tree Christmas Eve . . .
And then, oh boy oh boy oh boy! bolting out of bed at 6am — the presents!
God bless us . . . everyone.
It wasn’t a religious thing. By 10, I had figured out I was an atheist (which just seemed logical and reasonable and didn’t bother me a bit: there was no Santa Claus, and although there had been a Jesus whose awesome teachings we should rightly celebrate and seek to live by, he never literally walked on water).
It was a human thing. That yearning we all share to be our best selves, to help each other get through this miraculous — but, for so many, difficult — life with as much love and happiness . . . as little suffering and oppression . . . as we possibly can.
(Competing yearnings, of course: for power and dominance and . . . well, it’s a constant battle between the devil on one shoulder and the better angels of our nature on the other.)
(And, no, I don’t believe there are literally a devil or angels — not even George Bailey’s lovable Clarence. As the uneducated but wise Ugandan woman says to the young missionaries who, upon fully realizing how ridiculous the Mormon tale is if taken literally, have begun to lose faith . . . rolling her eyes and trying to buck them up . . . “Boys! Eeet eez a MEH-ta-phor!”)
These are the greatest stories ever told (here and here) . . . Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, leading our people out of bondage . . . Jesus dying for our sins, giving hope and solace — and guidance — to billions down through the centuries to this day.
And so I have always loved Christmas.
And yet . . .
Visiting friends for dinner the other night, I was jarred by their Christmas tree, my first of the season.
And jarred that I was jarred.
Why was I jarred?
Did it simply seem out of place against the backdrop of their modern art and furniture?
The wrong color scheme?
No, I think it’s that the President has politicized Christmas and added it to his own horrible brand, tainting it by association.
Beautiful, innocent, our-best-selves Christmas.
Was there ever “a war on Christmas?” No!
Was Obama born in Kenya, as Trump rose to power suggesting? No!
Is this “beautiful Christmas present of a massive tax cut for the middle class” — “that will cost me a fortune, believe me” — real? No!
It will just add to the gross inequality that is already tearing at the fabric of our country, and deprive us of resources to revitalize our crumbling infrastructure and care for the Tiny Tims whose health care we are reducing to pay for a reduction in taxes on the uber-wealthy.
Trump has used Christmas — Christmas!!! — to divide us further, to inflame the forces of white supremacy and intolerance, and I hate it.
He is a vulgar bully who — despite his love for “two Corinthians” and his three sacred marriages and his reverence for women (“nobody has more respect for women than I do — nobody“) — is the exact opposite of everything Jesus Christ asked us to be, the exact opposite of the spirit of Christmas.
My faith in that spirit, and in America — plus the happy gene inherited from parents who gave my brother and me so many magical childhood Christmases — lead me to believe “this too shall pass” and we will regain our footing. But it’s not guaranteed. Democracy did not last forever in Greece or Rome; nor in parts of Europe in the first half of the last century. And it lasted in Russia for about five minutes, subverted by Putin, who is now well on his way to successfully subverting ours.
Much love, guys. I appreciate your readership.