From the Prophet's Desk
I shall not argue for the purity of the holidays, for some sort of utopian Christian notion that it used to be all simple and lovely and beatific and that it has now been horribly corrupted by ruthless commercial interests, because the whole damned holiday has been commercially controlled for the past hundred years, and to suggest otherwise is to suck down one too many $5 Starbucks Eggnog Lattes and don the happy blinders.Because, you know, he's just sayin'..... And I'm just listenin'.
And I shall certainly not argue for the sanctity of the idea that Christmas is meant to celebrate the holy and glorious birth of Christ (an iPod-free renegade mystic who was actually born somewhere around July) or the idea that we should all be taking some sort of solace in our national generosity of spirit (a generosity that exists only if you're not, you know, gay or minority or Iraqi or Islamic or mentally ill), nor shall I even defend Christmas as a time of family togetherness, given how, for most people, getting together with family around the holidays is akin to having your fingernails yanked out by a chain saw in an ice storm, naked.
I shall not argue the benefits of buying less and using organic wrapping paper and purchasing gifts from local shops and shunning companies that support noxious right-wing agendas (that's another column). I shall not list funky alternative gift ideas to get you away from the commercial whoredom and more toward progressive sex-positive bliss and more toward helping infuriate the Christian right (ditto). Nor it is all about some shining notion of love and the brotherhood of man, though it's certainly true that the holidays are a wonderful excuse to have friends over more frequently and have great dinner gatherings and attend suspect office parties wherein you get to see your co-workers get totally drunk and flirtatious and in wholly refreshing contexts that make them appear interesting and sexy and more fully flawed and fleshed and weirder than you'd imagined previously. And that's usually a very good and fascinating thing.
But the holidays are also the time of bitter separations, of divorces and breakups and brutal family tensions, of severe loneliness and heartbreak and a very large increase in the intake of behavioral medication. Questions of family and money and love all come to a brutish head at this time of year, relationships are tested to the extreme, amplified by the fact that winter means you're stuck inside small buildings for long periods with people you may or may not be entirely sick of.
So here's the kicker: Just because all these holiday cliches of joy and togetherness and hope don't really hold, just because they're a little more bogus than we might want to admit, must we give in so desperately, so fundamentally to the real engine of the holidays, the all-devouring retail sector? Truly, every holiday-related news story from now till January focuses almost exclusively on the holy grail that is holiday shopping, on the health of the nation as it relates to how many people are signing their paychecks over to Wal-Mart -- and doesn't that seem horribly wrong and sad? Countless stories regurgitate sales data as if the only factor that mattered to the overall well-being of the human soul was how many Xboxes and iPods and cell phones and digital cameras and plasma TVs were moved this season, and whether you acted like a good American and added to your average of $8,500 of personal credit-card debt ($1.7 trillion total, nationally) from which most of you will never, ever recover....
Because here's the thing: Every year it seems as though we inch just that much closer to the edge, that much closer to the karmic realization that we long ago passed saturation, passed the point where all our needs have been met and we now merely create endless mountains of new stuff for needs we don't even really have, and you cannot help but feel we are caught in a mad downward spiral, spinning toward something that smells like apocalypse but tastes like chicken and feels very much like a revolution of spirit. Maybe that's it. Maybe this idea, much like being grateful to BushCo for proving that lies and pseudo-Christianity and warmongering and fiscal irresponsibility cannot last as a national agenda, is something to be cherished. All the mad marketing and all the product gluttony, they're all merely further indicators that we are just about ready to burst, to grow up, to snap out of it. This is the nice way to think about it. This is the positive view. Let us choose it now, because the alternative is bleak and dank and dismal and to face it is to face the idea that we are all just a bunch of greedy self-serving monkeys ever lured by the shiny and the new and the spiritually empty.