Celebrating Christmas, for Better or Worse
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Everyone seems to be dissatisfied with some aspect of Christmas these days -too commercial, too sectarian, too something. At least that's what commentator Adam Gopnik thinks. He's a writer for The New Yorker magazine. And Gopnik claims to be the last happy holiday man.
ADAM GOPNIK: There's a war underway, we're told, a war over Christmas. Not long ago here in New York, on the subway, someone's pointed, merry Christmas, was answered by another commuter's defensive, happy Hanukkah, leading to an altercation, ended only by an accompanying Muslim who broke it all up, which would be the nicest story of 2007 if one were not so sure that it would not become a movie of the week in 2008.
Well, I have a confession to make, which will put me on the wrong side of both sides or as many sides as there are on a three-cornered subway car. I like Christmas just the way it is in its mixed-up, basterdized, materialist, commercialized state. I say this, though I am a secularist of unbending nastiness and a Jew of unapologetic melancholy. For me, this time of year still seems as nearly magic as any time might be. I like all the things you're supposed to hate. I like the music on light F.M. I like the mall's Santas. I like the obviously phony piousness of Radio City rituals, and I even like the way that the football announcers are condemned to pretend to be sitting in their own living rooms rather than in an over-lit stadium.
There are many who have heard…
(Singing) I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus…
…far too many times - that voice like a factory whistle; that tune like a screech. But I have not. I would like to hear it again. I could hide behind my wife's impeccable Lutheran Icelandic background and shrug genially. It's her choice. I merely abide it. The role of Joseph, the passive dad, is always appealing. But it wouldn't be quite truthful. I find myself moved by the specificities of the holiday as we celebrate it here. And if were pressed to say why, it is because what we celebrate is an idea; that is the idea of the nativity, that the infinite idea, the permanent presence, the thing beyond all things might become the finite fact, the impermanent infant, the thing that wets itself at night, that kid in the corner.
These beliefs - in rebirth and renewal - are tied so deeply to the rhythm of the seasons and to the rhythms of human existence that we make within them that to render them up as mere ornament seems as inadequate to their measure as taking them on entirely as dogma seems insulting to their universality. The force of the holiday is that oppression can produce new births and that a light can go on in the middle of darkness.
No matter what subway car you're riding, it's a cheering, even a merry thought. To paraphrase another, well, defensive speaker, you go to war or towards peace with the Christmas you've got.
BLOCK: Adam Gopnik is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and the author of "Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York."
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