Everyone has a different moment to mark the beginning of the Holiday Season. For some it’s the day after Thanksgiving, for others it’s when they hear the first Christmas song on the radio, and for me it’s when I finish grading my student’s finals. When I turn those grades in, I know it’s time to shop, to wrap presents, to bake, and to rage at Christmas songs and televisions specials.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy this season—but I can’t bare the sentimental wholesome saccharin trash that crowd the airwaves. While we are celebrating the best of human behavior—charity, goodwill, and so on—we must not forget the darkness. Of all the songs that they play on the radio my favorite is “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” because it has a genuine sense of longing. The song is hopeful while admitting that happy endings are not always possible. Even the straight forward songs like “Here We Come A-Caroling,” where people are just having a good time are enjoyable.
No what I rage against is the emotional manipulative type of entertainment that is made to pull on the heartstrings, but does not have genuine emotions. The song that is most guilty of the is “The Christmas Shoes,” but others have dealt with this song better elsewhere. The film I associate with this emotional manipulation is It’s a Wonderful Life. Every aspect of Jimmy Stewart’s character’s life is manufactured in such away to pull your heartstrings. It starts out dark, but in the end everything is saved and everyone lives happily ever after. I’m left with the taste not of honest goodwill but something manufactured. Not that it is bad to like this movie, but to my palate it strikes me as artificial.
On of my favorite Christmas movies oddly is The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. First of all I love the Muppets, and secondly it got me to read Charles Dickens’s novella The Christmas Carol. From the first lines, “Marley was dead, to begin with,” I could not help but love this story. I can’t deny its sugar coated nature, but it honestly looks at the darkness. Christmas is not just time of joy and birth—it is always overshadowed by death and darkness. Also, I find stories of redemption more interesting than stories of the pure, perfect, and innocent hero overcoming adversity. In seeing the Christmases of Scrooge’s past, we learn why he hates it. All those holidays as a child spent alone and the one where his fiancé dumps him (even if he deserved it) is enough to turn anyone bitter. He is not just a mean old man who decides to be nice; he is a person who has been wounded learning to trust again. And the presence of Marley’s ghost reminds us that not everyone gets that second chance.
That said, I can’t stand Tiny Tim or his father. The fact that Tiny Tim wants people to see that he is lame so that they remember the meaning of Christmas, makes me think that child was always meant to die. Tiny Tim is not a real, and he can’t grow up to be a real person. No all he can do is look cute and pathetic, say inspiring things and die, so cynics like Scrooge and myself can learn the true meaning of Christmas. Mr. Cratchit is equally unreal. No human has enough goodwill to toast his abusive boss, unless he was suffering from some version of Stockholm syndrome. Of all the Cratchits, I can’t help but like Mrs. Cratchit, who is angry at Scrooge and wants to tell him off, like a real person.
During the Holidays we dream and hope. All of which is good, but let us not forget the darkness that accompanies it. Let us not delude ourselves. We will be haunted by memories this time of year both joyful and painful, but we must welcome them both.