In Lethal Weapon, Gary Busey as "Joshua," a crazed assassin working for ex-CIA drug smugglers, sprays a television set showing A Christmas Carol with bullets and says the line which I've chosen as the title for today's article:
Dec. 23, 2003
Yeah, it's an empty season for me these days.
Being agnostic, Christmas never held any religious significance to me. When I was young, Santa Claus ably stepped in for Jesus Christ (who was a no-show), and I became reasonably familiar with the mythos of Santa. He lived in the North Pole, he carried toys to all the boys and girls naughty or nice, etc.
When I was five years old, however, I snuck into the closet and found a low, wide cardboard box full of little green army men. The cardboard box was an empty Budweiser box. Probably picked up from a liquor store, since mom didn't drink.
Sitting there in the closet looking at the flat, open, used beer box full of
hand-me-down toy soldiers in the beat-up apartment we lived in Anchorage, I suddenly realized that there was no Santa Claus, because Santa Claus was a magic being who wouldn't drop off second-hand soldiers in beer boxes. I also realized and that my mother and I were poor.
That you have had no money, no God, and no Santa does not necessarily mean that there is no magic in your life. While I had been forsaken by Heaven, the North Pole, and the Federal Reserve, I could still have magic -- I fell in love with the lights and sounds of Christmas: Red ornament balls, waving strands of silver tinsel, clarion notes from brass instruments, children's voices raised together in chorusing, snow crunching underfoot.
Even when we moved from Anchorage to Northern California, where snow fell for exactly one day out of the year and did little more than muddy the roads, I would smell fresh snow and feel it crunching
underfoot when Christmas season came nigh.
I fell in love with invitingly non-denominational tales like A Christmas Story and soft-sell Christian fare such as A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life.
When I was older (and could afford it), I shopped long hours, agonizing over gifts for my mother and toys for myself, wrapping whatever I bought with care.
When I married at 21, the Christmas tree became my own personal version of the male BBQ. I had a special technique for lighting my tree -- I'd start at the base and wind the string of lights around the trunk, then wind the string out along a branch, then back along the same branch, around the trunk again, and then back out another branch. This technique usually took about two hours for a five-foot-tall tree, and about 600 feet of light. It looked incredible, though -- even if it dried the tree to a crisp inside of five days.
When my wife and I separated after three years, Christmas hadn't changed at all -- I still watched It's a Wonderful Life and bought gifts and walked around the shopping malls to see the window displays.
Something happened in 1999. It wasn't a big deal -- I was living at home with mom, and my mother's uncle (about 79 at the time) was there too. We stayed out of each other's way: He watched Japanese soap operas and I messed around on the computer. But just as something happened, something else did not.
It was mid-December before I realized that Christmas was once again nigh. I consciously realized this and thought about it -- I could see the rows of Christmas decorations in the supermarket, the lots full of trees...
...so why couldn't I feel Christmas when it was so obviously here?
Something had happened. I didn't necessarily miss Christmas. But I missed wanting Christmas; being eager to get a tree; thinking about presents for friends and family; craving eggnog; hearing Christmas carols and the Nutcracker Suite.
It didn't take long to figure out what had happened -- I'd stopped watching television.
I was no longer getting the cues from the weather guy on the evening news wearing a Santa hat, or advertisements on KQED for a showing of It's a Wonderful Life sans commercials. No ads for Macy's. No "Season of Sharing" stories. And with that, I'd lost touch with "The Christmas Spirit."
Christmas wasn't something that merely existed, wasn't a kind of "magic in the air" at all. No, it was an artificial construct built on a platform of advertising, with the crass goal of generating revenue. It's a Wonderful Life DVDs. Talking Elmo dolls. Touched by an Angel charm bracelets. "Piece of the true cross" pendants. Literally mountains of crap, dependent on this manufactured air of giving and sharing, caring and buying, loving and needing, guilt- and obligation-based purchases.
Now, as Christmas approaches a-fucking-gain, I find my thoughts drifting back to Joshua, the murderous ex-CIA mercenary, gritting his teeth and blasting the scene of Tiny Tim and Scrooge's heart-warming embrace to hell and the angry curse he snarls at the sparking, smoking, bullet-ridden mess:
Goddamn Christmas indeed, my friends. Goddamn Christmas indeed.
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