A few thoughts… on holy holidays

By Sandy Compton
Reader Columnist

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” asserts the song. The reference of lyricists Edward Pola and George Wyle and performer Andy Williams was, of course, to the Christmas holiday. The song was written in 1963 and recorded for the Andy Williams Christmas Album. It has some long legs. It’s still heard in stores as the annual runup to the “the holiday of giving” (and getting) spreads from its Black Friday sendoff. It’s been recorded by Garth Brooks; Harry Connick, Jr.; and J.Lo herself. Every time, it’s climbed the charts. Legs. Big legs.

The song seems completely unreligious. No mention of the Christ child, Bethlehem or the Wise Guys. Only one verse is sort of religious, but it’s also Halloweenish: There’ll be scary ghost stories, and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.

Maybe that stanza alludes to the legendary virgin birth that Christmas was invented to celebrate. And maybe it was like this when the idea was run up the Church flagpole: 

“I know,” someone said, 400 years after Jesus, “let’s make a holiday to celebrate Christ’s birth!”

“Hmmm. Good idea. What would be call it?”

“I know, I know! Christ’s Mass. But when should we celebrate it?”

“I know! Let’s co-opt the Roman Solstice holiday, when they celebrate turning back toward the sun. Get it? Son? Sun? The empire isn’t going to be around much longer anyway, right?” 

I’m making fun. But it is to a point. 

There are two humongous holidays in Christendom: Christmas and Easter. These celebrations of miracles (uh, oh! He’s talking about miracles again) are two of the biggest annual “Hallmark moments,” right up there with Valentine’s Day (another celebration of Christian origin, but we’re not going there now — check back in February). There are huge lead-ins to each: Advent and Lent are laden with special days, admonitions, requirements and prohibitions. Included are joy and sorrow, special decorations and dispensations, guilt and gilt, and a colossal dose of seasonal hullabaloo celebrating both — not to mention arguments about how to celebrate.

And don’t get me started on the secular celebrations. Oops! Too late. 

The social requirements, routines and rites for Xmas and Bunny Day are completely bizarre. If I were an anthropologist from another planet, I would be boggled by the variety of both traditions, furiously trying to record the myriad ways of having these big annual parties. At Christmas, there’s the light-up-the-neighborhood contest held nationwide in America, plus ritual overspending. The kerfluffle over Sinterklaas and Black Pete in the Netherlands. The “pooper” who sneaks into Catalonia nativity scenes. Mistletoe. Hasty pudding. Elf on a Shelf. Fruitcake! (Egads!)

Want to scare your children half to death without fruitcake? Introduce them to the Germanic Krampus, Santa’s not-so-little, really scary horned helper who snatches up misbehaving kids and threatens to beat the badness out of them. 

Come spring, there’s the Easter Bunny. Easter hats. Easter candy. Full-contact Easter egg hunts. Hot-cross buns. (It’s not all bad.) France celebrates with the world’s largest omelet. Sweden has Easter witches (freaking socialists, anyway!). In Florence, Italy, a big cart gets blown up by a rocket — launched by an archbishop, for Christ’s sake! (Hahahaha). 

These holidays have become like idols; bejeweled, filigreed with precious metal, called holy and bowed to. They stand on the calendar horizon, glowing like monstrous, golden billboards, calling us to kneel, sing, genuflect, pray, prostrate ourselves, confess and get out the credit cards. Like huge, ornate bookends that weigh as much as God Himself — or Herself or Whatever — they mark the allegedly miraculous beginning and end of the life of one person: Jesus. But… 

Here’s the “but”: 

Stuck between those incredibly glitzy bookends is a slim, brown volume; a tiny little book hardly big enough to be perfect bound, though it does have a spine. It’s bravely and humbly written, sometimes hard to figure out, and not as well-read as other more ornate tomes that weigh 20 times as much and say 20 times less.

I’m not sure of the divinity of Jesus. Maybe someday I’ll find out. In the meantime, the guy had some important things to say about how to live, how to get along with the neighbors, how to conduct oneself honorably, how to be a good friend, how to deal with the Spirit (it’s personal, you know), how to be. 

There are some these days — and there have been many others — who use Jesus’ name to advance some very un-Jesus-like ideas. Racism. Sexism. Exclusivity. Inequality. Xenophobia. Militance. They seem unfamiliar with that tiny book stuck between the big, shiny bookends. As we celebrate “that most wonderful time of the year,” they — and we — might consider taking a peek inside. 

Sandy Compton’s newest book, Her Name is Lillian, is also about miracles. Buy one for yourself and one for a Christmas present at the Sanders County Ledger, Vanderford’s, The Corner Book Store or amazon.com.

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