It’s Christmastime. How do I know? You can feel it in the air. People smile more, they’re nicer, they’re more polite, as they push and shove their way out of the Marriott Center after Devotionals and Firesides, like there’s a poison gas leak or something.
Christmas is a season of giving and sharing, particularly when it comes to illnesses. If only peace on earth and goodwill toward men were as contagious as a cold! Then the world would be a magical place, full of pixies and elves and candy canes, and houses would be made of gumdrops and taffy, and the streets would be paved with, I don’t know, some kind of good thing, or whatever.
The Christmas season means traditions, and lots of ’em. Traditions are important to us as a people, because without them, a lot of things wouldn’t be around. Bob Hope, for example. If you have ever seen one of those holiday specials on TV where he goes to entertain servicemen, you have noticed that he is a very good comedian except for one major flaw: He’s not funny. But we would all feel bad if we went up to Bob Hope and said, “Bob Hope, you are not funny, and, having been born after 1950, we are not aware of a time when you ever were funny.” It’s just sort of a tradition that we let him stay around.
So anyway, there are a lot of traditions that pertain specifically to Christmas that perpetuate things that probably don’t need to be perpetuated. Some of them affect my life personally, which is why I even care enough to mention them.
First, there’s the tradition of Complaining About the Cold Weather in Utah. My fellow Southern Californians and I like to perpetuate this one, and it just makes Utahns hate us more, which is unfortunate, especially around the holidays, when we should be loving and not hating. I have no problem with Utahns as a people, although I should mention that the next time I hear a Utahn refer to the world outside of Utah as “the mission field,” I will most likely strike that Utahn in the face.
No, it is just the weather here that I don’t like. And it’s not that I don’t like snow, either, because I love skiing and various other manly snow-related endeavors. I like snow. I like the ocean too, but I wouldn’t want to live in it. I like for it to stay where it belongs, and when I want to frolic in it, I go to where it is. I wish the snow would be as considerate as the ocean.
Sometimes you run into somebody from Alaska, which is located in Canada, where it is very cold 11 1/2 months out of the year. These people will brag about how back home, when it got up to 55 degrees, they took off their shirts and went swimming! To those people I say: Ha ha! You are freaks. Just because 55 is less cold than it usually is where you live doesn’t mean that 55 degrees is hot. You have got your sense of reality all mixed up, probably from eating too much whale blubber.
(Blubber. Maybe the streets would be paved with blubber.)
Anyway, another important Christmas tradition is Arguing Over Which Songs Are Appropriate to Sing in Sacrament Meeting. The real rule is that if a song doesn’t relate specifically to the gospel, or, even more specifically, to the Savior, it’s not appropriate for sacrament meeting. This means “Silent Night” is OK; “Frosty the Snowman” is not. It’s a simple rule to understand, and yet, as with so many other rules that are simple to understand, many people don’t understand it.
Every year, you’ll hear of some group singing that “Carol of the Bells” song. This is the one where the singers try to imitate the sound of Christmas bells. It starts with some women singing (and I am paraphrasing here), “La la THE BELLS! La la THE BELLS! La la THE BELLS! La la THE BELLS!” And then some men say, “Ding… Dong… Ding… Dong,” and then everyone is going, “Merry, merry, merry, merry ding-dong, merry, merry, merry, merry ding-dong.” It’s a cool song, but it has nothing to do with anything even remotely religious, and yet it gets sung in wards all over the country, and perhaps even in Alaska.
It’s ironic that the purpose of sacrament meeting EVERY SINGLE WEEK is to remember the Savior, and yet during the time of year when He should be remembered the most, sacrament meeting gets filled with songs that having nothing to do with Him. Of course, many of the TALKS throughout the whole year are irrelevant. You’re especially used to hearing nothing about the Savior if you go to a lot of missionary farewells, where the purpose is for the family to congratulate themselves and revere their son or daughter who is going away, and maybe, if there’s time between anecdotes about how young Chad was always kind to his sisters and treated neighborhood pets with respect, say something about the gospel. If there’s time.
Oh, and be sure to encourage the congregation to skip Sunday School and go to your Open House, too, where they’ll be expected to eat from the vegetable tray and give you some money, sort of to congratulate you for having a child worth sending on a mission.
It would appear that I have gotten away from my thesis, which is that missionary farewells are stupid. No, wait, that’s not it. My topic was Christmas traditions, and frankly, I’ve gotten so far off track now that I don’t even feel like trying to get back again. I’ll fire up a flare; you send for help. Merry Christmas.
This is sort of like those special "holiday episodes" of your favorite TV shows. It's just like a regular episode of "Snide Remarks" - full of random tangents and diatribes and ultimately amounting to very little - only with a semi-important religious/Christmas twist to it.
I recall the editor of the special Christmas issue this appeared in telling me she had a difficult time coming up with a headline for this column because it covered so many topics. That made me proud. (She eventually went with "Christmas memories come in many shapes, sizes.")
The hardest part of this column to write was the part where I had to describe, on paper, what "Carol of the Bells" sounds like. In person, I could just sing it to you, of course, but in the newspaper, I had to explain it. The actual words are NOT "merry, merry, merry, merry ding-dong"; however, that is what my parents always sing when they perform in choirs that do this number. As a result, my parents cannot sit near each other during choir practices, because they invariably make each other giggle by intentionally singing "merry, merry, merry, merry ding-dong."
I take a pretty conservative, hard-line stance on sacrament meetings here. I get upset when false or stupid doctrine is taught in Sunday School classes, or when people give talks that are nothing more than a string of jokes and anecdotes. I think people were thrown off to discover such conservativism from someone they had previously pegged as "cynical," but there you go. I'm a mystery, baby.