Season’s Bleatings

Christmas is a time of giving, a time of sharing, and a time of fudge. But it is also a time of quandaries and dilemmas. Christmas this year with my family was no exception, as we had our fair share of difficult decisions to make. I would like to share some of them with you here.

(Perhaps you’re asking why I’m talking about Christmas now, as opposed to last month, when it was still the Christmas season. To this I merrily respond: Shut up! Who asked you?)

My Christmas dilemmas, as jotted down during a part of the Christmas break when I felt particularly grouchy:

The dilemma over whether I should go to the mall. As I write this, I’m home for Christmas, and I still need a couple things. But it’s Dec. 23, and the LAST place I want to be at this point in the calendar is a Southern California mall. Lake Elsinore, Calif., doesn’t even have a real mall. It’s an “outlet center.” Outlet centers are just like malls, except all the stores are conveniently NOT located all together inside one huge building — which means that you not only get pushed and shoved while walking from one store to another, but you get rained on, too. Also, outlet centers are more expensive than malls, which is something I never conceived as being possible. Also, there’s no Santa Claus at outlet centers, nor any other thing even remotely symbolizing goodness, charity or kindness. Plenty of fat people, sure, and many of them with beards, but no Santa.

Here in Lake Elsinore, Calif., we are very proud of our outlet center (by “we” I of course mean “not me”). Since the rodeo moved out of town, it’s the closest thing we have to cultural refinement. People come from miles around to shop here, I guess because it’s trendy. Certainly not because of the low prices or the absence of white trash, that’s for sure.

The dilemma over who, at Christmas dinner, will have to sit next to the uncle who has stopped showering. I am not making this uncle up. He exists, and he stopped showering a while back. (Perhaps it goes without saying that he has stopped shaving as well.) Things kind of went south for him, and now he’s decided to stop showering. Well, I don’t know if he “decided.” Maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision. Maybe it just got away from him for a few days, and then he fell out of the habit, the way people stop jogging, or keeping a diary: “Oh, I really should start showering again. I was very devoted to it for 35 years or so, and then I got side-tracked, and whoops! Now I smell like a goat.” Whatever the case, it’s sort of sad, but it’s more funny, and it’s even more gross. I mean, he doesn’t shower. That’s, like, one of the most basic things we as humans do. At Thanksgiving, the rule was that whoever was not technically part of the family — for example, the fiancees — had to sit by him, but I doubt the fiancees will put up with that this time around.

The dilemma over whether to actually read the Christmas family newsletters we get in the mail, or just deposit them directly in the trash. You know these things? You get them from people you never hear from the rest of the year, and with good reason: You don’t care about them. Then they send out these long-winded form letters detailing all the family members’ so-called achievements for the year (“Bethany plays soccer!” “McKay is in Webelos!”), hastily wish you and yours a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and then get back to their lives. And to all this I say: Who cares? I mean, who really cares? If we were interested to know how young Brandon did in the pinewood derby, we would have been in touch back in May, when it happened. The fact that we didn’t send a card when Tammy graduated from Primary should be an indication to you that Tammy’s age-based accomplishments don’t mean much to us.

The dilemma over Christmas commercials I don’t like. I am a big fan of Santa Claus, and I mean the REAL Santa Claus: the fat guy who lives at the North Pole and makes toys. I do NOT mean the guy who is shown on TV commercials getting in shape, riding a motorized sleigh, talking on cell phones, or shopping at Radio Shack.

I also don’t like Christmas commercials in which religious Christmas songs such as “Silent Night” are turned into rock ‘n’ roll songs. Are we still supposed to think this is clever or cool, that someone has managed to write a rock arrangement of a Christmas song? Because it’s not impressive anymore. “Silent Night” has exactly three chords in it, as do most rock songs. All you have to do is convert it to 4/4 time, play it with an electric guitar, and bam! There’s your blasphemy.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the idea of playing a religious song in a rock setting that bothers me; I don’t think any genres of music are necessarily the “wrong” way to express religious sentiment. But these commercials always use the religious music but ignore the religious message. They use the music to represent generic “Christmas feelings,” and, what’s worse, they use it to sell things. I was shocked and appalled a few weeks ago to hear a rock version of “Silent Night,” which made me start thinking of the lyrics — which are about the baby Jesus and the angels that sang and the peace and salvation that were now on earth — and then realizing the song was being used in a commercial for a fitness club. I highly doubt the ad people WANTED me to think about Jesus when they played the music. They just wanted me to think about Christmas, and about how cool this gym must be for playing such a “hip” version of a sacred and meaningful holiday treasure. Franz Gruber, who wrote the song, would be rolling in his grave. In fact, at the resurrection, I hope he comes up throwing punches at the dozens of godless morons who deface his song year after year. Then I hope all those insensitive advertising jerks spend a few eons in Hades, where they are forced to listen to the version of “Jingle Bells” in which dogs are barking the melody. (I am certain that whoever recorded that song will also be there.)

Dilemmas, schmilemmas. I feel a lot better now.

I didn't intend it when I started writing this column, but it turned out to be quite grumpy. I even voluntarily removed a line for fearing of seeming TOO grumpy: When I'm talking about the family newsletters you get at Christmastime, I originally wrote, "Who cares? I mean, who really gives a crap?" I decided that not only was I pushing it with the word "crap," but I was also coming across as so overwhelmingly cynical that even I couldn't stand myself.

This was not the intended column for this week. For the third semester in a row, the first column of the semester was initially approved and then yanked before publication for reconsidering. The column in question here was set to appear the following week, but after much discussion, it was eventually not run at all (thus leading to the demise of "Snide Remarks" in The Daily Universe).

Apparently, this Christmas column here was a little too grumpy. Witness this letter to the editor, received a week later and printed (with slight editorial modifications to help it make sense) on Jan. 19:

Greetings to all of you who may read this sorry epistle. I hope that y'all had a wonderful holiday season! I call this letter a sorry epistle not just because of the poverty of my speech and the possible foolishness of my sentiment, but also because a certain sense of disappointment both prompted and accompanies it. This sense of disappointment arises from my perception of a growing tendency in our society towards irreverence. Many of the songs and TV shows that currently command the greatest success seem to be those which treat lightly the sacred subjects of sex and religion. When one thinks of Southpark, Beavis and Butthead, the Daily Show, etc., one can hardly deny the high degree of irreverent humor that they employ and which serves as the basis of their appeal. What a sad commentary on our society when that which makes something popular is expressly that which should make us eschew it. Brother Snider noted the disappointment that he felt when he heard sacred hymns treated lightly, and I agree with his sentiment. There is a certain irony involved here however because Brother Snider seems unaware that his own writings can themselves be understood as merely another expression of our society's tendency towards irreverence. I don't mean to imply that I am above this tendency, instead I am lamenting that I see myself as part of it. I sorrow that we find family and sacred holidays as material fit for making jokes and snide comments about. I'm afraid that it reveals us to be a society of light minded individuals who see everything around us as an opportunity for a joke

Edward R. Armstrong

Evidently, Christmas is a joyous, festive, happy, jolly occasion -- but not a time for jokes! Shame on me, sir. I suspect Brother Armstrong would have felt differently if he had been sitting next to Uncle Stinky.