By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
Whenever I visit another country, which my wife and I used to enjoy doing before we had our child (which is seven years before Covid hit, so I can only assume that the rest of the world still exists), I know I’m kidding myself to think that I understand anything.
I’m lucky if I can order from the menu, and that’s when I’m traveling in England, where I speak the language.
So I won’t pretend that I understand Christmas, either. It isn’t my holiday. I see it from a distance. Christmas Day comes, and my family eats Chinese food. We go to the movies. We sleep in. It’s nice.
For you, though– the general you, by which I mean my gentile friends and neighbors– I know it’s more than that. I know it’s a family thing, like Thanksgiving. I know it’s a religious thing, like Easter. I know it’s a social thing, like the Super Bowl. I know it’s a commercial thing, like — well, like Christmas. I know it’s all of those things.
I don’t take offense when people wish me a Merry Christmas, by the way; I don’t insist on saying Happy Holidays instead. But given how much is going on here, it makes some sense to use the plural. Merry Christmases, perhaps.
It must be tough sometimes, to have so many meanings packed into one day. I don’t envy you that. I like my holidays to be simpler. The damage is more limited with smaller holidays. It’s easier to survive when they end up going sideways.
I also know that Christmas hasn’t always been this way; nor is it this way for everyone, even today. The Puritans were not fond of this holiday; they neglected it pretty completely. You didn’t always have Christmas trees, either; that was a German innovation, that came to English-speaking lands through the British royal family’s German connections.
Christmas is big in Japan, where it has no religious meaning whatsoever; and it faltered in the Soviet Union, during Communism, which replaced it with a giant New Year’s celebration instead. And the whole thing was a Roman holiday to begin with, that the early church fathers decided to co-opt, when they couldn’t manage to stomp it out completely: the Saturnalia, a mid-December festival dedicated to good crops and the winter solstice. Christmas: it’s complicated.
This has been a terrible year. It is ending with illness mounting on all sides. It is ending with large segments of our population– large, unreasoning, hysterical parts of us– refusing to accept a vaccination against Covid because they suspect our federal government of ill will.
It is ending with Bill Barr resigning from the Department of Justice after nearly destroying its integrity, because he didn’t destroy it enough; he tried to be a good lackey, he really did. It is ending with the Russians having compromised our most important national computer systems, with damage still unreckoned. It is ending with China laughing at us; it is ending with Europe distrusting us; it is ending with Donald Trump fleecing his supporters in an attempt to maintain eternal control of what used to be the Republican Party.
It is even ending with our crackerjack-box-prize of a president still refusing to concede that he lost the last election; we can safely assume that he will spend Inauguration Day hiding in the basement, hoping that nobody will find him there.
And it is ending, as all years end, with many of my fellow citizens celebrating the birth of a single baby, more than two thousand years ago.
From what little I understand of it, the Christian faith sees that birth as heralding new times. From what little I understand of it, those new times are meant to be hopeful ones.
All babies are special, of course. As all new beginnings are hopeful.
Did they really know, when this one was born, what would come of it? Was it so ordained, that it would happen no matter what? Or did something come of it, because others believed, and made it so?
From a distance, this is what your holiday means to me, this year and every year: hard work for all involved.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and I hope you all join me in making this next New Year as hopeful as it needs to be.
Michael Davidow is a lawyer in Nashua. He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project. His most recent one is The Book of Order. They are available on Amazon.
InDepthNH.org takes no position on politics. The opinions in columns and op-eds pieces belong to the author.