Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Humbug

I do like Christmas on the whole.... In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But it is clumsier every year. ~E.M. Forster

In today's edition of “My god! Did someone actually say that?”, we have a teacher in New Mexico who, finding a black student dressed as Santa Claus said, “Don't you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?” Needless to say, there were repercussions, suspensions and apologies all around and a veritable Internet feeding frenzy, which aside from scanning the one article, I have avoided reading. So I can't say who, if anyone, defended the teacher, who made it into another “war on Christmas” issue, or who wanted the teacher's head on a platter.

Frankly, I was going to ignore the whole thing. But it just wouldn't go away. See, this teacher was wrong on so many levels that I couldn't stop thinking just how typical of our society this was.

First, the statement was ridiculously racist. Second, it was totally insensitive. Third, and most important, it was a demonstration of how the spirit of Christmas has eluded the majority of people in this country (and probably most of the world that celebrates the holiday).

I think it was during the late Jurassic period, when I was around seven years old when I began wondering about this whole Santa Claus thing. After I began asking some probing questions, my mother decided it was time to break the news. I don't recall the word-for-word of it all, but the gist of it was that Santa Claus was a representation of what Christmas was about, the spirit, if you will, of Christmas. So all these representations of him we saw were just a way to remind us that it was a season of good will and giving. Of course, there was also the spirit of getting, but she played that down.

But her thinking was great. The whole thing, from St Nicholas down to the jolly old image foisted on us by Coca Cola was about a season where we put aside the petty and thought of others. Charles Dickens, of course, put it all into words we could understand in A Christmas Carol, a story that doesn't involve Santa at all, but does involve keeping Christmas in the heart the year round.

There's no telling whether the New Mexico teacher has ever seen A Christmas Carol, but, if he did, he didn't get it. The Spirit of Christmas does not come in a specific color or religion. It isn't about what Santa looks like or sounds like. It's about a feeling, a feeling that is drifting away from us. Ebeneezer Scrooge, before his awakening, would have found nothing wrong with working retail store employees on Thanksgiving to rake in early sales. He would have applauded the store that asked people for food donations for their employees rather than paying them enough to survive. Well, maybe not: “Are there no prisons?...And the union workhouses, are they in operation?Not enough to eat? Get another job, you slacker!

One thing that took me a while to understand was why Scrooge was so upset at seeing his own grave. Did he think he would live forever? No, that wasn't it. What terrified him was that he would die alone and unloved. He wouldn't even be hated; those he had wronged would simply steal his bed clothes and valuables and sell them then forget him. Alone, unloved, forgotten, a most pitiful way to die.

That's what it takes to shock Scrooge, to turn him into a man who kept Christmas in his heart year round. And that Scrooge, I think, would not care that a black kid might dress up as Father Christmas.

It would be nice if the teacher got that point.  I doubt he did, but, hey, it's Christmas.  One can always hope.

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