You know, Christopher Hitchens, although he is a Brit, is one of America’s greatest gasbags.  Over-inflated ego and sense of self drips from every word, whether he is fantastically wrong (his opinion on the Iraq war) or brilliant — as he was in his recent column about how the December ritual of holiday music and decorations has much in common with totalitarian regimes:

As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda is inescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor’s office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass-produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined “themes” have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader’s birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring. Time that is supposed to be devoted to education is devoted instead to the celebration of mythical events.

As I was reading this, the restuarant windows, from left to right, featured glass paintings of (1) Santa, (2) a candy cane, and (3) an American flag. Yikes. Hitch FTW, on this go-round.

Nevertheless: merry Christmas, happy Solstice, you beautiful cynics.

66 Comments

Just two more days until Festivus. The pole looks lovely this year.

@Signal to Noise:
I’ll pass at the airing of Grievances and feats of Strength (both Holiday Traditions at my house.)

Having told us that Hitch is a Brit you’ve pretty much got the whole gasbag thing covered. Goes with the territory, dontcha know.

@Signal to Noise: The local neighborhood business group set up a Festivus pole in the plaza where the farmers market is in warmer months. They even hired a “town crier” to air everyone’s grievances in dramatic fashion and had personal trainers from the local gym perform feats of strength. I’ll get some pictures of it for the holiday jam.

Neonazi vinyl siding salesman Rick Warren compares gays, tellingly, to foods you regularly stuff into ovens. Sieg Heil, baby!

http://steveyoungonpolitics.com/rick-warren-likens-gays-to-pizza/

@mellbell:
Adams Morgan Market on Columbia Rd. and 18th Street?

Although he annoys the hell out of me most of the time, I do love it when Hitch gets going on religion. I hate Xmas music with the intensity of a thousand white hot suns.

@Mistress Cynica:
The only thing I hate more than Xmas music is Xmas commercials featuring jangly music and children’s screeching voices/singing. Dante’s Circles of Hell have nothing on that auditory abortion.

@mellbell:
Heh. Many many years ago I lived east of that market in the ‘hood, back when it was still a ‘hood, and the market featured a lot of people selling third-hand clothes and old CDs, and the Green Line was just a rumor.

I’ll get around to posting a photo of a US American flag with Our Lady of Guadalupe in place of the stars on the stream and facebook.

@SanFranLefty: I hate those little piezoelectric musical things playing the monophonic screetches of Jingle Bells and etc, embedded into ties and whatnot. And children who play them on infinite repeat until the batteries are dead.

@rptrcub: “And children who play them on infinite repeat until the batteries are dead.”

Gah!
I refer to those children as “my birth control” – one of my favorite stores has a big sign up that says “Unattended children will be sent home with espressos and puppies” – add jangly holiday ties to that.

@Mistress Cynica: I have a real fondness for the old carols. The Holly and the Ivy etc. Not so much with The Little Drummer Boy.

And of course, in the old country, the pantos open on Boxing Day.

@SanFranLefty: To borrow an oldie but goodie from the days on Brand W, I’d say they’re janky ties.

That sign is far better than the “sold into slavery” ones I saw as a kid — in the 19freaking80s. They scared the shit out of me.

@Benedick: There is one called “Past Three O’clock” that I like. And the hymn “Of the Father’s Love begotten” just for the refrain “Evermore and evermore.” Of course, those don’t get played in elevators or retail stores or anywhere I’ve been except “high church” Episcopal services.

@Mistress Cynica: Oh, and “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” because it is soooo creepy.

@Benedick: The old carols were written to be danced to and have a wildness about them that I love.

I have to disagree, on the whole. Yes, a good amount of the music, decorations, and jangy ties are horrible, but that’s just an accurate reflection of the lack of taste of many Americans regardless of the time of year. And yes, there is an unavoidable religious angle to the whole holiday season, but Hitchens’ anti-religion rants annoy me just as much as the fundies’ anti-secularism or anyone else who defines themselves by what they are against.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels to other countries, it’s that America is sadly lacking in holidays and festivals. I don’t know if it’s a legacy of the Puritan settlers who were opposed to any form of celebrations or if it has to with the stupid capitalist idea that giving workers more than 10 vacation days a year was just hurting the bottom line, but our American culture only has one time of year when we, as a whole nation, take a break, change our routine, and yes, listen to the same music and observe the same iconography–Christmas.

Granted, the “season” has been corrupted and extended to the entire month of December and end of November (again, see stupid capitalist idea, as per above), but a geniune time of altering our behavior and gathering together to carry out traditions, some unique to our family or clan and some more widespread, is a rare thing here and shouldn’t be taken for granted. So I’ll grit my teeth through the annoying commercials and animatronic snowmen for the sake of having this.

And although I am a Christian and adore many of the advent hymns I get to sing this time of year (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, Once in Royal David’s City, and the haunting O Come O Come Emmanuel), I also think the growing Festivus movement is great and am happy to see an all-encompassing holiday that excludes no one continue to build up cultural cashe.

@ManchuCandidate: feats of strength are no longer a priority when one is stronger than all family members, but I still got a lotta problems with those people.

@mellbell: I must see these next weekend during the jam.

Whenever the “drink-soaked Trotskyist popinjay” hates on something, I am universally disposed to defend it. So, damn you, Hitchens, for making this agnostic feel like defending the gross spectacle of Christmas in any way. It’s all rather charming in its own way, and I know how to avoid the more annoying parts by now.

Although I will not stop hating on the mall chain jewelry ads, especially the Kay one with the deaf woman.

Exactly. You don’t have to listen to that stuff. But you can take the extra Monday – or whatever day or two the holiday affords – off to drink beer with your tribe in the parking lot of the American Legion Hall and sing obscene songs from your youth, or cook something that takes all day to make and serve it to friends or meet up with an old flame and observe the birthday of the saviour by shouting Jesus Fucking Christ over and over again while fucking on the roof of an abandoned factory while the snow falls all around or in the luxurious digs of your choice. You don’t have to bring a radio playing ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ to any of this.

@flippin eck: but a geniune time of altering our behavior and gathering together to carry out traditions, some unique to our family or clan and some more widespread, is a rare thing here and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

@FlyingChainSaw: Et tu, Chainsaw?
Fine, I’ll just retire to my Grinch cave.

@flippin eck:
My issue with holidays – not just Xmas – in the U.S. of ‘Merikah is that every fucking holiday has been commercialized. Corporate America has had the least success with Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, I think because it is now buried in between Halloween and Xmas crap. And I can’t stand the Xmas commercials, especially the annoying Lexus ad where the (obviously philandering) husband has the SUV with the red bow in the driveway for the wife. That makes me totally retreat to the Grinch cave with Mistress Cynica.

Guess I’ll have to figure out how to post “The Chickens are in the Chimes” on Thursday. It’s the most famous Stan Freberg song that isn’t a Stan Freberg song.

@SanFranLefty: Your hot toddy is waiting, fellow Grinch.
I always liked Thanksgiving best, too, until my best friend died just days before. After that I gave up on holidays, except of course my birthday, which is an international holiday in my mind. Speaking of, bonne anniversaire tomorrow.

@flippin eck: I love O Come O Come Emmanuel. Best tune ever. I played Scrooge in a play adaptation of you-know-what for four years and that tune was used very importantly and grandly and I adore it.

Alright, I confess. I bought green boughs and have them festooned downstairs. No lights or tinsel but the boughs are nice. I do it because of childhood Christmases. And much of the old legend is worth honoring. We gave up presents about 10 years ago and that makes the whole holiday much more pleasant. Apart from children and dogs no one gets anything.

The weird part about Xmas for me (an atheist) is that I don’t mind the religious aspect of it and that I hate the over-commercial part of Xmas. WTF? Yes. You heard me.

What really I hate is the fact that people go insane or stupid(er) at the mall (including me) which is why I have for the last 8 years done most of my shopping at the end of Oct. Makes me less humbuggy. Also avoiding the treacly saccharine commercials does as well.

Also in theory I like the family togetherness aspect, in theory. However, I’ve discovered that my immediate family can only take about 5 hours of family closeness before we start getting twitchy and open up on each other.

If Xmas were less about commercialism and more about more positive aspects of the religious holiday (family, giving, etc) then I wouldn’t be making early reservations at the Grinch cave with SFL and Cynica this time of year.

@ManchuCandidate: I can completely understand. I can listen to the religious songs (especially if sung in their original language, French, German, Latin, etc.) and deal with those aspects far better.

I found myself at a Christmas cantata/pageant tonight (humoring the grandparents, a Methodist one, not one of those higher-class Episcopal ones which you hear playing on NPR) zoning out, reading the Bible out of not wanting to see Joseph stumble painfully over his lines, and actually reading what the commie pinko Jew said. And I’m sure he’d want to puke if he saw what was going on, on many levels. Indeed, Jeebus wept.

@Benedick: I sing it in Latin to freak people out who aren’t used to it. Goes for singing Silent Night in German as well.

@ManchuCandidate: I’m with you. I am atheist/agnostic (I can’t commit to the stridency that atheism seems to demand) and I wish that Christmas were more religious. That’s probably why I’m fond of Hannukah and other Jewish holidays as a 1/8th Jew – they aren’t as commercialized and more into the original meaning of the holidays. My favorite carols are the religious ones, I can’t stand the Santa and Rudolph shit. Give me more manger and less North Pole.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the family dysfunction at Xmas

To totally geek out here….I had mixed emotions reading all of the First Amendment creche cases in Con Law – SCOTUS (or at least O’Connor, the controlling opinion) was of the “add a Santa and it’s not violating the First Amendment to put a creche in front of City Hall” and I found myself in the odd position of agreeing with Scalia’s logic in the cases (this is a religious holiday, don’t disparage it with a Santa) but not his outcome (but who cares, no harm no foul no 1st A violation, stick the creche up there).

ADD: Happy Hannukah to all the Jewish Stinquers! Fry up a latke.

Hey, today is the shortest day, or tomorrow, I know its one, and after this, each day gets longer. So we are celebrating the fact that light, and life is returning. And any fucking thing that makes people a little kinder, loving, more mindful, is OK with me.

SFL, commercialization ain’t nothing new, its why Jeebus threw over the money changers stalls at the temple. I think you can never be happy until you can just accept human nature with a sigh, and look beyond it.

Look, we are elites here, I can speak frankly. Most people are neither spiritually nor intellectually aware, on even a rudimentary level. On the 4th of July they are not going to have any notion of the principals the revolutionary founders fought for, or the meaning of the Constitution or Bill of Rights they created. The best they can do is wave a flag, light foreworks, and have a barbecue. On Christmas, they have no notion of the importance of the humility, forgiveness, and love that Jeebus preached, the best they can do is give Wiis and X boxes to each other and hang lights on the house.

What are you gonna do? Not everyone is aware, ya know? Lots of people are like highly gifted animals with the ability to speak. They are gonna live life on their level, I hope it makes them happy, is all.

I must own to being a huge fan of Christmas carols and songs. Even the religious ones give me warm fuzzies, because they remind me of going to midnight mass with my extended family in years past (which I of course hated at the time). Anyway, for this reason I was very happy to stumble across this collection. My favorites are the Sufjan Stevens song (from one of his many Christmas albums, I believe) and the Dismemberment Plan song. And flippin, they even have a Feist cover of Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming!

Oh, and thanks, Nojo, for making my grammar atrocity the quote of the day, the “while” was to be understood, internet posts, in the interest of catching the moment, can and should be compared to and held to the standards of telegraphese, is what I think. Fartig.

@mellbell: I love many christmas carols. I love the fact that the Charlie Brown christmas music has become part of the popular repertoir. I so love the Bare Naked Ladies version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I love the whole joke of their name, imagine, when they were starting out, in little clubs, the sign outside could say, “Tonight, the Bare Naked Ladies.” He he.

I fucking hate, hate, hate, the little drummer boy, though.

@Benedick: And of course, in the old country, the pantos open on Boxing Day.
I think it is truly a pity that USAmerica never got into Xmas pantomimes. They are entertaining, hilarious, and audience-friendly. All in all, great fun for all. Instead, we’re stuck with generally awful performances of that overlong, overblown, boring Tchaikovsky ballet.

@Promnight: I really enjoyed caroling from door to door as a kid. It was one of the best parts of growing up in a small town.
Even then, “Auld Lang Syne” got me misty-eyed. These days, that song makes me weep buckets. Heck, I’m tearing up right now, just typing the title.

@Ewalda: That song kills me too. Old Long Since. Long gone. I am seeing the generation just before me start dying. I was thinking of a loved professor from college the other day, and it struck me, in my mind he is 50 and in his prime, but he may well be dead, many of those who taught me would be at the end of their lives, and I never thanked them.

@SanFranLefty: I think the most spiritually and morally corrupt Lexus ad is the one where the man’s subconscious inner “boy” is trying, and failing, to convince him that the childhood Christmas when he got a big-wheel was the perfect gift, not the fucking car. That one makes me want to crawl deep, deep inside the Grinch cave and not come back out, ever.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
For auld lang syne.

@Ewalda: Talk about Xmas music that makes me barf: I could go the rest of my life without hearing the Sugar Plum Fairy again.
::returns to Grinch cave, clutching a bottle of whisky::

And that song makes me think, you all kindred spirits here, you all are the childhood friends I wish I had. Finding you all here, meeting you all here, its not been like meeting new friends, its been like finding lost friends, somehow, finding the friends I wish I had found all those years ago, when I didn’t, somehow, tragically, didn’t know myself enough to know who were the people I should have been looking for, and treasuring and keeping when I found them. Truly, thats how deeply I value you all.

@Promnight: Oh, thanks, you come home from great vacation and make me cry.

@Ewalda: Panto Dame in Dick Whittington shouting from the stage to my cousin when aged 6: “Didn’t your mother ever hear of birth control, little girl?”

@mellbell: Right. The music is its own thing to enjoy. Some of the literature can be a romp. Playing Leroy Anderson’s stuff, Bugler’s Holiday, Sleigh Ride, etc. is a hoot with a tight orchestra. The traditional carols, with good singers, solo and chorus, can be delightful literature. Most glorious arrangement I can remember in holiday orchestra programming is the orchestral version of Reed’s elegiac, bombastic “Russian Christmas Music”. Last movement will have you standing on your chair waving your shredded shirt over your head, howling like a wounded animal, in the spirit of the season.

@Promnight: @Benedick:

DADDY, TEACHER SEZ THAT EVERY TIME A BELL RINGS AN ANGEL GETS ITS WINGS!

[cue big sobbing fest from SFL, turning snark off as George turns to Clarence’s inscription on Huck Finn]

TJ: Rick Warren to be keynoter at the King Day services at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Jan. 19.

@rptrcub: Warren? What the fuck?? They might as well have the night manager of the Lorraine Motel give the keynote for chrissakes.

@rptrcub: I’m gonna need another bottle in the Grinch cave!

Christmas Eve is actually a very important time of year for my family. It’s a time of togetherness, ritual both public and private and prayer. We bring light into the winter night with out little paper bag lanterns and with dozens of massive bonfires at the Pueblo taller than most adults that light the way for the Christ child. The statute of Mary is taken out of the village church on a procession around the plaza of the Pueblo. Hundreds of people, including the local priest and sometimes the archbishop, follow the tribal officials shooting rifles ahead of the canopied figure announcing the impending birth of Jesus. Indian women in shawls sing hymns while village kids in traditional dress walk and dance to our old tribal songs.

My family gets together at an aunt’s house (the mother of my late cousin killed by the drunk driver) and makes our prayers for our health and well being in the coming year. We light candles for every one of our family members including those living elsewhere and include them in our prayers. After that we have a little stew and chili with our aunts, catch up and promise to see more of each other. More dinner at my parents’ house, then my little family either heads back to Santa Fe or stays to open presents with my brothers, their families, and the folks.

I told Son of RML tonight when we were headed to the mall for some new earbuds for him and we were discussing the economy that’s why I could do without the mainstream version of Christmas. Give me the above and I’m fine. I do love getting or making a fun thoughtful gift for someone like a vintage book, a nice knife, or something useful or needed, though. This year, Mrs RML and I cut a deal to give just something small to each other and take what we would have spent on a big present and give it to a food bank or her newspaper’s community hardship fund.

Christmas Eve Bonfires

@Benedick, mellbell, cubbie: Mrs RML loves the classic carols and religious music. She has a good voice and I loved hearing O Come Emmanuel about a dozen times today. We also heard a hymn (English?) on the Sirius Christmas music channel that has the same melodic line as Vamos Todos a Belen (Let Us All Go to Bethlehem). That was cool. We also did a little more decoration of her Nativity collection, including versions in black Santa Clara Pueblo pottery by my sister in law and a Spanish Colonial set by a local artist.

Happy Hanukah, y’all. Latkes eaten, check. My klezmer band played a B’nai Brith senior home this afternoon, the audience was 300 rude Jewish wankers. Feh. We should have walked off the stage and gone to a sports bar to watch football.

@Dodgerblue: . . . and may I say yet again, “fucking Broncos”.

@redmanlaw:
broncos? all i heard last night was “fucking eagles” and expletives toward mcnab that i’m too demure to type.

i love every holiday. i love tradition, not religion. so i will be celebrating xmas like i’ve done every year since childhood. go to the movies then eat chinese. i wanted to light my menorah last night and couldn’t remember the prayer. instead of googling, i called my daughter, veteran of 10 years of hebrew school. she couldn’t remember 5 or 6 lines.
i wish i had that money now for a more worthy cause.
like stocking the bar in the grinch cave.

here’s the best thing to do, i’ve done it a few times. go to the post office and get the letters addressed to santa. they will make you laugh and cry, answer a few, and better yet, do something for a kid who asks for his daddy to get a job or his mommy to get well again. drop off what they want at their house. some nutjobs, natch, did less than jeebusy things with those letters, so some post offices stop giving them out, but many will. you will get the warm fuzzies and be jeebusy too!
and i will miss my tree this year with all the packing. i also love decorating xmas trees, my family is oh so thrilled at that. he was a cool guy, can’t i celebrate his bday without the judgement? sheesh.

and………speaking of bdays…..

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LEFTY!!!!!!!!! WE’RE SO GLAD YOU WERE BORN! YOU ARE LOVED! have a wonderful day, ENJOY! xoxoxo

@baked: “… celebrating xmas like i’ve done every year since childhood. go to the movies then eat chinese.” The traditional jewish Christmas?

Christmas at RML’s house sounds awesome. I’m still hoping to be adopted.

@SanFranLefty: While I do love A Christmas Carol despite its lapses of taste and logic I am no fan of It’s a Wonderful Life, particularly once that stupid angel arrives. C C gets heavily bowdlerized here. Taken on its own terms, as an impassioned critique of capitalism gone mad that makes the children pay for the crimes of the older generation, it’s very much to the point in our own time.

@baked: The Santa letters sounds like a great idea. I might be too late this year but I’ll ask at the PO.

Happy birthday, Lefty.

@SanFranLefty: I bastardized that line this holiday season by saying to my kids “everytime you step on a christmas lightbulb and it breaks, a star in the sky goes out”.

That’s right. Christmas is the last great hope for behavior modification in kids.

Oh, and the bestest of best birthdays, girl. L’chaim!

@All:
Muchas Gracias for the well-wishes.

I’m with Benedick, I want to spend Christmas Eve at the Pueblo.

@nabisco: RIP, Dock.

Baked, you have been like the secret giver in Stones From The River? I think my three favorite novels of all time are Catch-22, Stones From The River, and Infinite Jest.

I stopped reading novels since Stones From the River, than which there can be nothing greater.

@redmanlaw: See, now that sounds cool. Even La Grinch would love that.
@baked: One of my sister’s chief reasons for converting to Judaism was never having to celebrate Xmas again.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SFL!! Enjoy your martinis and cake.

For those of you dying to know What I Hate About Xmas, you can read it on my blog. Yes, I haz one, although I post about twice a year.

@Prommie:
everyone stop what you’re doing and start reading Stones From The River. i hadn’t connected the secret giver with my postal hijinx.
i could not possibly name my favorite books. i love so so many.
lord of the flies in 6th grade was the first time i understood metaphor, so it holds a special place. and one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
i memorized it at 2 and would be called upon at family gatherings to read it like a circus poodle.

@Prommie:
You can’t ever stop reading novels. Although I had to take a break for a while after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns.

War and Peace: makes me cry like a fool.

@Benedick: Agreed. Just now started last year’s modern translation, and it is bee-yoo-tiful.

This snowman is shaping up to be an 8,
But not out of 10,
The robots awake to find that they’ve been taped down,
Wondering when they’ll break through these chains,
But little boys have action toys for brains,
I’m living proof it can last a long time,
Now the girls off the street are innocent and sweet,
When they’re all in bed,
They got their make-up and dreams of wonderland,
Sprinkled inside their heads,
And soon they will change,
But tonight Hollywood has never seemed so strange,
Now mother’s pray it’ll last a long time.

I want to roll around like a kid in the snow,
I want to re-learn what I already know,
Just let me take pride,
Just to rev through the night,
On a great big sled.

I want to wish you merry christmas,
Ho Ho Ho.

Now they boys are all grown up,
And their working their fingers to the bone,
They go around chasing them girls on the weekend,
You know they still can’t be alone,
I’ve been racking my brain,
With thoughts of peace and love,
How on earth did we get so mixed up?
I pray to god it don’t last a long time.

I want to roll around like a kid in the snow,
I want to re-learn what I already know,
Just let me take pride,
Just to rev through the night,
On a great big sled.

I hear the sound of bells,
There’s something on the roof,
I wonder what this night will bring.

I want to roll around like a kid in the snow,
(I hear the sound of bells)
I want to re-learn what I already know,
(There’s something on the roof)
Just let me take pride,
(I wonder what this night will bring)
Just to rev through the night,
On a great big sled.

I want to wish you merry christmas,
(Can’t do that)
I want to wish you merry christmas,
(Can’t do that).

@Benedick:
Well, given. But what about Anna Karenina?

@SanFranLefty: “In infinite time, in the infinity of matter, in infinite space, a bubble-organism separates itself, and that bubble holds out for a while and then bursts, and that bubble is — me.”

One of my favorite passages in all of literature, and I don’t quite know why.

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