I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
December 21, 2017 - 10:45 a.m.
I promised that I'd write the history of my holiday traditions today. That saves me from dealing with the most difficult part of blogging, deciding what to write about. That's good for my anxiety it's also part of the reason I'm starting to write early today, 9:34. The other part is that I woke up early, but not so early that I was still tired. I got about seven hours sleep. I shouldn't have said that, it made me sleepy.
I'm a Jewish atheist who doesn't just have holiday traditions but an evolving history of those traditions; my attitude has not been static, and the world keeps changing.
When I was a kid there were two Jewish holidays that I celebrated, Pesach and Chanukah. I knew that Chanukah is a minor holiday, but it does involve presents and chocolate gelt. As far as traditions go there was lighting the menorah; I got to play with fire and show off the Hebrew I learned.
I would watch the Christmas specials on TV; Christmas is Andy Williams in a sweater. I watched the Rankin & Bass Rudolf, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol the first time they were shown and every time thereafter. I would watch Miracle on 34th Street. I enjoyed them but to some degree felt alienated. I never felt more Jewish or more an atheist than at Christmas. I was celebrating other people's holiday. The one tradition that captured this perfectly and with humor was we'd go to my parents' friends, Eileen and Joe, to see their Christmas Tree. Almost everyone in our lives were Jewish, they were the family's official Catholic friends. The running joke was that since we were Jewish Santa didn't come to our house but left my presents at theirs. I loved that. I still love that. It was exactly the right attitude for me. I knew Santa wasn't real, but I liked presents and running jokes. That's still true.
As I got older I entered a Bah Humbug phase. I thought being nice Christmastime was hypocritical; we should be nice all year round and that Christmas gave license to not be nice the rest of the year. It also bothered me that a Christian holiday was treated as a national holiday.
I might say "Bah! Humbug!" but I was never a Scrooge and I always enjoyed the Christmas lights and trees. I'm not sure when but I started making a point of seeing The Tree, which means the Rockefeller Center Tree, every year. I'd look at the store windows. I'd look and listen to the people looking at the tree and the windows. I watched It's a Wonderful Life every year, at least once. There was a time when it was shown on many stations many times. On Cheers they joked that one of the stations said, "It's a Wonderful Month." I love the film and it is in no way a guilty pleasure. It's one of the greatest films ever made. It is not treacly; large parts are film noir. The point of the film isn't that everything is great, it's that even with so much wrong there is so much right if we can get ourselves to see it.
When they started showing A Christmas Story on TV every year I watched that too. I have no idea how I missed it in the theater as Jean Shepard is one of my heroes. From the first time I saw it I loved it. I loved it before it was cool to love it. Stop giving me that look; I am NOT a hipster!
I was still not a Christmas person. I didn't say "Merry Christmas," or send cards or go to parties. I certainly didn't sing Christmas songs. I disliked the religious ones. Handel's Messiah was an exception. Great art is great art.
Then I discovered the Roches. They did Christmas started to do Christmas shows at the Bottom Line. I loved them so much that Bad Carey and I went. I discovered that I didn't dislike Christmas songs, even the religious ones. I discovered that I not only loved hearing the songs, but I also loved singing them. I started caroling with them in Washington Square Park and other places. That was it; I was still an atheist Jew but Christmas Carol convert.
When the Roches stopped doing the Christmas shows I was saddened and started looking for other Christmas shows. I went to the Beat Goes on Shows. At least one year I went to Glen Burtnik's Christmas show. When the Downtown Messiah started that became my new Christmas Tradition. I went to that every year. When that ended I was without a concert tradition. Some years I go to Sloan Wainwright's but it's usually not somewhere easy for me to get to. There's also Festivus. Even though I was by then seeing the Downtown Messiah every year I was still a Jewish Atheist. Seinfeld's fake holiday became central to the way I celebrated. It started with Carey and Shelly, but I continued after I stopped seeing them. I made a Festivus Pole. I spread the word. I toned it down this year as I finally accepted it was not going to catch on.
Thanks to the magic of Facebook I friended Terre Roche on Facebook. I found out she was still caroling, and I could find out when and where. It is at the Washington Square Arch on or near the solstice. Today is the solstice. At 6 PM I'll be there. I try to bring new friends every year. Come join us. More than anything the holiday season is about people you love. And so as Tiny Tim observed; The Flying Spaghetti Monster bless us, every one.
I signed the Pro-Truth Pledge:
please hold me accountable.
A Visit From Sprite Nicholas - December 28, 2017
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