Holiday wishes for 2011

I don’t want to believe that on the whole, people are stupid.  As I get older and grumpier though I’m finding it more difficult to reconcile my liberalism and my faith in the eventual betterment of humanity with the evidence.  We are a week and a half away from closing the book on a year that saw the merits of wealth and greed extolled over the virtues of altruism, self-sacrifice and the understanding that we are all in this together.  We have seen science demonized, facts ignored and truthiness become the guiding principle of government – as Asimov feared, brazen ignorance treated at the same level as expertise.  Being right is not enough.  Loud, not love, conquers all.  And the worst part is, we all know better, but we let the bad guys win anyway.  Why?  Are we just too lazy?  Has humanity just collectively decided to not give a rat’s hind parts?

Dennis Miller, with whom I agree on absolutely nothing, had a great line on one of his specials back in the 90’s, the last time I remember when optimism ruled the day.  He asked, “Why have we become so quick to exalt the banal, and so begrudging of the truly consequential?”  Who’d have thought that fifteen years later, it would only get worse?  The most famous family in the world right now is so not for their charitable work or their noble contributions to their fellow citizens, but because they are vapid, shallow and fundamentally useless seekers of celebrity.  It would benefit us all if we paid greater attention to the tribulations of our own families (which, ironically, has no financial cost) than forking out cash and felling acres of forest to keep up with the talent-bereft Kardashians.  And ridding ourselves of this scourge can be as simple as tuning them out and asking a friend to do the same.  If countless videos of adorable cats can go viral, why not also a campaign to raise our collective intellect?  As a start, I promise that this is the last time you will see that name on this blog.  They will no longer take up rent-free space on Graham’s Crackers.

What else can we do to step up our game in 2012?  Why not make this the year that we cease endorsing bullies or the use of bullying tactics in any form, be it in the high school halls, the pursuit of elected office or government itself?  If repeated viewings of The Karate Kid have taught me anything, it’s that nobody really likes the Cobra-Kai douchebags or wants to see them win.  Similarly, we should stop rewarding the political equivalents of Johnny and Sensei Kreese with our vote and consequently the right to mooch off the tax dollars that we entrust to them to ensure we are healthy, safe and free of fear.  Let’s demand maturity, tolerance and intelligent debate from all parties and stop electing or otherwise supporting hormone-juiced frat boys who honed their diplomatic skills playing Call of Duty while high on Red Bull and vodka coolers.  Our governments, like our schools, really can Get Better.

Other things to do in 2012 to enrich yourself and stem the tide of dumbing-down:

  • Read books that do not have vampires in them, and at least one that is over 100 years old.
  • See more live theatre and local musicians.
  • Go for long walks amidst the trees.
  • Instead of just posting what you’re doing on Facebook, ask your friends what they’re doing.  Make plans to see them more often.
  • Unfollow Charlie Sheen, Snooki and any other famous-for-being-train-wrecks on Twitter and encourage a friend to do the same.
  • Try more local restaurants.
  • Never use LOL or OMG again.  Learn a few phrases in Latin to pepper your status updates with instead.
  • Support your local conservation authorities by exploring your neighbourhood parks.
  • Listen to music made by people who are not supermodel-attractive.
  • Write something – a blog, a book, a haiku, it doesn’t matter which.
  • Don’t vote for the guy who’s angry all the time.  He has issues, and none of them involve making your life better.
  • Do something friendly for a neighbour you barely know.
  • Don’t buy Us Weekly, People or any other tabloid magazine devoted to celebrities.  If you must, then plant one tree, bush or shrub for every issue you just can’t live without.
  • Hug a puppy, kitten, bunny, lamb, pony or any suitable baby animal.
  • Make your own list of suggestions like this and pass them on.
  • Keep reading Graham’s Crackers!  (Sorry.)

Start with the little things.  You’ll be surprised how much you like them and how much you don’t miss the other noise.  Maybe together we can start, very slowly, turning this behemoth called civilization away from the shoals of ignorance and back toward the heights of what it is within our capability as human beings to achieve, absent only the decision to realize that potential.  I promise it’ll be worth it.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season.

Graham

The evolution of Christmas

It seems every year, about this time, a select few on the right-leaning side of the punditocracy get their collective knickers in a knot over a supposed “War on Christmas” being perpetrated by their ideological opponents.  As wars go, this imagined assault has to be one of the least successful campaigns in history, ranking somewhere between Custer at Little Big Horn, and anytime anyone has ever tried to invade Russia in the winter.  We’re not seeing the burned corpses of shopping mall Santa Clauses rotting in the streets.  Bright lights and fake reindeer still color our streetscapes.  Many mainstream FM radio stations still switch their playlists to all Christmas on December 1st – including songs celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  And December 25th itself is still a statutory holiday.  This is hardly the time for so-called defenders of Christmas to circle the toy wagons and rend the linings of their Santa suits in desperation.  Just knock back an egg nog and chill.  Please.

Honestly, I’m not even sure what it is they’re protesting.  It’s not a return to tradition, as it’s plain that Christmas as we celebrate it and have celebrated it for well over a century has little to do with Jesus.  Customs like the tree, Santa Claus, eating turkey, none of those come from the Bible.  Indeed, what we think of as a proper Christmas owes more to the writings of Charles Dickens and his Cratchit family than it does to Church doctrine.  The date itself was picked by Pope Julius I in the 4th Century, borrowed (or stolen) from the pagan Saturnalia festival.  Even the Bible doesn’t claim that Christ was born in December – Bethlehem around this time of year hits sub-zero temperatures during the night, and shepherds would not be out watching their flocks in the fields, as it says in Luke 2.  And amazingly, Jeremiah 10:2-4 prohibits Christmas trees entirely:

2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

As oppressed as those who lash out against this supposed shock and awe being perpetrated against the twenty-fifth of December by the evil liberal literati may feel nowadays, it used to be a lot worse.  In colonial America, celebrating Christmas would cost you a five-shilling fine – you could thank the humourless Puritans for that one.  The Founding Fathers didn’t think much of Christmas either, holding their first session of Congress on Christmas Day, 1789.  It wasn’t until 1870 that the U.S. government finally declared it a national holiday.

What probably sticks in their craw the most is that Christmas, like life itself, evolves.  Long gone, at least among the majority of those who observe the Yuletide holiday, is the absolute requirement to fast and attend a morose mass, replaced by the sound of little footsteps running down the stairs as soon as dawn breaks to see what Santa and the reindeer have brought.  From year to year, from generation to generation, Christmas is in motion as old traditions are modified, expounded upon, abandoned, as new carols are added to the canon, tastes in decoration (and food) change, new Christmas movies find their way into theaters.  But more importantly, Christmas changes as families themselves combine, separate, expand or contract.  Like a cosmic cornucopia of paint colors ebbing and flowing, blending together to produce new ways of celebrating the one day a year it remains a virtue to be nice to someone else just for the sake of being nice – in a world increasingly given to assigning a perplexing nobility to selfishness.

Santa Claus as we know him – the jolly fat guy in the red suit – was essentially a creation of the Coca-Cola company’s advertising department back at the turn of the 20th Century.  But we have applied that image to the legendary figure of St. Nicholas and crafted something entirely new, a character who now fires the imaginations of millions of children as they await his yearly arrival.  It evolved in our collective consciousness.  Much as Christmas itself will continue to evolve with the coming years and decades.  That isn’t a war on Christmas – it’s a perfectly natural next step.  Like the strongest in nature, Christmas will survive.  And to those trying to hold back the progress of nature, there’s truly only one reply:  Bah humbug.