Each year at Christmas time it saddens me to be the lowest specimen of religious life – a lapsed Presbyterian – but I still manage to hold my head up and enjoy the goings on. Most Christmas practices are based on traditions, and that’s reassuring. Old memories are often the best – the giving of gifts, the singing of carols, the bright lights, the sending of greeting cards to people you haven’t seen or even thought about for the past year.
It takes me back to my childhood and my early religious training. This consisted of our parents dropping my siblings and me off at the nearest Protestant Sunday School each week, and then picking us up an hour later. To their credit, our parents seldom asked us, “Well, what did you learn today?” The truthful answer would have been, “Very little,” thanks to the hodge-podge of Sunday school teachers our little minds were exposed to. Most of the teachers possessed only an approximate idea of who Jesus was, but they taught us that he had been murdered by a gang of Jews and Romans in order to save us all, 2000 years later, from unspecified sins we didn’t even know we had committed. From that point it became even more confusing, and still is.
I’m glad I wasn’t bright enough to raise my hand and ask the teacher, “Could you please explain the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?” I’d probably have been expelled. This would have forced me to dream up some really imaginative excuses to give my parents. Or it would have allowed my mother to introduce me to neighbors by saying, “Have you met my brilliant son? He was recently kicked out of Sunday School.”
“And what of Yoka?” Have you ever heard a less gripping opening line in one of the segments of a Christmas pageant? Nor have I, but it was mine and mine alone in December 1945 at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, Pa. The Sunday school’s teen-agers had been hornswoggled into presenting a play describing how Christmas was celebrated in various nations. I can’t remember where Yoka lived. Somewhere in Africa, I believe.
When I told my brother Dave about Yoka and the knock-’em-dead first words of my monologue, he laughed for an hour. So did I. We wondered which amateur playwright had dreamed up the script. Dave nicknamed me Yoka, and to this day we can dissolve into paroxysms of jollity just by inquiring “And what of Yoka?” On the night of the pageant’s presentation I don’t recall my getting any curtain calls. Still, it was a Christmas anecdote to put in my memory box.
You’re probably aware that one of our Christmas traditions is fading fast and being replaced by a new holiday custom. Disappearing is the Battle of the Malls, complete with fighting for a parking space, endless trudging from store to store, competing with other shoppers for a clerks’ attention, and then lugging home gift packages. The growing replacement for all of this is the computer. It lets us sit happily at home, coffee or beer at our side, and punch up dozens of commercial websites whose owners will gladly ship to us (for a fee) any of 6 million gifts shown on our computer screen.
Computerized shopping brings with it yet another major improvement over the weariness of in-store shopping, namely, no Christmas carols assaulting our ears. I’m not talking about the religion-based songs, such as Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, presented by outstanding choral groups such as the Robert Shaw Chorale or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Most malls don’t choose those carols, to start with.
What they prefer and continue to play is secular holiday garbage having little or nothing to do with Christ or his teachings. If I were king I’d levy crippling taxes on any store or radio station that played warmed-over, moss-eaten songs about Rudolph, silver bells, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, baby it’s cold outside, bells jingling, singing chipmunks, a brat who saw mommy kissing Santa Claus and that most god-awful concoction, the Twelve Days of Christmas. The list is endless, and keeps growing as singers and music moguls think of new ways to make a buck out of our often-uncritical fascination with Christmas and its trappings.
But oddly enough, by 1 a.m. each Dec. 26 Christmas enthusiasm abruptly stops. Its replacements on the excitement scale: New Year’s Eve and the Super Bowl playoffs. Ain’t life grand?
And so it goes. Along with my predictable kvetching, I send sincere holiday wishes to all of my 37 Faithful Readers.
Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.