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December 30, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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December 30, 2007

A Rant Against Christmas

In which the blogger reveals that he is an antisocial bitter crank who frowns upon other people’s joy and happiness

All year long I anticipate Christmas with loathing and just a touch of horror. At no other time of year do I feel such raw hatred for the human race and for all of their creations. I almost wish that I was prone to depression so that I could get the most out of the “holiday season.”

I suppose that if I were in the business of nurturing small children carrying my genetic code I could readily put on a show of enjoying the family oriented trappings of Christmas. I could participate in the venerable tradition of lying shamelessly to my impressionable little kids about the existence of the god Santa Claus, the bearer of gifts. I guess this is a good way to teach children to not blindly trust authority, including their parents. Especially their parents.

Gruss Vom Krampus, The German Anti-Santa Who Carries Off Bad Little Children
Staring Santa From The Alpine village Of Les Gets, France

I can’t easily explain why I have such a terrible attitude. Like everybody else in America, I had a bad childhood. So that’s not the reason. Maybe because I chronically do not fit in, anywhere, I resent all the sheep-like people who accept the program. Or perhaps there’s simply something wrong with me.

Okay, so I’m a hateful old crank, but I’m certainly not alone with my attitude. Especially now that Christmas is dead and done with for the year, I hear all sorts of people, young and old, who are sickened and disgusted by our corporatized Christmas. I wonder if we are on the verge of a societal rebellion against Christmas as we know it.

Let me tell you what enrages me, more than anything else. I could laugh off the forced gaiety and the exploitative commercialism and societal hypocrisy if not for the incessant sound track. Every year I cringe with anticipation for the start of the season of Christmas music.

Lawn Decoration From Washington, An AP Photo From USA Today. 
Lawn Decoration From Washington,
An AP Photo From USA Today.

One morning shortly after Thanksgiving I stomped angrily into Honest Weight Food Coop up on Central Avenue, snarling and ready to kill something. I’d just been up at the Price Chopper on Madison to buy toilet paper and cat litter. The supermarket aisles had been simply humming with generic holiday favorites engineered to deliver the maximum amount of psychic pain to the shopper.

My friend Jesse Strock was in the back corner in his green apron, arranging lettuce on a shelf. Without preamble, I said to him, “There’s something very wrong with that song “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” You see, I’d been forced to carefully listen to and analyze that horrid song back at Price Chopper.

Jesse appeared to welcome the diversion from his mute vegetables. I said, “You know how the lyrics say, ‘Then how the reindeer loved him.’ Rudolph, of course, is an anthropomorphic stand in for a human personality. Yet he has no validation as a person until the authority, the CEO of the operation, grants him validity. Only then do his peers stop harassing him and begin to treat him civilly.”

Jesse owned up that he hadn’t really given the song much thought, but that sounded true. “What message does this song tell our children?” I asked ominously. “That you’re nobody until the owners have use for you,” he said. “That’s a good way of putting it,” I agreed.

I admire Jesse. I met him when he was still in high school, an A student on the fast track involved in all sorts of activities. He attended some big universities and collected some fancy degrees. He traveled the world, living and working in Paris, France for a while.

These days he’s on another sort of track, stocking vegetables at Honest Weight and living simply in a cool apartment across from the Governor’s Mansion with his girlfriend, Nitya. I’m not sure if he’s content with his current life, but he’s told me that it’s what’s right for him now. I think we need more people like him, especially around the holidays.

Honest Weight does not broadcast “holiday favorites” across the store. Indeed if they did such a thing both the customers and the employees would noisily rebel and perhaps riot. There’re not many retail joints where you can escape the noise this time of year. Why do we have to hear this crap? Is it calculated to induce us to spend more, to shop harder?

Wolf Devouring A Lawn Deer, Front Lawn Of Sombor-Clark Household, Niskayuna
Wolf Devouring A Lawn Deer,
Front Lawn Of Sombor-Clark Household, Niskayuna

For the first time in years, I drove out to the suburban malls to purchase an item for The Wife. Like an idiot, I chose the Friday afternoon before Christmas when almost every automobile in the region had arrived to clog the massive parking lots around the malls. Talk about rigid holiday mores. Malls are the center of Christmas Correctness in our society today.

It’s interesting how easy it is to enter mall parking lots but difficult to leave. For example, to enter the outdoor mall at the head of miserable Wolf Road, you spin off the highway ramp onto a lane that feeds directly into their parking lot. But to leave you have to get into a slow moving line that lets autos onto Central Avenue in one direction only.

I’d first gone over there to the Target to grab some flannel nightgowns, which is The Wife’s preferred sleep wear. Apparently pajamas are in this year and nightgowns are out. She hates pajamas. Fortunately it’s the one time a year when a guy like me can poke irritably among women’s wear cursing and not worry about store security.

So I slowly and painfully moved my pickup truck across the highway and walked into the Colonie Center mall, entering next to LL Bean. Ah, I said, they’re famous for their flannel clothes. Right? So I stepped into the entrance of Bean and was startled by a flash of light, like from a camera.

I stopped and looked around, and there were two more flashes, which came from above. I looked up and saw two devices with multiple lenses suspended by stalks from the ceiling. I watched them for awhile, but they only flashed two more times as I turned away. I waited a bit longer but there was no more flashing.

Gruss Vom Krampus, The German Anti-Santa Who Carries Off Bad Little Children
Gruss Vom Krampus, The German Anti-Santa Who Carries Off Bad Little Children

Yes, I always feel welcome at the mall. I particularly like the constant high pitched whine that fills the main areas, a noise which I’m convinced is calibrated as a sort of mind control that induces maximum spending. For me, it induces nausea. And of course there are the vaguely anxious and dour faces of the shoppers, sort of like the faces of people watching TV.

LL Bean was a dimly lit cavern, packed with empty eyed zombies lurching about. Deep in the back was an extraordinarily long line of shoppers standing at attention with blank faces, waiting to make their purchases. That was enough. I didn’t even find out if they sold women’s clothes.

The last resort was Lane Bryant, the fat lady store on the second level. The Wife likes her nightgowns large, their smaller sizes would do. The tubby salesgirl led me past the tubby customers and I found something that was not exactly what I wanted, but I bought it anyway. I hope that woman at home appreciates what I went through to fetch these items for her.

This is what Christmas means to me, a constant barrage of irritating bad music and living dead people jostling each other to buy worthless crap. And the auto traffic. It wouldn’t be the holiday season without slow moving lines of cars clogging the highway exit ramps.

Frosty In A South End Doorway
Frosty In A South End Doorway

But don’t worry folks, I haven’t forgotten about the spiritual aspects of the season. Giant inflatable depictions of the gods of Christmas, Santa and Frosty, are tethered to lawns all over the place. I’m not sure how Frosty became so prominent, but he must represent something important. Perhaps he is the god of fun.

Ah, then there’s Santa Claus. He’s the god of entitlement, who looks into your heart and mind to divine intent, even when you’re sleeping. He passes judgment, final with no appeal. He grants wishes, but only for material things. The assumption is that these things and objects are the source of all happiness. If you disagree, you’re a scrooge or a grinch.

Santa is an old northern European pagan figure with a veneer of Christianity, possibly derived from the old Teutonic high god Odin. Our familiar modern American version of Santa Claus began as an advertising icon in the 20th Century. As Wikipedia puts it:

Images of Santa Claus were further popularized through Haddon Sundblom's depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company's Christmas advertising. The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was in fact invented by Coca-Cola or that Santa wears red and white because those are the Coca-Cola colors. In fact, Coca-Cola was not even the first soft drink company to utilize the modern image Santa Claus in its advertising – White Rock Beverages used Santa in advertisements for its ginger ale in 1923 after first using him to sell mineral water in 1915. Even though Coca-Cola was not the first to do this, their massive campaign was one of the main reasons for why Santa Claus ended up depicted as wearing red and white, in contrast to the variety of colours he wore prior to the campaign.

While we’re at it, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was created for an ad campaign for Montgomery Ward department stores in 1939. I actually met the guy who wrote that song. His name was Johnny Marks, and he hated the song that made him rich more than anything else in the world. I personally experienced his hatred.

When I was fifteen years old I followed a “friend” into the venerable Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan. The “friend” suggested that I walk up to the grizzled old guy playing a casual game in the corner and ask him if he wrote the song. Being even more of a naive idiot than I am now, I did as he suggested and was met with a barrage of vile curses and threats, much to the delight of my so-called friend.

I’ve discovered that telling this story tends to fall flat when told at holiday parties. Maybe it’s my delivery.

A Fight Broke Out This Year Between Rival Priests At The Church Of The Nativity In BethlehemA Fight Broke Out This Year Between Rival Priests At The Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem
A Fight Broke Out This Year Between Rival Priests At The Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem

Hey now, the reader might say, you’ve forgotten “The True Meaning Of Christmas,” the alleged birth date of the guy who gets most of the blame for the Christian religion. Maybe, you might also say, if you got a little spirituality into your life, you nasty cranky blogger, you might be happy during the holiday season. Perhaps if Mr. Blogger understood that this is the season of the birth of hope in the midst of darkness then he could share in the joy and celebration.

Look, folks, I’ve got nothing against celebrating Christian holidays. I attended church and received religious instruction as a child, so religion is not alien to me. But no one can deny that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is an afterthought clumsily grafted onto this ancient solstice rite.

Everyone knows that December 25th was chosen by an early Bishop of Rome to compete with the exuberant Roman holiday Saturnalia. Biblical scholars disagree on the actual date when the Big Guy was born, but they all agree it wasn’t anywhere near the solstice.

Look what Americans do to prepare for the holiday. Starting as early as Halloween (another slightly Christianized pagan celebration) the citizenry combs over the corporate owned retail outlets in search of material possessions. This behavior is widely considered a requirement. You have to buy stuff and “present” it to certain other designated persons on the designated day.

How convenient for the retail corporations, eh?

And all the time and effort expended hanging decorations, the strings of lights, the erection of inflatable demons like Frosty and Santa on suburban front lawns, the piles of food. The slaughter of innocent young pine trees is a major industry in itself. I’m in nominal agreement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses on this one. All these disposable pagan symbols don’t make us better people, just wasteful.

And maybe, just maybe, some families will put up a small manger scene in the corner of their living rooms, out of the way so that it doesn’t get knocked over when the kids open their presents. And maybe a minority of the population will go through the ritual of midnight mass at a church. But compared to all the other Christmas activities stretching out over several months, these are insignificant second thoughts.

And the funny thing is that developing countries around the world have picked up on American Christmas, powered mostly by the supposed economic benefits of consumerism. You can now find Santas and decorated pine trees in downtown Beijing, but not the slightest hint of whose birthday it supposedly represents.

I think that in this country the grafted-on Christian birth event is used to legitimize the pagan holiday. You know, it’s a holy day so let’s pig out without guilt. But I’m a bitter old crank who hates the human race, what do I know.

Actual Xmas Greetings From Blackwater Worldwide


My friend Jesse told me one more thing over the vegetables at Honest Weight. You see, he grew up in a nominally Jewish family. “Every year, all the Christmas hype makes me feel like an alien,” he said. “Everybody’s doing something that I’m not part of. It’s like I don’t belong in America.”

“Well,” I said, “at least you have an alternate tradition to fall back upon.” He gave me a funny look and said nothing.

Don’t worry folks. In the bitter cold long dark days of January I’ll recover my equilibrium and good cheer. When everyone else is miserable I’ll be full of joy and wreathed with smiles.


Prior Post * * * Next Post



Posted by: Laurie Schaible
Posted on:
With tongue in cheek, I wholeheartedly agree.

I work in Albany but live outside the city, and many nights on the drive home during these dark days of winter, I would click my tongue at all the Christmas Lights on display.

We certainly do like to drain our precious energy on useless decorations, don't we?

Feeling much like you, but also annoyed with myself for being annoyed with others who like to celebrate this time of year, (which indeed includes for some the purchasing of over priced useless goods made by slaves in other countries), I also realized some of the Christmas Lights and displays are really beautiful and tastefully created. Maybe they actually do serve a purpose...maybe they serve to light our way, and add cheer to the dreariness of the great Northeast during the Winter time. I do try to be an optimist.

How can this season and its meaning be any different, when we have the consumer box urging us on in all ways of overindulgence and narcissism? And many swallow all that is seen and heard and want to consume more. Perhaps all that emptiness is filled with instant gratification has not satisified?

Many have lost 'Christmas Spirit'. I have heard that some local churches provide a Celebration of Darkness which supports the feelings many of us have hesitated to express. You have done this rather nicely. Thank you!

Posted by: cek
Posted on:
Love the Xmas rant, which I find really sets the tone for the coming year. Once again, you did not disappoint, which is probably more than we'll be able to say for 2008.

Posted by: Animate Midget
Posted on:
It occurs to me that Christmas was more fun a few years ago when Christians spent the season trying to be nice for a change. This was before Christians declared that there existed a "War on Christmas." This "War on Christmas" has now managed to destroy the one time of the year that Christians use to act civil and not condemn everyone to Eternal Concentration Camps (aka Hell). Things have gotten a lot worse for anyone not Christian around Christmas. It is a shame.

Posted by: Roger Green
Posted on:
Of course, you're right about much of this, though I assume that you do know that there was a Saint Nicholas. Like most things in most cultures, that story of the giving monk(?) got blended into the Teutonic tales.
And any analysis of "Christmas" lyrics will find many of them irrelevant to the season (Let It Snow; Jingle Bells and Baby, It's Cold Outside are three that come to mind.)

Still, I don't think there's any more against you than I think there's a War Against Christmas.

Well, it's almost over...

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