15 December 2015

I Start off With the Whole War on Christmas Bit But Discuss a Few Other Topics as well, Worth a Look

This is Joulupukki, the Finnish and one true Santa Claus.
Merry Christmas everyone. Or should I say Happy Holidays? Or does it much matter? People on the political right in this country will tell you that there is a “war on Christmas” in the United States. If so the opposing forces are like the Polish army taking on Germany in 1939. This is no war, its a massacre. Most of the hubbub surrounds the substitution  of Happy Holidays for Merry Christmas. Both sides are a bit silly — okay, more than a bit.

I used to have a boss who was Jewish. At the appropriate time of year I wished him a Happy Hanukkah. A few weeks later on December 23 I was leaving work and headed for my hometown to celebrate Christmas. He of course knew this. He said: “Have a happy holiday.” What? You can’t wish me a Merry Christmas when that is precisely what I’m going to celebrate? I had specifically wished him a Happy Hanukkah. Come on.

My daughters attended a pre school here in Berkeley that was very good in all respects. One thing they did that we liked was acknowledge other cultures’ holidays and traditions. Cinco De Mayo, Chinese New Year, Kwanza. the aforementioned Hanukkah. But when it got close to mid December before putting up a Christmas tree (or as some call it, a holiday tree) they surveyed parents and asked if anyone objected. One parent did. No tree. The tyranny of the minority. They never polled us about any other cultural observation. So there you go.

But a “war” on Christmas? Christmas ain’t going anywhere in the US especially as long as this is a capitalist country. Even in flamingly liberal San Francisco, Christmas decorations are everywhere, Christmas carols are playing in stores, Santa Clauses are ubiquitous, stores are jammed with shoppers and December 25th is still a day off. Some war.

I love Christmas. I did as a little kid (there’s a surprise) and as a teen, as a young adult and now as a not so young adult (I don’t feel old). And yet I am not a Christian. There are many of us who celebrate the holiday while ignoring its tenuous religious roots. (Biblical scholars believe that Jesus was probably born in the Spring and no evidence exists that he was born in December, let alone on the 25th.) In my case, again as for many, it is time to get together with family. Youngest daughter will be coming in from New York and oldest niece from Italy with her mate and young uns. I like the carols, the tree, like geting gifts, love getting them and like the decorations and the food. It is a wonderful break from the rest of the year plus it come at a time when I have two glorious weeks off from work.

There are also a few really good Christmas films such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), the original Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Elf (2003), Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2 (1992), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) and the Christmas Carol (1951) version with Alistar Sim. There are a lot of really awful Christmas movies too but then again there are a lot of really awful films of all kind.

New for the Christmas season is A Very Murray Christmas a Netflix feature that I quite enjoyed. It's difficult not to like anything that Bill Murray is part of. This is like the old style Christmas TV specials I grew up watching that starred the likes of Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Andy Williams, but with modern sensibilities. There were a slew of guest stars like George Clooney, Maya Rudolph, Paul Shafer, Rashida Jones and Miley Cyrus. I was particularly impressed with Ms. Cyrus who has a lovely singing voice and is quite a fetching young lady. It's a shame she's made her public persona more about antics, and shocking people and sexual shenanigans. If she focused on the music we could more easily enjoy a major talent. She might also be a success in film work.

Speaking of films. I finally saw The Martian. I was very impressed, particularly given my lowered expectations. It was an intelligent film about intelligent people doing intelligent things but some characters were witty and charming characters as well. Here was an instance in which all the special effects gadgetry was used in the furtherance of telling a story rather than as an end to themselves. It was big budget without chases or battles or cornball antics. Bravo to director Ridley Scott who, for me, has been off his game of late. Matt Damon was tailor made to play the lead.

I also recently finished reading Graham Greene’s The Quiet American and am about to re-watch the film. It is a superb novel and it is remarkably prescient about America’s forthcoming involvement in Viet Nam (you may have heard something about a war there that went disastrously for the USA and caused a major major riff at home). The book was written in the early Fifties even before the French had been defeated and sent packing. I think The Quiet American should be read in American high schools. It’s accessible, historical and intelligent. The book is a master class in writing fiction.

Anyway what I really want to do is wish everyone a safe and joyous Festivus (it's for the rest of us).

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