December 4, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Public Scrooge

By |2018-03-21T18:38:57+01:00December 15th, 2009|Features Archive|
I gave last century...

anta stopped visiting my house the minute I confronted him, demanding he reveal himself to me. It turned out he was a middle aged Jewish woman with a florid imagination.

Every winter I promise myself I’m going to learn to enjoy Christmas. And every winter I fail. By the time the lights are up and the oversized public fir tree hung with tinsel and trumpeting angels, my enthusiasm has unraveled like a proverbial ball of yarn. Yet I am unable to understand just why I find Christmas-time so appalling. I must have been dropped on my head as a child.

Or maybe it’s the “smile or die” philosophy lurking behind each trochaic “Merry Christ-mas!” Those of us who aren’t natural enthusiasts of the holiday have a hard time grasping what is so merry about the birth of someone else’s baby so long ago in a land so far away. It’s like celebrating Luke Skywalker’s bar mitzvah. And since the world has decidedly not become a haven of love and justice since the birth of this thaumaturgic child, I’ll briefly note that things actually worsened in the centuries following extreme evangelization.

But, in the spirit of yuletide, I’ll leave my historical grudges aside and try and concentrate on modern ones. Why is it so terrible to dislike Christmas? If you so much as mumble bah humbug under your breath people look at you as if you’d just hacked a puppy to kebab and washed it down with a tall glass of blood.

In centuries past, having nothing nice to say about Christ (or his birthday) had been an alarum bell for the Inquisition. Power-wielding Christians used to employ converted Jews to write treatises on the fabled Talmudic hatred of Jesus as a pretense for further persecution. Modern Jews, having made peace (sic) with Christmas by bartering for public Chanukah lightings, have shifted the burden to atheists. Now it’s our turn to be reviled for downgrading Christmas to “the holiday season” and neutralizing the messianic promise of late December to accommodate less ostentatious holidays.

I was recently uplifted by the title of a new book, “The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas,” until I realized it was all about how to enjoy the holiday. Damn, I say, isn’t there anyone out there — even a Richard Dawkins — that has anything negative to say about Christmas? It’s a fine thing to be a public atheist. Just don’t dare be a public Scrooge.

But what’s wrong with spreading a little light through the gloom of the darkest month of the year? And even if Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas Day, what’s the harm in pretending? No harm, I say. But why should those of us who don’t wish to go along with the charade have it shoved in our faces like a Jell-o pudding pie for a full month every year?

I love giving gifts, and I love receiving them. But I hate shopping for them, and I hate returning them. Beyond that, I rue the uselessness of most gift-giving. Another freshly published book bears a promising subtitle, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays. Has some slick economist finally made the case that we are wasting our money, and not just our time, on this most frivolous of all holidays? Well, hallelujah.

“Where are you going to spend the holidays this year?” I am asked this same question annually — sometimes by the same people — and I always answer that I don’t really celebrate Christmas. “Really” is my concession to the Christmas Inquisition, leaving my sentiments just vague enough not to risk offending the ears of little children lest I be publicly chastised. What I mean is: I grudgingly accept that there is no escape from this holiday, unless I apply for citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Unwilling to compromise my wife’s dignity that far, I remain in the secularized West and pray for further secularization.

Let me state it plainly: nobody likes this holiday. Everybody feels obliged to say they love Christmas, but deep down I’m convinced great numbers of folks (what a Christmassy noun) despise it. And they’re right. They are being manipulated for a full 1/12 of their lives.

Consider: There are no parking spaces in December. Those who work in the commercial sector are forced into virtual slave labor so that those who have three weeks vacation can spend them in malls spoiling their children. Dysfunctional families are thrown into each other’s company, further enforcing their mutual disgust. Almost everyone goes away feeling drained, cheapened, broke, overstuffed and woozy. And then there’s the music. What can be more pathetic than street musicians pounding out “Let it Snow” on the hurdy-gurdy?

Half the world has almost no food or water. The other half spends roughly $1,253.61 per family on Christmas gifts (this is a rough estimate based on esoteric logarithms, but not dissimilar from the calculations of actual experts). So where is the divine love, I say? Why does the miracle worker let half his creatures die out in the most miserable circumstances imaginable, while the other half lives high and gin-soaked in a senseless spending frenzy come December? Unless, of course, there is no miracle worker — and no miracle.

And without the miracle of Christmas, what’s left? A dull holiday poisoned by infighting. Perhaps suicides — contrary to urban myth — don’t increase during the holiday season, but neither do they decrease. Some people grow happy in that automatic way, some grow Grinchy in the same way. Some admire artful manger scenes; some suppress a chuckle at the site of them.

Me, I make for the nearest exit, pursued by a pious mob.

About the Author:

Marc Alan Di Martino runs a small language school in Perugia where he teaches English as a Foreign Language. He wrote the "Man About Rome" column from 2008 through June 2013.