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A Hell of a Time

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece that CounterPunch was gracious enough to publish, Death to Santa, that contained more than a little bilious ranting about the annual shop til you drop and droop, over spending, belly extending feeding  frenzy some folks like to call  ”Christmas “.  A lot of people liked it and emailed me as much, though some folks didn’t, expressing their distress that I had somehow sullied that one time of the year, (that one time, mind you) that seems to offer people an opportunity to dig deep and bring forth what’s left of their humanity and let their little light shine, if I may indulge a bit of Christian parlance.

One long time friend familiar with things I’ve written over the years remarked to me that she liked it better when I wrote from the heart rather than from the spleen. “Can’t I do both?” I asked. “I don’t know, can you?“ she replied. I’ve had a couple of years to ponder her question and am happy to report that the answer is, of course, sure I can. In fact, I think I can do both simultaneously. A case in point.

As a kid I learned about Christmas mostly from women ( my mother and aunt among them) many of them aged, who taught Sunday School once a week in the basement of a small, cut limestone Methodist Church situated in a  barely-even-a-little- town nestled among the bluffs of rural southeastern Minnesota. They taught me songs like This Little Light of Mine, Jesus Loves the Little Children and Silent Night, among others. They taught me that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, that the meek shall inherit the earth someday, that the merciful are blessed, as are the peacemakers, who shall be called children of God. They taught from the heart and mine grew as a result, maybe even three sizes larger, though I don’t remember any of them ever mentioning the Grinch.

And while the broader trappings and nonsensical demands of adhering to the Christian faith would ultimately drive me from regular attendance at any church, or from any self identification as a Christian in any establishment sense, I never forgot those women or the things they taught me, or the section of the Bible they mostly taught from.  To this very day my favorite scene from Bible I had as a kid is the one of Jesus driving the money changers from the Temple with a whip in his raised right hand. I mean, what self respecting leftist wouldn’t like to whip a banker or two, for Christ’s sake?

But I don’t see any of the teachings of my youth in the contemporary American celebration of the birth of Christ.  I see a handful of nativity scenes lit up on lawns here and there. I hear Silent Night blaring at maximum volume over speakers installed on down town light poles near the shopping area. I read the occasional op-ed written by the local United Church of Christ Pastor making her best effort to remind people of the term “Prince of Peace”.  But I don’t see a whole lot of that at Christmas.

I see people throwing punches at Walmart. I read about the statistics of how the suicidal ideation rates spike over the holidays. I don’t see many peacemakers out there either. I see arms manufacturers, weapons of death makers, and the politicians who campaign with pledges to keep those death machine making jobs in their state.   I don’t see much in the way of mercy anywhere either,  I see the absence of mercy. And I sure as hell don’t see anybody whipping bankers. I see bankers whipping us.

So when I write that Santa Claus must die I’m not trying to ruin Christmas, I’m trying to save it. I feel like it owe it to those mostly grey haired old women, most of them now deceased, who took the time to patiently teach rowdy little kids, in the basement of that little,  cut limestone Methodist church, that the heart matters. It really does.

So here’s one from mostly the heart, with just the right amount of spleen thrown in for spice. Merry Christmas, everyone. Have your selves a hell of a time.

Steve Carlson is a semi-retired community/union/political organizer, social worker, educator, and the former Wisconsin state volunteer coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America. He can be reached at carlsonbbv@gmail.com.