Monday, December 27, 2010

Giving the Devil His Due

A Mexican Devil ornament on my tree
At my house, I've instituted a sort of tradition to initiate the Christmas dinner. In deference to the mix of secular and religious people at the table, I propose a toast, in lieu of the more traditional practice some might expect of "saying grace." One year, I toasted "kindness," which I prefaced by explaining that Christmas and all its peculiar peripherals are all about kindness--giving gifts, the notion of a savior, charity, taking time out from petty rivalries, executive pardons, and ceasefires during wartime. The toast is my way of expressing my feeling of gratitude, which I do by acknowledging common values without getting into any argumentative zones. So far, all parties have been satisfied.

A couple of years ago, I raised my glass to the Devil. Seeing the initial reaction of my guests (especially my Christian guests), I went on to say that without something that bedevils us, an implacable enemy who actively seeks our ruin, what need would we have--indeed what appreciation could we be expected to have--for a savior? The entire holiday, you might say, is essentially enabled and facilitated by the mythical bad guy, and we have him to thank for the celebration of Christmas. I like stretching the envelope a little.

It sounds weird, I know, unless you consider that it would be even less appropriate to link Jesus with the commercialism, the vast sum of money that changes hands, the overeating and drunkenness, the artificial friendliness, the stress, alienation and depression that year after year accompany the whole garish pagan display. Jolly good fun and all, but...Jesus? In all that?

The birth of Christ may have coincided with the winter solstice, and people may celebrate his birth around this time, but the holidays as we know them are pretty much the work of the Devil. Not that I'm complaining, you understand...

No comments:

Post a Comment