Saturday, October 11, 2014

Early Christmas post



  • Norman Rockwell was actually an irreligious WASP, Episcopalian to begin with. But like Abraham Lincoln in his speeches, because of our culture, there's Christian imagery in his paintings. Lincoln shows that long before the Sixties, when Charles "Charlie Brown" Schulz went from Church of God (Anderson) to secular humanist (a name he used), this has long been an outcome of Protestantism here, in the land of individualism. My man Ron Paul's the same way, lapsed with a couple of denominational stamps in his "passport." Both he and Sparky Schulz were originally Lutheran.
  • The gospel reading from Luke in 1965's "A Charlie Brown Christmas," like the strip then, was part of Christianity's high-water mark in America, mid-century, the cultural '50s, at the strip's peak when it was intellectual, for adults. Imagine that: a grown-up cartoon with religion that doesn't make fun of it. ("Peanuts" degraded after that into a cartoon for children.) But Schulz had to fight the CBS execs to keep the Bible reading in the show (which for all its arguing against commercialism was a long Coca-Cola commercial); by then American Christmas had devolved into a snow festival with gifts in a commercial attempt to include Jews. At least "Happy holidays" acknowledges the two faiths (and has its place in really secular settings such as work including stores); you saw "Season's Greetings" then. From the same period you had TV's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (from '64), nothing really to do with Christmas. Remember A Christmas Story? For lots of people it was like that. (But arguably religion's left out, like on "Leave It to Beaver," simply to include both Catholics and Protestants. The mainline was still culturally conservative then; orthodox enough that we still had a lot in common. Partly why we flourished here before Vatican II and the rest of the Sixties ruined it.) The movie's all nostalgia, no religion or church, not even nostalgia about church like The Bells of St. Mary's. Dickens and the German Prince Albert (whom we got the tree from) really invented modern Anglo-American Christmas. That and Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," a Dutch import to New York, the saint part having disappeared now.
  • Likewise, A Christmas Carol isn't really about Christ. Dickens was a second-generation "Enlightenment"-bred Englishman with little use for religion, lost to the church and Christianity for that matter, but still culturally Christian. But of course something doesn't have to preach to be spiritual. So it is with that story. As John Boyden once quoted to me when I brought up the spiritual point of The Family Man (It's a Wonderful Life turned inside out, also resembling Carol; worth seeing), the trappings of the church don't necessarily make a story Catholic; a Catholic story can be completely "secular." That's life; that's art.
  • American soldiers and sailors brought secular Christmas to Shinto and Buddhist Japan during the occupation; it has no religious meaning there. Just a gift festival.
  • Sure, it's really the solstice; who says the church can't use good marketing? "Let's cheer ourselves up at the lowest point of the most dangerous, depressing season," naturally celebrating shelter, home. Jul, Yule. But in Australia it's mid-summer but with English customs: maybe identify Jesus with the sun at its strongest?
  • Papal prudence. Of course I accept papal infallibility (say it with me: a share in the church's charism of infallibility, the understanding that converted Fr. John Jay Hughes), and love Benedict XVI (those were the days, two years ago: "Jesus saves, Mary prays, Benedict is our Pope; carry on"), but here is a good point. The ordinary (ha) practice of Catholicism isn't and never was a dictatorship, a personal cult of one bishop. If anything, as he is to me, the Pope's always been a rather remote figure. I don't watch EWTN; I don't need to and it's just not good TV much of the time. He's only part of the church, not the church. The priest whispers his name at Mass, I send Peter's Pence for his charities once a year, and that's that.
  • The Benny Goodman Orchestra with trumpeter Cootie Williams, "Superman." An advanced Eddie Sauter composition recorded in 1940. Swing as intricate as classical music (Goodman loved both), as much for listening as dancing.

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