I am a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas music, so I always preferred the 1953 Gayla Peevey rendition rather than the modernist bilge of the Jonas Brothers:
“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do.
No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too!”
It’s over now, so maybe we can talk a little rationally. More than any other season on the calendar, Christmas is an extravagant melting pot of all that is us: rank commercialism, bad taste, an addiction to the biggest of the big, as well as unconditional generosity, innocent sentimentality and the abiding wish that we never grow up while behaving as if that wish has come true.
Christmas is us, and that is one reason why I love it so. Nobody can do Christmas like Americans in an America where only a hippopotamus will do.
I certainly feel for those not a part of this and try to tone it down when I’m with them. They are kind souls of a different religious heritage who are forced to live through this madness. They usually smile benignly, appreciate the paid days off from work, and save a lot of money. A pretty good deal.
I have less sympathy for secular effetes who become red-faced arguing whether or not a holly wreath is a Christian symbol. They invent euphemisms like “Ice and Snow Celebration” to avoid mentioning the “C” word, as if anyone in their right mind would actually celebrate ice and snow.
But we also have the Christians-of-the-Furrowed-Brow who see the American secular celebration of Christmas as a betrayal of the spiritual heart of the season. Electric icicles hanging limply on rusted gutters from Halloween through Flag Day set them on edge. They will fight every chocolate-candy elf and every goofy-eyed inflatable snowman as infringing on the spirituality of the season.
Which is why I suppose we spend so much time arguing about Christmas. So much so that we even refer now to the annual “Christmas Wars.”
I am an unapologetic believer but at the same time, I also revel in the whole tasteless hoopla that is Christmas in America. Which means I still get all misty-eyed when Linus recites the Nativity narrative from Luke’s Gospel in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
I do, however, wish the war would settle back a few notches. Rhode Island’s Gov. Lincoln Chaffee stubbornly insisted on calling a Christmas tree a “Holiday Tree” in the name of religious freedom and diversity.
It reminded me of the classic Monty Python sketch where the owner of the pet shop describes the dead parrot he sold as not really dead at all, but a Norwegian parrot “pining for the fjords.”
A dead parrot is a dead parrot. A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and calling it something else doesn’t make it something else.
If an incongruous pair like David Bowie and Bing Crosby can warble through “The Little Drummer Boy,”I think we can have a Christmas big enough for all of us.
For the secularists, call Christmas anything you want to call it, but don’t impose it on everybody else. By Dec. 26 it was all over until next year.
For my fellow believers, let’s not worry about extraneous stuff stealing from the focus on the Nativity. In the end, it all points back to Luke’s narrative and the founder of the feast. Garish lighting displays and Christmas novelty songs perform their own subtle reminders of what the season is all about.
We believe that God uses all creation for his miracles. Even a hippopotamus.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.