As we approach the frantic season known as "The Holidays," I always ask myself, "Why do we do it?"
Why do I make fake snowdrifts around a dying tree in my sunny California living room and put inflatable snow persons in my beachy drought-tolerant yard?
Finally it came to me. It's all the fault of Charles Dickens.
Mr. Dickens has a lot to answer for.
With the publication of his Christmas Carol in 1843, Charles single-handedly made Christmas our biggest cultural holiday. Before the debut of his (self-published) little novella, celebration of the holiday had all but died out in Anglo-Saxon Christendom. The pen is powerful indeed.
A Christmas Carol revived the custom of taking the day off work, gathering for big family feasts and getting generous with gifts—remnants of an ancient pagan Solstice celebration which had been meshed with the Nativity story by some very clever early Christian marketers.
It was a great idea in Dickens day. People were stuck in their houses and villages and a big feast day gave everybody a chance to gather for some convivial cheer at the darkest time of year.
But I think Mr. Dickens and those early Christians would be appalled to see what the holiday has become. Every year it gets worse: travelers are stranded at airports for days...buried in snowdrifts while trying to buy last minute gifts…or imprisoned in grounded airplanes with nothing to eat but rationed packets of Cheez-Its.
All in the middle of flu season. (…she writes after taking another swig of DayQuill.)
OK, Aussies, Kiwis, Africans, and other inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere: you can ignore this rant or read on and chortle.
But seriously, Northern Hemispherians, what’s up with setting our biggest travel-holiday at the time of year when we can count on the worst travel conditions?
It’s not really about the Christian faith, is it? There’s nothing in the Bible about Jesus making his fleshly debut in December. And we know for sure this event did not happen in a place with a lot of snow. Or holly, mistletoe, reindeer, or bearded white guys in furry outfits.
The bearded white guy who was first reputed to reward good children and admonish the bad ones at the winter solstice was a Norse deity called Odin (or Woden or Wotan—whatever you want to call the Wednesday god-guy.) And the rituals involving holly and mistletoe and pointy evergreen trees? Kind of more Druidish than Judeo-Christian.
So do we really need to go through all this suffering to honor a Teutonic war god who slithered down chimneys to put anthracite in the footwear of bad little Vikings?
Not that the Christmas/Druid holiday hasn’t had a good run. But now we’ve got wildly scattered families. And climate change.
Not to mention sadistically dysfunctional air travel.
So I’m going to suggest a change of authors. Boot Charles Dickens in favor of William Shakespeare. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have our big yearly celebration at the SUMMER SOLSTICE—Midsummer’s Night?
OK, A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t as heartwarming as the Scrooge tale, but who needs warming in the middle of June?
Wouldn’t it be more fun to go home and visit Mom and Dad in the summertime? To barbeque that turkey on a backyard grill? Inspired by the Bard, you could decorate the front yard with inflatable Rude Mechanicals and any number of sparkly fairies.
Maybe Puck could pop down our chimneys and leave gifts under the potted palm, which could be adorned with little surfboards and beach balls and those lights shaped like chili peppers.
We could still conduct the same kind of retail frenzy, since that seems to be necessary to the well-being of our economic system, but we could shop on safe, sunshiny streets, with evening light to choose them by.
Or maybe we need another story altogether. What about it, writers out there? Anybody up for writing some Summer Solstice tales and carols? About Rudolf the Red-Nosed Surfer, maybe? Or Frosty the Slushy Man? Hark the Herald Fairies Sing?
If Dickens could write a novel that created our biggest holiday, maybe some 21st century scribe can write the book that will give us a new celebration that will fit better with our times.
An awful lot of cranky travelers and flu-sufferers would be grateful.
Anne R. Allen is a popular blogger and the author of 12 books, including the hilarious Camilla Randall Mysteries. Her most recent release is: The Queen of Staves: The Camilla Randall Mysteries #6. She blogs with NYT million-seller Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen's Blog.