Christmas 2014:
I always liked Christmas.  It wasn’t particularly a religious holiday so far as I was concerned.  I remembered my father saying quite early on, “I think we can afford to have Christmas this year.”  We were frugal about everything, and we were frugal there, too.  But it was obviously optional – something you could do if you had the resources and obviously something of much fun and fellowship.

One year, not that long afterwards, we were visiting cousins over Christmas and some people came to the door and sang a couple of Christmas carols.  I was delighted.  It seemed like the nicest gesture.  For many years as a child I would organize caroling parties.  I can sum up more than a decade of experience with, “If they don’t answer the phone by ring seven, give it up.  It’s not going to work.”  Yes, calling somebody on the phone was a big undertaking.  Even after all that experience I tend to avoid it.

We bought some caroling books one year.  The versions were easy.  The illustrations suggested that Christmas “really” belonged in the eighteen hundreds, that we could only celebrate that it had once been celebrated right.  One of the illustrations was of an angel ringing bells in a belfry for “I Heard the Bells.”  I fell totally in love with her.  I guess she’s about a hundred by now.  I’m still in love with her in case she ever existed.  Oddly, the time back to that book is now more than the time from the book back to the nineteenth century.  My time flies.

You’d think I’d have noticed everything I was going to about that beautiful carol, but I recently was goaded.  You remember how it starts: I heard the bells on Christmas Day …”  Got it?  It’s Christmas day.  The sun is up.  Bells are ringing.  You must remember that.  The bells are calling, in their tintinnabulary sort of way: Peace on earth.  Sweet.  But then the poet, it’s Longfellow, bows and thinks, “There is no peace on earth, for hate is strong and mocks the song.”  And as I read the news I find I agree most heartily.  Got it?  It’s hate.  He sees it.  I see it.  It’s hate.  That is the problem.

But then some dark voice asked me, “Hate what?  What’s he talking about?  That was the dear old nineteenth century.”  I looked it up.  He was talking about the “American Civil War.”  Of course there was never a Civil War in post-colonial America.  There was never a Revolution either.  There was the War of Independence, as the British still call it.  There was no interest in overthrowing the British government.  Nor was there any desire of the South to rule over the North, which would have been true of a civil war; it was the Second War of Independence.  And the cause, the poet makes quite clear, was hate.  He says it.  I believe him.  But that does not end it.

The bells peal louder, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”  Suddenly the question is not love and hate.  The question is victory.

It would have cost nothing for him to have said, “Hate shall fail and love prevail.”  But he didn’t.  He’d lost it.  He’d been sucked in by the hatred. 

Then, get this, “The world revolved from night to day.”  It was already day, remember?  That man has had a complete psychotic break.  He has experienced time-space discontinuity.  Nobody has ever noticed.

So if ever I seem to be offering hate of evil rather than wisdom for good, please do me a favor and point it out.

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