There’s a scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas, where our forlorn protagonist is writing out a letter to Santa for little sister (and proto Material Girl) Sally. Much to his horror, she shamelessly suggests to Saint Nick that he make it easy on himself, by just sending money: “How about tens and twenties?”
Charlie, naturally, recoils with the obligatory “Aaugh!…Even my baby sister!”
Lucy, the future feminist corporate raider, would later put it bluntly to him: “We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big Eastern syndicate.” And what does her coldly pragmatic self want to see in her stocking? “Real estate.”
Charlie protests, and in the end, as we all know, his liberal/left philosophical position on Christmas spirit wins out over the avaricious forces of commercialization; his sad little tree, surely a metaphor for every struggling underdog everywhere, blossoms into magnificence with just “a little love,” prompting the Peanuts gang into a joyful chorus of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Peace on Earth…and mercy.
Turn on the television at this time of year, and you’ll see endless programming pointedly forwarding this very same sort of heartwarming, egalitarian ideology. To be sure, not one of our beloved and enduring Christmas specials suggests a path to holiday happiness involving running up huge credit card bills – or, for that matter, voting down a minimum wage increase for the poor and working classes.
Two years ago, however, America voted our own version of The Grinch into the position of the Presidency. He had for years, like the Seussian villain himself, scowled down from his 299th-floor office in Trump Tower at all those bothersome little “Whos” down in The Bronx or Jersey City (or anywhere). But then he got an awful Grinchy idea: he would playact political Santa, promising the forgotten that he would slither down their chimneys and place all their lost hopes and dreams (read: jobs) under the tree. Except that unlike The Grinch, Donald Trump’s heart would not be growing ten sizes on that, or any future Christmas Day; and he would not be bringing back anyone’s pantookas, their dafflers, their wuzzles…and especially not their jobs.
Then there’s that renowned (sort of) socialist Charles Dickens. His great and endlessly inspiring tale of redemption, A Christmas Carol, is all over television during the season – perhaps in forty or fifty different versions (one even starring Bill Murray, ironically, as a heartless network president.) But tragically for all the real Tiny Tims, those whose parents often cannot even afford proper health care, Trump has no Marley to deliver the chilling ultimatum: “Oh, would you know the weight and the length of the strong coil you bear yourself?,” he threatens ex-business partner Ebenezer, in words that could readily be directed at our current president. “It is a ponderous chain. Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one’s life opportunity misused.”
But those are not just outdated cultural relics. The Hallmark Channel seems to roll out a good dozen or so new holiday movies every season…and it’s always the same: Girl has good life with semi-narcissistic hedge-fund boyfriend; Girl meets sensitive but underfunded craftsman / artist / dreamer / guy without health insurance; Girl falls hard for his earnest, unspoiled charms; Girl dumps soulless Wall Street guy; Girl learns what true love is all about, just in time for Christmas joy. One such small town dreamer even has the guts to say to Big City Girl: “Romance to me is just doing the dishes together.” Now imagine that conversation taking place on the shopping floor at Bergdorf’s: “Yeah, that’s great honey, but I’m leaving you for a guy with a house in Amagansett, and a maid who does the dishes.”
No matter your belief system, Christmas, at its heart, celebrates the birth of a man who spent his life ministering to the poor. “Whatever you did to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” he reminded us, “you did for me.” Quite a poignant, unambiguous message – and certainly not one that encourages the accumulation of wealth as a path to enlightenment and salvation. If you are unkind to the poor, be warned, you are unkind to Our Lord Jesus Christ himself. Remember it, especially at this time of year, when so many are especially aware they have so little.
Now we have a venal, race-baiting president running our country; and, despite claims that the Bible is his “favorite book,” he is not able to recite a single passage from it. So how do we reconcile these oppositional realities? The endless extolling of messages of peace and goodwill towards all men (and women), with the elevation of a man to the highest office in the land who has throughout his life been the absolute embodiment of the callous, greedmongering businessman represented by pre-revelation Scrooge? (And who is, by all accounts, swimming in a cesspool of corruption.)
If ever there was, then, an imperative for collective American soul searching, it is now, during this holiday season. Perhaps one might begin by heeding the regret-laden words of Dickens’ rueful Jacob Marley: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
May your holidays be merry and bright.
(Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this season on ABC.)