The holiday season is rife with a particular vocabulary we don’t hear very often. Some of the words are “classic” (read: archaic) and evoke a reminiscence of a time that…well, maybe didn’t exist. The words we choose paint a particular picture of what Christmas means:
- most wonderful
- merry and bright
- winter wonderland
- babe in a manger
- holy night
- yon virgin
- boughs of holly, gay apparel, Yuletide
- newborn King
- droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
“Jingle Bells” even features the delightful term “upsot.”
We use these terms mostly because it’s traditional and because we’re singing some of the same carols, reading the same stories, we’ve enjoyed for hundreds of years–or at least since Charles Dickens made Christmas fashionable again.
But the way we talk about something has a profound effect on how we feel, too. Winter is often a rather bleak time; to recast it as “glistening” and “wonderful” can help us actually make it wonderful…or at least make you feel less crappy that it’s been four days since you’ve seen the son.
I got to thinking about the words we use at Christmastime for two wildly different reasons.
The Turtle Creek Chorale is a really great men’s choir here in Dallas; my husband surprised me with tickets. They’re a group of about 150 men who put on a performance of great humor and good cheer–no, really. (Interesting: all the men in the choir are gay. They made some jokes in that direction in the show, too.)
But the song that most struck me was “PC Christmas”: a song/show about Mabel (a man in fantastic drag), the harried and well-meaning HR director of the imaginary “Pegasus Corporation.” Mabel just wants to put on a Christmas party, but at every turn she is met with complainers who want their celebration to be represented at the official party. Hapless Mabel assures, via monologued emails, employees that the party will feature “traditional”…and secular Christmas songs….and Hanukkah songs….and a song for Kwanzaa… and at least one song celebrating the Moon Goddess…. until the whole shebang collapses in on itself and Mabel gives up.
It’s funny because it’s true: while Christmas is far and away the main event in Dallas (Fun fact: the sad and revealing book “Tinsel”
was written from Frisco, Texas, just outside of Dallas), the intense and loud celebration thereof can be exclusionary, annoying, snobby, and basically rude to those who don’t celebrate.
That’s how we get all this nastiness over the well-intended phrase “Happy Holidays.”
Number two reason I’ve been thinking about words:
My church decided to “mix things up” this Christmas: in lieu of a weekly sermon, has decided to do monologues from different Biblical “characters.”
Now, before this rant goes any further, let me be clear: I think this is a great way to breathe new life into an old and familiar story, to get some more people involved.
Except it’s been awful. I missed Joseph and the shepherd while traveling, but I managed to catch Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin, mother of John the Baptist) and “Martha” (the utterly fictional, not-in-the-Bible wife of the innkeeper).
Both of these women’s “stories” had an intense focus on pregnancy. Elizabeth on the great difficulty of being infertile and how happy she was to finally be pregnant; Martha on meeting Mary while she was super-pregnant and assisting all night with the birth.
In general, we use a lot of euphemistic and positive terms for pregnancy: “bun in the oven”; “bundle of joy”; “special delivery”, etc. We take this even farther for the miraculous pregnancies in this part of the Bible–maybe because the details are practically nonexistent, maybe because being the mother of God probably oughta come with some perks like an easy delivery.
For whatever reason, the scriptwriter for this series, however, decided to through out all those comfortable euphemisms, opting instead of explicit medical terms.
I’ll spare you, but let it be known that I never again want to hear about how the midwife “felt between her legs to feel the baby’s head” or Mary’s “screams so loud she woke up all the inn’s guests” or have the sweet baby Jesus described as being “green and gray from mucus as he left the birth canal.” (Seriously, I’ve started watching “Call the Midwife”–a show about being a midwife–and it wasn’t so gruesome.)
Anyway, whatever you are doing today, I hope you are enjoying yourself, whether you’re under celebrating the Christ child, singing to O Tenenbaum, dancing with Frosty the Snowman, or seeing Mommy kissing Santa Claus.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Feliz Cumpleanos, Seasons Greetings, Yuletide Joy, and to all a good night!