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Thankful in 2015

Thanksgiving is coming up and there are a lot of things to be thankful for. It is easy to look at the state of the world and feel that our generation got the short end of the stick and that things were better years ago. The human species has a habit of romanticizing the past to a fault. The present always looks lacking to Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular because we are an ambitious people who always see better possibilities.

But if we are living safely with food in our stomachs and a roof over our head, we should be thankful; there are a few billion people who would gladly trade places with us.

Here are some things I am particularly thankful for:

Family. I am lucky to not only have a wife and kids who love me but numerous other relatives and step-relatives who love me also. I can tap into the wisdom of several aunts and uncles, cousins, and my amazing grandmother, the indomitable matriarch who is our rock. My family has demonstrated time and again how to persevere through hardship and loss with grace and strength. I am lucky to be of such strong blood.

Health. No doubt my steady diet of weekend egg sandwiches has left me the worse for wear and my back is a scramble of slipped disks and strained muscles, but compared to many people, I am in very good health. I know too many family and friends who have suffered bad setbacks to take my health for granted.

Employment. While I have known great unemployment and underemployment in my time, I am currently gainfully employed at a stable company. Having worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years, I crossed over “to the dark side” of public relations last year. I landed in a good place with smart, friendly co-workers; a lot of people can’t say that.

Creative Ambition. One of the reasons I am lucky to have the family I do is that I’ve inherited my family’s desire to create. My family is full of writers, musicians, actors and more and I am honored to be among them. Being creative gives you a constant reason to live even when all else looks dismal.

America. While the American Empire is deep into its twilight, the America I grew up with and love is very much alive though casting a cautious eye towards the future. America is the greatest nation on Earth because it is my country. We have a lot of problems, but we have a lot of freedom that many people never see.

New York City. No city inspires as much simultaneous love and hatred from its inhabitants as New York. There is no other place on Earth that is constantly rewriting its own mythology and acts such a magnet for creativity and ambition. New York will outlive us all. As much as we hate to see New York change, we know it will never die as long as the Earth remains intact.

Fear of a White Santa

Merry_Old_Santa_ClausThe endless salvos in the American cultural war normally give me a headache and are usually beneath the dignity of comment. But the latest jeremiad against a Fox News host about the race of Santa Claus was informative.

Megyn Kelly, on her program The Kelly File, remarked that Santa Claus is white. (She mentioned that Jesus Christ was white too, and while I’d love to discuss the colorful variations among the 12 tribes of Israel, I’ll instead point out that white people handed over the name Jesus to the Latinos a while ago.)

Kelly was of course buried in a brouhaha of accusations of racism and “look what she said” type coverage, but if you actually watch the damn video, her piece is actually discussing an article on Slate that advocates doing without a white Santa, or a human Santa entirely, and replace him with a penguin in the name of helping nonwhite children love Christmas. Slate’s cultural blogger Aisha Harris recounts her childhood angst at the ubiquity of peckerwood Santa Clauses and thinks that a penguin Santa is a win-win for everyone.

When I was a kid growing up in Yonkers, my brother and I were sent to an afterschool center on weekday afternoons in nearby Eastchester. The kids at the daycare center were mostly white, but sometimes our center would get together with a nearby black organization called CAP (Community Action Program). We would take trips with them and every year we went to their Christmas party.

At every CAP Christmas party Santa Claus appeared and gave out presents, and at CAP, Santa was black. Not only was their Santa black, but he was someone that worked there that the black kids all knew. They laughed hilariously at the black Santa, in part because it was someone they knew and also because it was so obviously NOT Santa Claus.

Like Aisha Harris mentions in her piece on Slate, a non-white Santa doesn’t look quite right, even to a sympathetic non-white audience. It’s an obviously pandering variation awkwardly hammered into place. And children, ever suspicious of adult manipulation into their world, resent such obvious engineering. Harris was right to take umbrage at the black Santa. Even though the adults in her life were doing it for her perceived benefit, it was too much adult interference and that just ain’t right.

Us white kids resented the black Santa, not because we were racist or hated blacks but because we were treated to a needless maiming of a cultural icon that was supposed to be race-neutral.

And this fear of a white Santa is a very telling sign on the part of the multicultural left that’s calling for the head of Megyn Kelly on a charger. Wanting to get rid of white Santa is a tacit acknowledgement of the failure and hopelessness of multiculturalism itself.

If you buy into the belief of Santa Claus and believe that he’s a kindly, saintly man who loves good children, then he certainly loves all the good children of the world and brings them all gifts. That nonwhite children are automatically aggrieved at the sight of a white Santa Claus means that the hopes of fostering an integrated, diverse society is hopeless. If all the races should be equally valued and accepted by everyone, then the traditional white Santa is for everyone too.

If my kids have to stand for a black President, why can’t black kids accept gifts from a white Santa Claus? If multiculturalism is for real, then it’s not a one-way street.  If non-white children can’t accept a benevolent white saint who gives them presents out of love, then there’s not much racial harmony in America’s future.

Santa Claus, like many other holiday trappings, developed from European traditions that were adapted to Christianity as it spread westward from the Middle East. Saint Nicholas, the Catholic patron saint of children and sailors and generally agreed to as the basis of Santa Claus, was Greek. If white people invented Santa Claus, then it makes sense he’d be white.

And so even assuming that Kelly was being racially assertive, what makes wanting Santa to look like you wrong? If Aisha Harris’ Christmas penguin catches on, so be it. I’ll be one of the last white fathers telling his kids about the real white Santa Claus.

’Tis the Season to Watch Bad Santa

Bad SantaThere are several great Christmas traditions that I refuse to surrender despite being a jaded, cynical atheist. I still give gifts to family and friends, I still buy a real Christmas tree and decorate it, and still I watch Bad Santa every year.

If you have not seen it, do so; you won’t be sorry. The 2003 movie stars Billy Bob Thorton as a thief who works as a department store Santa in order to gain easier access to the safe. You could argue that the movie is dated on that count—the most successful retail thieves these days do their work from laptops and the prevalence of credit and debit cards means store safes don’t hold as much cash as they used to—but that’s a minor point that will not detract from the movie.

Thorton is genius as the hard-drinking, serial-fornicating, foul-mouthed career criminal. The cast also includes John Ritter (RIP), Bernie Mac (RIP), Lauren Graham, Tony Cox and Ajay Naidu of Office Space fame as a “Hindustani Troublemaker.”

Bad Santa manages to both piss on the fraudulent cheer that comprises so much of what passes for holiday spirit while still offering a tale of redemption. His sneering delivery and drunken slurs give the holiday season the violent kick in the groin it rightfully deserves. He exudes contempt for the pampered children and jabbering housewives that expect him to be at their beck and call. He’s a champion to anyone who has ever had to work at a department store at Christmas time (I have; it sucks). He is a hardened predator among easy prey, a prisoner to his criminal profession, but willing to commit to violent street justice without hesitation to help his bullied host.

Cinema has given us no better Christmas hero than Billy Bob Thorton’s Willie.

Willie represents our great unbridled American spirit, unashamed to fornicate with strangers in department store changing rooms and tell shoppers to shove their holiday cheer right up their plus-sized asses.

I saw Bad Santa in the theater reluctantly the year it came out. The TV commercials didn’t make it look very good and I didn’t need another silly holiday comedy. But the movie won me over before the opening credits were through. I was blown away by the excellence of the film. It is at the same time incredibly depraved and inspiring. No other movie better captured the dual hatred and love we often feel towards the holidays.

The forced cheerfulness, the clueless do-gooder religious bleating, the consumerist fervor and the crowded conditions of our roads, trains and stores make all thinking men want to shit on the holidays with fiendish enthusiasm. Yet the undercurrent of holiday cheer is appealing. It is the end of the year harvest festival of the Roman Saturnalia, though colored by the pasted-on veneer of Christian myth. The silver lining to Christmas is that it promotes traditions that help strengthen the family, and it gets you gifts.

It’s for this reason that the next Christmas season I began a tradition of having a holiday party with watching Bad Santa the centerpiece of the event. This past weekend was no different, though many of my friends have now seen the move so many times that they didn’t pay as much attention to the movie, but it never fails to entertain.

If you’re going to watch a special movie for the holidays, there are many to choose from. Watch Bad Santa. It’s a holiday tradition you will want to continue.

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