Holiday decorations on Monument Avenue (photo by Tina Eshleman)
Something is wrong with the contemporary celebration of Christmas "if we are glad when it is over. Shopping becomes a burden ... social fellowship dissipation and good cheer a surfeit. Why may we not return to the sweetness and simplicity of the day before artificiality, pride and extravagance ... ?"
The above editorial appeared in Richmond’s Religious Herald on Dec. 28, 1899.
Little I can say here will alleviate or allay the frenzy of the season. On a recent walk to work, I noted the appearance of a plastic snowman on the balcony across the way. Over the weekend, neighbors strung lights and installed a waving Santa on their porch roof. And what better day to get this accomplished than in 70-degree weather?
Throughout the neighborhoods of my travels, festive bunting and adornments are making their annual redeployment.
I’m really not in any rush for Christmas. First, I’m the country’s worst consumer because I can never figure out what to buy anybody and I’m almost constitutionally incapable of purchasing anything. Even for myself.
I suffer from Christmas Anxiety. I’m not arty crafty, though I make Christmas cards — usually the week of so they go out way late and cause me even more anxiety. That’s about the extent of my holiday “making.”
Second, Christmas signals year’s end, and then it’s my birthday, and when you’re staring at the business end of 54, that jolly old elf becomes a harbinger of actuarial eventualities.
The year has passed and the world didn't end, as it was thought to for sure, thanks to the Internet. Back in September, there was some kind of killer asteroid and a Blood Moon and Passover, and I never did figure out what the fuss was about. And then before that was all that uproar about the Mayan calendar.
The preoccupation of late of end-of-world-as-we-know-it and also post-end is curious.
I mean, sure the world is messed up, but it's always been messed up. And steps can be taken toward unraveling some of its messed-uppedness. But nothing anybody does will make people either in power or just trying to keep the lights on more gracious or less venal. We're human beings. We mess up stuff. And there are certain concordances of philosophies designed to mitigate this behavior. But, British poet Thomas Hardy noted in this short observation:
"Peace upon earth!" was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of Mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.
That Tom Hardy, such a teller of knee-slappers.
So, OK. You're all tough and a prepper or whatever.
Thing is, while you're you're stockpiling your bolt hole in preparation for the inevitable, what in the heck is survival going to do for you? And why is there some deep seated desire to either bring about this end or have it over and done with? Are Novocain at the dentist, flush toilets and electric baseboard heat all that bad? Really?
I knew something was going on when I saw Independence Day at the movie theater and when the White House blew up, people cheered. Now, of course, the thing is back. Which proves that the only thing more predictable than the end of the world is Hollywood's difficulty in coming up with an original idea. And our national ambivalence.
And remember how the Internet really came along around 2000, when many were certain that it was all coming undone then. So anything odd or vaguely ominous that gets broadcast into the cyber-ether sends a shiver like when something alights on a spider's web. And everybody gets the shakes whether they admit it or not. Lately the news, which is almost all bad, or at least what we choose to access — or are able to get to — seems to confirm anyone's worst suspicions. And thus our personal fears of the End of Everything is like "Bloom County's" Michael Binkley's Anxiety Closet.
We’ve been living with the end a long while.
Readers of the Sunday Nov. 12, 1899, Richmond Times were assured on page 18, next to "Confederate Reminisces," of the world’s end that Monday, according to the University of Vienna's "renowned" (and kind of kooky) astronomer Professor Rudolph [sic] Falb
The piece was complemented by a weird graphic that must’ve frightened the susceptible. The illustration portrayed the earth's face split as if struck by the fist of heavyweight boxing champion Jim Jeffries.
The matter-of-fact caption reads, "The Comet of 1866 Will Strike The Earth Monday And This Is What Will Happen." The dreaded "Comet of 1866" has a name and proscribed course.
Anyway, I'll have an eggnog and try not to think too much about the end.
In the meantime, here is Richmond's own Aimee Mann with an apt metaphor pertaining to Richmond, its history and the world in general.