An American Christmas Carol

Scripps-Howard News Service 12.24.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Once upon a time there was a place unlike any other. It was a place where the elders of the community thought long and hard about the way they wanted to live, and about all those things that made people unhappy in other lands.

One of the ways, they noticed, that made people treat each other with great hostility, even cruelty, had to do with their customs and religion. They could not accept their differences in peace.

So the elders thought people should be invited to this magic place on the understanding that all live under a few commonly accepted laws, but within those all are free to believe as they please.

"The year has 365 days, though" one of the elders reminded them. "Should we not have one day each year when all of us come together in something everyone can enjoy?"

And so the idea of Christmas came about as a day when the young and the old, the black and the white, the rich and the poor gather around the fireplace, share presents, and forget the trials and tribulations of the year as they bask in the glow of fellowship.

"Might we be breaking our own commitment to the people of the world who come here?" asked one of the elders. "Many among us think of this day as the one when God sent his Son to the world, making it inseparable from our religion."

"True," said another of the elders, "but many simply think of it as a day of general good cheer, or a day when your entire family sits around a table of plenty. No one requires them to celebrate the Son of God."

"Might some be offended, though, by all that goes on around them," asked the youngest of the elders, "what should they do?"

"This is a big planet," said the oldest. "Just as they don't have to participate in the festivities, no one forces them to live among us. They can gaze out from an island onto the South Seas, contemplate the vastness of the desert, or wonder about the snows of Kilimanjaro."

And so, the Spirit of Christmases Past was born, for each generation added something to the great and beautiful traditions inherited, and many who had left their city of birth to live in the magic land enriched the ways in which the people would celebrate the day.

A special warmth filled the hearts of all the people, whichever way they preferred to think of the 25th day of December, until...

Suddenly, a cold blast announced the arrival of Christmas Present. It spawned men who sat behind desks at all the places where newcomers sought entry into the magic land.

"Why do you want to come here?" the first one was asked. "Because in my homeland they killed all my family. I barely escaped with my life and few belongings. I am desperate; this is my last hope." "All right," said the man behind the desk. "We will share all our freedom and wealth with you." "That will be OK," the newcomer said. "Just one more thing. This Christmas thing of yours makes me uncomfortable. If you must do it, make sure I don't have to look at it, hear about it, or listen to your darn good wishes for it. Understood?"

The second official was thus better prepared. "Why do you want to come here?" he asked the next entrant. "I am a very religious man," he answered. "Where I live, everyone of my religion gets stoned sooner or later. I neither want to be forced into the official religion of my country, nor die. You are my only hope." "You can live here any way you wish," the offspring of Christmas Present said, "but you do know, don't you, that Christmas is the one day here when we all celebrate together." Before the newcomer could protest, the man behind the desk held up his hand, "but don't worry. We are taking urgent steps to eradicate every last vestige of Christmases Past because we know how very, very sensitive you are and of course you have a right to reshape this country of ours any way you like - just give us ample notice of your preferences."

Some saner people with memories rushed to consult the elders, but there were no elders. Just a growing number of very loud people. Soon, all wisdom in the land was replaced by decibels. During what used to be "silent night," they shouted that they were different, they wanted to be different, and everybody had better take note that they are different. In fact, the general din enveloped everything, so that no one could hear a faint message from the distance.

The message came from the Spirit of Future Christmases. It was more of a warning. It told of a once-magic land that had prepared a place for all who wanted to be free. But after a while the people who came confused being free with being different. Above all, they completely forgot that their freedom, including the freedom to live by their religion, came from the Christmas people. They forgot that, among all religions, only the Christmas people created a place where other religions could thrive.

Yet in time, the loud people won. As they went around wishing each other "Happy Holidays," and "Season's Greetings," they finally got rid of Christmas.

And with that, they got rid of the magic of the land.