Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas & Comic Book Heroes

I’ve been experiencing a bit of writer’s block lately. Actually, that’s not entirely honest. Put bluntly, it’s more like writer’s constipation. I’ve thoroughly digested my subject matter, and I feel it quivering at the ends of my hands awaiting sweet release. However, for one reason or another, I just can’t seem to push out the words. Hence my rather scatological analogy (and yet another bad pun … uggh).

So I’m going to temporarily skip my treatise on the character developments of Hangman and Achilles and write something a little more in keeping with the holiday season. Hopefully, this is the diversionary diuretic I need.

Many who get to know me are surprised -- no, make that SHOCKED to learn that I love Christmas. Being a card-carrying cynic and skeptic (yes, I do actually carry a card), I’m not a particularly sentimental person. My fascination with religion and religious symbolism is rooted in scholarship not spirituality. Yet despite my deep and abiding agnosticism, I am very proud to admit that I love Christmas. I love the story, the symbolism, the songs, and the sense of brotherly love and charity that envelopes our society in a sweet, albeit short-lived season of sanity.

If the world celebrated the Christmas spirit three hundred and sixty-five days a year, ten years a decade, ten decades a century, and ten centuries a millennium, I truly believe my worldview would be fashioned from simple faith rather than chaotic doubt. Doubt is the bedrock of my being. Doubt is why I am neither a believer nor an atheist. In a world governed by uncertainty, I approach any kind of fundamentalism with a jaundiced eye. As far as the celebration of Christmas, however, I side squarely with town square manger scenes, bell-ringing soldiers in the Salvation Army, schoolchildren singing “Silent Night,” garish lawn displays, and Linus Van Pelt’s annual recitation of Luke 2:8-14.

Since I was old enough to listen and understand, I’ve always approached the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of a great narrative. Given my early love of mythic, legendary, and comic book heroes, this should come as no surprise. The Nativity is one of the world’s great Origin Stories. Right up there with King Arthur, Superman, and Momotaro. Would-be world beater Herod is hunting down all infants and toddlers in order to exterminate the newly-born King of the Jews. Meanwhile, the baby Jesus is born with no protection in absolute abject poverty. Throw in the shepherds, wise men, and a heavenly host, and you’ve got a tale that kept young Mark Kozak on the edge of his seat.

My childhood memories of Christmas were built around this narrative. The music of Christmas, which I love to this day, reverberates with this gripping story. The symbolism of Christmas -- manger scenes, trumpet-blowing angels, ornamental stars, presents for loved ones -- also resonates with the key elements of this grand adventure. As a child, I played with the lifelike figurines from my Grandmother Kozak’s manger display the way I played with my Mego action figures of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Green Arrow. Feeling that Matthew and Luke left out a lot of the details, I made up my own stories and my own characters revolving around the Nativity.

When I see Christmas attacked today, I react viscerally. Mind you, I am NOT uninformed. I know WHY non-Christians resent the public display of the holiday. Many are well-intentioned souls who truly do believe that the public celebration of Christmas is a kind of cultural torture of non-Christians by an insensitive, bullying majority. Then there are die-hard atheists who just hate anything that smacks of “bible-thumping, patriarchal, theocratic superstition.”

Like I said, I get it. Okay. Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people in this country (myself included) don’t believe in the literalism of the Bible in general or the historical details of the Nativity in particular. We all know this. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Wiccanism, and Atheism aren’t big secrets any more. However, if the celebration of Christmas is oppressing you, that’s YOUR problem.

I mean, I hate Dancing with the Stars and rap music, two cultural phenomena that occupy A LOT more space in our cultural landscape than Christmas, but you don’t see me petitioning local and national governments to outlaw them. No, I’m not trying to belittle a non-believer’s right to dissent. I’m not saying non-Christians should keep quiet about their non-belief during Christmas or any other season.

Quite the contrary.

Talk and educate all you want about your particular faith or lack of it. Christmas is the perfect opportunity to do so. Just STOP attacking manger scenes and school Christmas pageants like Carrie Nation on a rampage at the local saloon. Attempting to outlaw the public celebration of Christmas makes you look ridiculous to the majority of Christmas-loving Americans (like me) while simultaneously ginning up the very “bible-thumping” base you seek to silence.

Meanwhile, as the battles wage in the Christmas war, I’m going to sit back, drink my eggnog, decorate my tree, sing along with my Harry Connick Christmas CD, wrap my carefully-chosen presents, and wish everyone I know a Merry Christmas -- whether they want me to or not.

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