Sunday, December 12, 2010

What Is The Meaning Of Christmas?

This morning I read SANTA LIVES!: FIVE CONCLUSIVE ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF SANTA CLAUS by Ellis Weiner, a satirical little 100 page stocking stuffer of a book in a red and green turtleback.

Weiner breaks his arguments down to (1) the ontological argument, (2) the casual argument, (3) the argument from design, (4) the experimental argument, (5) the argument from morality, and (6) lesser arguments.

Of course, this is much the same as a book on the arguments for the existence of God and as he says in his introduction:

"Of course, someone will wonder, why undertake such a project? For those who believe Santa exists, no proof is necessary; for those who do not, no proof is sufficient. The answer, as it always is whenever someone wants to justify publicly doing something for their own private purposes, is for the children."

His arguments lead into sub-arguments. For instance,

"Is it possible that Santa Claus is not an American? This is hard to accept. A loud fat man who barges into people's homes to flaunt his wealth by foisting upon them an array of usually tacky, unnecessary commercial products--how can Santa Claus not be an American?"

People question their President's birth certificate, but are certain that Santa Claus is American without seeing the proof?

The author, Ellis Weiner, says that such questions are relevant to all faiths and urges people to buy his book for others, to spread the enlightenment. Weiner has been an editor at National Lampoon, a columnist for Spy, and is the author of DROP DEAD, MY LOVELY, THE BIG BOAT TO BYE-BYE, and YIDDISH WITH DICK AND JANE.

We watched both IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and THE POLAR EXPRESS yesterday. Which reminded us of what is both right and wrong about the season as it is celebrated.

In her introduction to her book, MIRACLE AND OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES, Connie Willis says that the ending of It's A Wonderful Life is sadly lacking in quality:

"...not only is Mr. Potter free, with his villainy undetected, but he has already proved to be a vindictive and malicious villain. Since this didn't work, he'll obviously try something else. And poor George is still faced with embezzlement charges, which last time I looked don't disappear just because you can pay back the money, even if the cop is smiling in the last scene.'

"But the worst problem seems to me to be that the ending depends on the goodness of the people of Bedford Falls, something that (especially in light of the previous events) seems like a dicey proposition."

I think she wants a It's A Wonderful Life to end with the villain punished; instead of George wishing Mr. Potter a merry Christmas, as he does, she wants to see him get even.

Seems to me, this is missing the message of the season, which is not about justice, but about giving, including the gift of forgiveness--the mercy we can bestow on one another.

We think that THE POLAR EXPRESS is also a fine Christmas movie, though not without flaw. I hear people who get livid about the special effects, but we liked them. The wolves in the movie were so life-like that my TV-watching yorky became irritated during the brief time that they were on the screen.

Some scenes were certainly meant to address the avarice of greedy kids, already addicted to stuff. Other scenes were too abstract to be understood by children. The ghost hobo who rides outside of the train was a nice touch. The boy tells him he is looking for a girl.

Ain't we all? the man says, with leering laughter.

The man asks him, what is your position on the Big Man?--meaning Santa--but of course meaning God or the Great Spirit or Consciousness on some other level. The boy wants to believe, but finds it illogical. The man asks him if he believes in ghosts. The boy shakes his head, no. Interesting, the man says.

Later, in a scene I think might be too scary for young children, the boy is confronted by a martinet of Scrooge, saying that they have something in common, denouncing him as a doubter. We see that Scrooge is a string-puppet, and that the ghost is pulling the strings. Tom Hanks plays the ghost, as well as the train conductor and Santa Claus--they are all the same.

The end message of the movie is that the spirit of Christmas is something intangible, but all receive material gifts except the one boy, who only asks for the gift of faith in the symbolic form of a bell that he hears only when he believes. None of the children give gifts to each other, except friendship and good will.

Still, the movie is a good ride that different kids will see differently, Parents should watch it too so as to discuss the deeper meanings of the holiday with their children.

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