The holidays are upon us, that magical time of year when people become kinder and more introspective, more willing to change for the better, discarding “Bah, humbug!” for thoughtful giving, for peace and goodwill toward all, or so the myth goes.
I understand the desire to eliminate Scrooge’s mindset from the human condition. His miserly attitude toward his fellow humans sparks outrage. His extreme views strike us as wicked, or at least small.
Yet the magical transformation he undergoes (indeed, almost all Christmas stories are descendants of A Christmas Carol) seems to me to be only slightly less healthy. It is another extremist position that cannot maintain its hold for long.
For we like the middle road. We cannot be always evil or constantly good. No, we have to be composites, blends of both, or else we’re likely to go mad. And I think these stories promise a false Eden. They preach that the transformation is miraculous and permanent, when in fact it’s not even all that surprising because it’s never permanent.
Soon we fall back into our familiar patterns, sometimes a little wiser, sometimes a little more selfless, but we settle back into our normal mindset eventually. Just as our bodies have their preferred shapes that we can only temporarily change via diet and exercise, so our minds have their preferred outlooks.
These are harmless fantasies, some say. Chill. They’re just frothy fun. Like Disney princess movies or nearly every rom com.
But I don’t think they’re harmless. They promise a future that can’t exist, one that encourages the status quo of our society. They denounce, in between commercials, commercialism. They leave us feeling hopeful that some miracle will save us.
But that’s not going to happen. Only we can save us and only if we accept certain hard truths. And yet, that’s not who we are. Asking us to accept that there are no miracles is like asking us to change the fundamental nature of what we are. It just isn’t going to work.
Asking people not to enjoy stupid Christmas movies is like asking them to give up being human. We are bound to be what we are. We’re forgetful trains barreling down a track and we can’t leave the rails. We’ll ride them to their end, good or bad, and then we’ll wonder how we got there.
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