Friday, December 18, 2009

Pop culture Christmas: It's in the cards

You either celebrate Christmas or you endure it. There’s no in-between. It would take the composure of Shunryu Suzuki to pass indifferent to it.

It forces you to react. You must send greeting cards. Mustn’t you?

Let’s say you still do. You are compelled to send greeting cards, and post same as they arrive in that weird display rack in your kitchen.

In the Midwest growing up, forgetting someone on your Christmas card list, or not honoring some new acquaintance with a Yuletide greeting, was tantamount to a challenge to a duel. Entire branches and sub-tribes of dour Scandinavian Americans no longer communicate due to greeting-card grudges.

It is a competitive sport, an aesthetic challenge, and a spiritual conundrum. How many do you get? Do you have to go back and buy more? And what kind do you buy? Here’s look at some genres:

1. Religious

No matter how many time we mutter “Happy holidays,” it’s Christmas. Jesus is indeed the reason for the season, coupled with capitalism’s exploitation of peace and love for commercial purposes. America’s politically correct inhabit a zone of denial. For anyone in a minority, America is an intermittently tolerant Christian monoculture.

So, hey, why not get into it? Go for broke. If Mary’s baby was born to die, send a stern and pious Christmas card, or at least something with a mixed message, like this:

A crucifix covered in ornaments? Very Scorsese.

2. Chicken-hearted

This is the category into which you can throw everyone you’re not sure about – co-workers, acquaintances, and relatives you hate. Pick the most generic greeting you can find:

“Season’s greetings”! The ultimate copout.

3. Humor – Gentle

By far the most popular category. We self-consciously admit our ambivalence about the holiday by sending a vaguely funny and inoffensive card.

4. Snarky

OK, you just hate Christmas. You are a Christmatheist. We did our best over the years to defy the dominant paradigm. One year, we hand-made cards that, when opened, stated in calligraphy “Please join us in the violent overthrow of the United States government.” Another year a friend, with a few deft strokes of the pen, artfully turned a holiday cottage into the site of the Manson killings.

These are just suggestions.

5. Dirty

Do you know anyone who gets these? Have you ever seen them displayed anywhere beside a hobo’s shack or a submarine wardroom?

6. Just Ridiculous

This is absolutely the most disturbing e-card I could find:

It’s not quite as hauntingly strange as another holiday hobby we used to indulge. We of course saved all our Christmas cards. I dug out family photo cards and mailed them off randomly to friends who would have no idea who they were. These unknown, grotesque clutches of people converted into shiny, convivial laminates are still being passed from hand to hand, God knows where now, landing on mantels where they are puzzled at for a few weeks.

“Who are these people? How do we know them?”

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