“Merry Christmas to One and All!”
Remember when “Merry Christmas” was the standard greeting? But times change. As years pass, I’m hearing a lot more “Happy Holidays!”
Predictably, there are many who are unhappy with that change.
Christmas changes every year—sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small. But the reason behind these changes remains the same: how the world has altered when it wasn’t Christmas.
Back in the day, Black Friday used to be the time where people lined up outside their Walmart or K-Mart or Sears or local shopping mall right after Thanksgiving dinner…
But Amazon and the rest of the Internet (plus a pandemic) changed everything. And now we even have “Cyber Monday.” Again, thank you Amazon.
When I was younger, I was very concerned with saving Christmas, about preserving its original meaning.
I wasn’t even Christian. I was watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and listening to Charlie Brown and Linus pine over people losing the meaning of Christmas.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” premiered over fifty-five years ago.
So, people being worried about the state of Christmas is nothing new.
And, just as before, Christmas and Santa Claus will adapt. Santa Claus has clothed himself in the colors of Coca-Cola, and that’s no urban myth. In 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa for Christmas advertisements.
Although recognizable Santas had appeared before, the large, happy Santa that Sundblom drew was what we needed as our own nation passed through the uncertain times of the Great Depression and World War II—reassuring, jovial, grandfatherly, full of gifts and abundance, without a worry in sight.
And, when the people came home from the War, Santa was there to greet them, offering a bottle of Coke and all they needed to enjoy what they had fought so dearly for.
Growing up, my favorite Santa was Norelco Santa. Rather than the reciprocating blades of Remington and Schick electric shavers, Norelco used rotary cutting blades that were quieter and less jarring.
And, Norelco shavers just looked cooler.
And Santa must have felt the same way, because in a series of commercials, St. Nick ditched his dirty, messy reindeer and sleigh for a clean, comfortable Norelco electric shaver.
Santa shoved in a shaver of reminds me of hermit crabs seeking refuge in the our throwaway cans and bottles. At one time, my Facebook feed was peppered with videos of hermit crabs whose homes were pieces of human refuse.
One video from the BBC linked this phenomenon to tourists in Thailand robbing beaches of their shells. However, this is happening wherever hermit crabs meet human garbage—in other words, wherever there are hermit crabs.
And though this is a disturbing consequence of our being more naughty than nice, in some ways, one must marvel at the adaptability of the crabs. Somehow, they are finding homes.
I’ve encountered another type of adopted home while driving around California. Over the years, I’ve noticed growing numbers of birds living beneath highway overpasses. If you’re in the continental United States, chances are, so have you.
These are cliff swallows, who, as their name suggests, typically build their conical, mud-based nests into the sides of cliffs. However, like the hermit crabs, they have found that humans create enticing homesteads.
In this instance, cliff swallows nest under the concrete bridges that span freeways and highways. And they do so in colonies measuring into the tens of thousands.
Which seems innocuous, until one remembers that their native cliffs did not have speeding trucks and cars careening beneath them like death on wheels.
However, as both swallow and traffic numbers increase, bird deaths are declining. Why? One reason may be that highway-dwelling cliff swallows are evolving shorter wings.
The change is not dramatic—only a few millimeters shorter or so—but it is enough to allow cliff swallows to take off faster and fly with more agility—helping cliff swallows dodge vehicles and continue their cliff swallow lives.
Human constructions alter behaviors in ways that may escape our notice. Think of how our cities and buildings are changing Santa Claus himself.
St. Nicholas comes from a very old line of benefactors, and some of the oldest pre-Christian traditions have Santa’s progenitors entering through via hearths and fire holes.
In other words, chimneys.
Does your apartment have a chimney? How does Santa get in?
This can go so many ways. Some parents are saying that Santa has a magic key that lets him into any house he wants, which sounds kind of ominous (and he had better be vaccinated). Others maintain that he just materializes. But then, what about the reindeer (or the giant Norelco shaver?)
Whatever happens, I’m sure Santa will work it out—most likely in a way we had not foreseen. He may even dispense with meatspace altogether, moving the North Pole from a mythical place to a mythical online presence.
We can’t say for sure about him because we’re not even sure about us.
We’ve all heard how “every day should be like Christmas.”
I hope that it can be so. Because along with its presents and trees and Cyber Monday, Christmas reflects all we become, and all that we do, knowingly and unknowingly, to our world.
And as our world seems to be moving ever faster in some ways, and far too slowly in others, one can’t help but feel uncertain, even frightened.
However, as tenacious as hermit crabs and cliff sparrows are, the resilience of holidays and traditions such as Christmas show that who we are—with our all fears, and wishes—perhaps has not changed so much at all.
So, to everyone reading, please have a latte, exchange a gift card as you Zoom or Facetime or Skype or Zencast with your quarantined family. And, as you wonder what the heck you are doing wherever you are, remember that humans have thought much the same thing, even since even before Charlie Brown got yelled at by Lucy.
And so, on this Christmas Eve, I wish you all Happy Holidays.
Cover: Francois LE DIASCORN / Collection: Gamma-Rapho/ Getty Images
*By Gridprop at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Common Good using CommonsHelper.
**By Charles Schultz - Amazon, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44158630
***Marko Geber/ Collection:DigitalVision/ Getty Images