Friday, December 23, 2011

'Twas two nights before Christmas

JUST BACK from your sixth gift-buying visit to the mall? Still have 100 Christmas cards to sign and mail? Does your home (which you still have to clean before the guests arrive) resemble a Kandahar battlefield? And if you hear one more version of "Jingle Bells" on the radio your head will explode, right?

Welcome to Christmas 2011 and its attendant madness. You can blame Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston Jr. (historians aren't sure which) for your yuletide crisis. On this day in 1823, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was published anonymously by one of the aforementioned men.

According to Wikipedia, our conception of Santa Claus (from the Dutch "Sinterklaas") and its Christmassy accoutrements sprang from this children's fairy tale. Before the mid-nineteenth century, Christmas customs in America were much simpler: "Church, dinner, dancing, some evergreens, [and] visiting." That's it, according to historian Emma Power. There was nary a Christmas tree, let alone the frenzy of gift buying and exchanging. Williamsburg-based writer Ivor Noël Hume notes, "In truth, most of the panoply of Christmas is the product of pagan tradition, of Victorian sentimentality, and of modern marketing that keeps millions of the world's elves in the manufacturing business." Which explains why the "visions of sugar plums" [i.e., Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3] really dance in your kids' heads today.

OK, time's up. It's T-minus 30 hours to Christmas. Stop reading and get back to work! Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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