Nipping Off The Christmas Spirit

Composed on the 18th of December in the year 2006, at 1:17 PM. It was Monday.

I suppose, or at least hope, that the relentless pun based essay titles are indicative of the unbearable smugness that I humbly, politely, and, perhaps, with noble self-control, hide from everyone I know. Such things need outlet, lest they blow off steam through a misplaced argument with an annoying gang of high school students a little too close to the subway tracks.

Yet, this title comes not from such ethically spotless motives, but from a much older, and much more thoroughly flogged play on the phrase Christmas Spirit. Back in the, long, slow, holiday season that occurred during the beginning of the end of my term at a small video company in Portland, Maine, we were asked by our boss to take a little more time out of our hectic, but carefully unguided and vague schedules, so we could come up with a video script that we could shoot and send out to our dwindling customer base. Though many of these clients complained about the extra time we invariably took to complete a video, since our equipment tended to fail when, foolishly, we tried to use it, our boss presumed, and rightly so, that our clients were often boards of venture capitalists, whose business savvy consisted of asking their underage secretaries to come out from under the conference table and give an aesthetic assessment of our closing phone number scenes. Since all closing phone number scenes are blue, have a big white or yellow phone number at the bottom, a few major credit card images, and a big1[1] number that signifies how much of your paycheck you're supposed to cough up for a product that I can assure you will not work,2[2] these aesthetic discussions consist of pixel by pixel adjustments, that, if you keep a careful record, invariably end up exactly where they started. Given the aesthetic, technical, and profiteering skills of these clients, our boss's presumption led to the conclusion that a nice Christmas video would engender more business that actually producing a product, and since their website is still up, he was probably right.

My submission to this contest was a two minute infomercial for "Christmas Spirit in a Bottle", which I thought, and still think, was exceedingly clever, which is while I'm still milking it three years later. I've lost the original script, but I think my favorite bit was an interview segment in which a tired looking man3[3] looked at the camera and said, "All I need's two friends. My Christmas Spirit in a Bottle. And my gun."

The video was never made. We sent out a stupid Christmas card, because the editors understood, in our holiday hearts, that we didn't have that kind of time, especially when our equipment was failing.

Now while looking up the word "nobly" to make sure I got it right and didn't look like an idiot, I finally gave up, since Google corrects "nobly", my spell check corrects "noblely", and I really should be packing and Christmas shopping right now anyway. But before I did, I came across a Japanese blog, written in English, with the following paragraph, quote:

Day 19: Noblely Angry!

This world is nothing but a world of materialism... Outward apperance focused. I'm angry of such things. I'm angry of commercialism!!! I'm angry. I confess I'm angry and all these things are just bound to blow off my top. Noble anger... yeah.

I'm always fascinated by the particular linguistic errors Japanese people commit in speaking English. Every transition into a foreign language carries some grammatic stumbling from its native tongue. From Spanish, it tends to be the order of adjectives ("This day bad") since in Spanish the adjectives come after the subject, and verb conjugation ("You are to working?") since the infinitive verb form in most romance languages is one word.4[4] I keep an ear out for these mistakes, because the mistakes indicate the grammar of the native language. Japanese is especially screwed in making this transition, because the language has no verb for "to be", meaning "I am", "it is", "you are", and "to be or not to be" are brand new constructs in the language.

But I digress. The humorous misuse of the word "of" is not the point. The point is the misuse of the word "noble", which slides neatly into its grammatical slot as a self-deluding replacement for the word "righteous" or the compound "self-righteous". It's always surprising to get this opinion outside the circle of WASPy, middle-class demi-hippies from whom I expect the sentiment. Now, for someone to come from another country and complain about commercialism is no surprise, and, c'mon, we are a bunch of materialistic commercial-humping wallets on wheels, but "noble" anger doesn't strike me as a likely reaction. Righteous anger yes, but, contrary to righteous opinion, there is nothing noble about righteousness. Righteous people may be noble5[5] and nobility may be righteous,6[6] but A ain't implyin' B, nor the vice versa.

The confusion of these words happens far less often than the confusion of the existential concepts, which happens all the time, and, incidentally, is a common subject of these essays. No small battleground is the Christmas season.

I believe I can dimly recall the Calvin and Hobbes Christmas seasons of my youth, when the hot chocolate of unfettered joy was steaming beside the fireplace of youthful ignorance, and the icy winds of condemnation and commercialism were kept at bay by the insulated walls of middle-class prosperity. It was only as I grew that the righteous accusations of the corporate red light district began pouring through the broken screen door of childhood illusions, and everyone accused everyone else of forgetting the Christmas Spirit.

Since my family is composed of secular liberals bound for the eternal hellfire,7[7] we celebrate Christmas in the German, semi-pagan tradition, wherein we open our presents on Christmas Eve, so we have more time to kill Jews in the morning.

No, wait. More time for the hot chocolate of of unfettered joy. No, actually, since we are all Hell bound atheists, dishonoring the inaccurately dated birthday of Jesus is not our biggest problem, since we didn't vote him in as lord and he's not going to save us. Not being saved may end up being our biggest problem, but after a few winters in Maine, 5538 degrees8[8] just isn't the same threat for us that it might be to people living further south. Also, being atheists, and by default rationalists, it has occurred to us that corporations are going to make money however possible, because that is what they're supposedly designed to do, and people, despite their noble anger, will buy a number of things they see advertised, because if they weren't advertised, they wouldn't know they were there to be bought. To be honest, if I ever see a sign that says "Buy these so Jesus will love you", I will buy the stock, the sign, and the store.

What brought this all together for me was my roommate's description of his plans for Christmas, which run as follows:

"I think I'm going to go to work. No one will be there, so I can transfer some of this film I've been shooting. ...[Christmas] for me is the day I can do absolutely nothing and not be bothered by anyone."

And these are the kinds of quotes that make me love him despite our brutally dysfunctional heterosexual marriage. My roommate is shrugging off family, friends, and everything he can possibly shrug off, for a pleasant Christmas day, unhindered by phone or obligations, to do whatever he wants, guilt-free.

My worst Christmas was the one I spent in Great Barrington. Up until then, I had made the trip home to spend it with my family and do the Christmas thing, and reap financial handouts so I might better survive the usual post-holiday layoff. But no, this Christmas, I spent it miserably trying to summon a Spirit9[9] in front of a sad little Christmas tree and a girlfriend who hated Christmas because she hated receiving expensive presents from parents trying to buy her out of her depression.10[10] Next year, I was single and at home, and though depressed, I at least had the hot chocolate of somewhat-fettered joy in front of the wood stove of early adulthood acceptance.

Aside from that one Christmas of horror, the Christmas celebrations have never been about the preceding twelve days of shopping, but about that one evening and day during which nobody cares about anything, and the dread of thank you notes can be put off until the Christmas Morning After. It doesn't really matter who bought what, or whether anyone is happy, or whether they pretend, or how obnoxious and xenophobic they are in the Christmas off-season. This is the day when you're around your family, or at least a set of people who won't necessarily condemn you for your character flaws, and you boldly do nothing. Mostly because everything is closed.

And so, I dedicate this to my bottle of Christmas Spirit, partly because it's an excellent way to achieve nothing, and partly because my New Year's Empty Promise is to indulge the Spirit a little less during the off season.

1 Think inflated.

2 And, sometimes, in the case of immigrants, the use of which might earn deportation.

3 Our chief editor could not have misfired this performance if he'd tried.

4 This is the reason we have the archaic about not splitting infinitives in English, handicapping a language that dared to boldly go where few languages have gone before. In English, we should at least recognize that no one with any gumption goes boldly; we boldly go, and the grammar Nazis should shut the fuck up. And start starting their sentences with "and" and "but". And stop fucking correcting me.

5 Rarely.

6 Often.

7 Which, a Jehovah's witness pamphlet informs me, reach temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, because, in Hell, they still haven't switched to metric.

8 Celsius.

9 Without the benefit of the bottle.

10 I believe this finally worked, so... you know, jingle something.

He doesn't know he has cancer yet.

Hi there! You should totally go buy my book for the low low price of 6.66! It's like buying me a beer at an out-of-the-way dive bar in Brooklyn! Not in Manhattan. Manhattan prices are ridiculous, though there are a couple of decent Irish dives where you can snag a drink for five bucks. Otherwise, you're looking at a two or three book beer.
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