The first Christmas card was sent soon after Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was published.
by Anne R. Allen
As we approach the frantic season known as “The Holidays,” I always ask myself, “Why do we do it?”
Why do I make fake snowdrifts around a dying tree in my sunny California living room and put plastic snow persons in my beachy drought-tolerant yard?
Mr. Dickens has a lot to answer for.
With the publication of his Christmas Carol in 1843, Charles Dickens single-handedly made Christmas our biggest cultural holiday. Before the debut of his (self-published) little novella, celebration of the holiday had all but died out in Anglo-Saxon Christendom. The pen is powerful indeed.
A Christmas Carol revived the custom of taking the day off work, gathering for big family feasts and getting generous with gifts—remnants of an ancient pagan solstice celebration which had been meshed with the Nativity story by some very clever early Christian marketers.
It was a great idea in Charles Dickens day. People were stuck in their houses and villages and a big feast day gave everybody a chance to gather for some convivial cheer at the darkest time of year. And the book is brilliant. Fantasy author William L. Hahn has a great post about the enduring appeal of A Christmas Carol on his blog this week.
But I think Charles Dickens and those early Christians would be appalled to see what the holiday has become. Every year it gets worse: travelers are stranded at airports for days…buried in snowdrifts while trying to buy last minute gifts…or imprisoned in grounded airplanes with nothing to eat but rationed packets of Cheez-Its.
All in the middle of flu season.
Okay, Aussies, Kiwis, Africans, and other inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere: you can ignore this rant or read on and chortle.
Ancient Persians and Druids helped create the holiday
But seriously, Northern Hemispherians, what’s up with setting our biggest travel-holiday at the time of year when we can count on the worst travel conditions?
It’s not really about the Christian faith, is it? There’s nothing in the Bible about Jesus making his fleshly debut in December. The early Christians chose the the 25th of December because it was the birthday of Mithra, the Persian sun god whose cult was a competitor of Christianity in the early centuries of the Christian era. Again, we see the genius of those early Christian marketers. They knew how to appeal to the right demographics.
And we know for sure this event did not happen in a place with a lot of snow. Or holly, mistletoe, reindeer, or bearded white guys in furry outfits.
The bearded white guy who was first reputed to reward good children and admonish the bad ones at the winter solstice was a Norse deity called Odin (or Woden or Wotan—whatever you want to call the Wednesday god-guy.) And the rituals involving holly and mistletoe and pointy evergreen trees? Kind of more Druidish than Judeo-Christian.
So do we really need to go through all this suffering to honor a Teutonic war god who slithered down chimneys to put anthracite in the footwear of bad little Vikings?
Not that the Christmas/Druid holiday hasn’t had a good run. But now we’ve got wildly scattered families. And climate change.
Not to mention sadistically dysfunctional air travel.
Why Not Celebrate A Shakespearean Midsummer Holiday?
So I’m going to suggest a change of authors. Boot Charles Dickens in favor of William Shakespeare. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have our big yearly celebration at the SUMMER SOLSTICE—Midsummer’s Night?
OK, A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t as heartwarming as the Scrooge tale, but who needs warming in the middle of June?
Wouldn’t it be more fun to go home and visit Mom and Dad in the summertime? To barbeque that turkey on a backyard grill?
Inspired by the Bard, you could decorate the front yard with inflatable Rude Mechanicals and any number of sparkly fairies.
Maybe Puck could pop down our chimneys and leave gifts under the potted palm, which could be adorned with little surfboards and beach balls and those lights shaped like chili peppers.
We could still conduct the same kind of retail frenzy, since that seems to be necessary to the well-being of our economic system, but we could shop on safe, sunshiny streets, with evening light to choose them by.
Or maybe we need another story altogether. What about it, writers out there? Anybody up for writing some summer solstice tales and carols? About Rudolf the Red-Nosed Surfer, maybe? Or Frosty the Slushy Man? Hark the Herald Fairies Sing?
If Dickens could write a novel that created our biggest holiday, maybe some 21st century scribe can write the book that will give us a new celebration that will fit better with our times.
An awful lot of cranky travelers and flu-sufferers would be grateful.
What about you, scriveners? Would you welcome a change in the time of year of our biggest holiday? What’s your least-favorite thing about our winter solstice holiday?
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) December 24, 2017 (A shorter version of this post appeared on L’Artiste earlier in December.)
BOOK OF THE WEEK
No Place Like Home: Camilla Randall Comedy-Mystery #4
(But it can be read as a stand-alone)
Wealthy Doria Windsor is suddenly homeless and accused of a murder she didn’t commit. But Camilla, with the help of a brave trio of homeless people, the adorable Mr. X, and a little dog named Toto, is determined to unmask the real killer and discover the dark secrets of Doria’s deceased “financial wizard” husband before Doria is killed herself.
And NO PLACE LIKE HOME IS ALSO AN AUDIOBOOK!!
Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!Only $1.99 if you buy the Kindle ebook
Nowhere Magazine Travel Writing Contest. There’s a $1000 prize plus publication. As you might imagine this travel magazine is looking for a powerful sense of place. 800-5000 words of Fiction or Nonfiction. And previously published work is okay. The entry fee is$20. And the Deadline January 1, 2018
EVERYTHING CHANGE CLIMATE FICTION CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one piece of fiction up to 5,000 words using the impact of climate change as an element of your story. The winning story will receive a $1000 prize, and nine finalists will receive $50 prizes. Selected work will be published in an anthology by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University. Deadline February 28, 2018.
10 Major book publishers that read unagented manuscripts. and 20 Literary Journals that publish new writers. Both lists compiled by the good folks at Authors Publish magazine.
Angry Robot the SciFi publisher is taking unagented SciFi and Fantasy novels for a limited time. The want completed novels between 70K-130K words. Guidelines and submission forms are here. Submissions open 1st November, close 31st December 2017
MISSISSIPPI RIVER PRIZE Categories fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Poetry entries should be three to five poems totaling ten pages or less. Fiction and nonfiction entries should be 1,000-8,000 words. Prizes of $1,000 in each category. Winners and finalists will make up next summer’s print issue of the national literary magazine Mississippi Review. $16 ENTRY FEE. Deadline January 1, 2018.
PRIME NUMBER FLASH FICTION PRIZE $7 ENTRY FEE. Prize $251 (a prime number) plus publication in Prime Number Magazine with traditional layout on individual page with author photo, bio, Q&A, and the winning story. Submit one unpublished story that is no more than 751 words. Deadline the last day of each month