By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I was young then, blessed with that overflowing feeling of high animal spirits and joy to the world. It was 1967, I was in New York City for the first time, about to sail to Europe on the SS Aurelia … The future seemed boundless, was boundless, and I had only good wishes and to spare for everyone, everywhere.
The only snare was that I couldn’t get tickets for “Mame” (music and lyrics by Jerry Herman); the hit musical based on one of my mother’s favorite books, “Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis (1955). Bummer. But not down hearted I somehow managed to get a program and discovered when Angela Lansbury, the star, the toast of Broadway, was likely to leave the Winter Garden Theatre. .. and just where I could stand for the best chance of getting her autograph.
I well recall the moment she came out the stage door, she was smaller than she appeared on stage… and I remember how the collar of her coat brushed against my cheek… and her scent as she bent down to autograph the program, a little crushed in my hand. It was lush, seductive, delicious… And I was happy…
I have that program still, in good condition, too, a reminder when the song I’ve chosen for today’s theme music — “We need a little Christmas” — was just a peppy, high-stepping, belt-it-out number, not an absolute need for all of us. Start, however, by going to any search engine… get the tune… then let ‘er rip… it’s going to get your blood going, your feet tapping, and maybe even bring a tear to your eye, you sentimental softie you…
“For I’ve grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older!”
These words pretty much sum up events since that magic moment at the door of the Winter Garden Theatre — and I don’t merely mean for you and me, either. I mean for America and for our deeply troubled world. And that is why I am already at work to ensure this Christmas in this year of general dismay and gloom is the best ever. We need it — for the good of home, hearth, soul, and, yes, the economy.
I began this week.
It is September 25, 2011 as I write, and my dear and valued helpers, Aime Joseph and his soothing wife Mercedes, have commenced Operation Christmas. We started with a herculean task meant to occur twice each year but often “forgotten” — polishing the silver. It is arduous, it is wearying, it is dull… and it is a necessary deed in creating the “wow factor” that is such an essential part of Christmas for me and mine.
The question is, why have we started so early… just what are we doing it for?
Over the last few years I have noticed the inception and development of an invidious trend in me and many others: scaling back, pruning, diminishing the high festival of Christmas. This is a very bad thing… and this year I decided to take constructive action before I bear an even closer approximation to Ebenezer Scrooge. This called for drastic action… and my better self answered the call.
Unmarried, no (known) children. Katie Segal made a fortune on “Married with Children”(1987) in which she played the ultimate suburban vulgarian wife, Peg. She thought the holiday was for maxing out her credit cards and causing pain to her hapless bills-paying husband. It was funny… because, of course, we weren’t like Peg, no way. But we are… and not, I hasten to add, because we enjoy the consumer aspect of the event.
I have always thought the sanctimonious folks who decry the blatant commercialism of Christmas and seek to revert to prior usages, pure and holy, misread the original text and allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by Puritans. Now, lest you think I am anti-Puritan, be aware I am of Puritan heritage myself. And it pains me to admit, the Puritans got Christmas all wrong and missed its message.
The culprit in the matter was Oliver Cromwell, a man who, saying enough is enough, helped King Charles I to eternity in 1649 through the simple expedient (as Charles told his horrified children) by separating His Majesty’s head from His Majesty’s body. The Lord Protector, more powerful than most kings, then lead an effort to root out all vestiges of the traditional high-living English Christmas. And so for 10 years (until his successor son Richard got kicked out in 1659) Cromwell and company worked to make everyone just as miserable and gloomy at Christmas as possible. That was the right and proper thing to do.
For instance, zealous Puritans, rigid, unbending, inflexible, muffed the matter of the Three Wise Men, princes of the Orient. Each, if you’ll recall, brought the Christ child very expensive gifts. These included gold (imagine if they’d held it), frankincense and myhrr. Unless these royalties just happened to have some extra gifts in their treasure trove (possible, but unlikely) each had to make a trip to the bazaar (which is what people called malls in those days) to scrutinize what was available and mull over their options.
This is exactly what the non-kingly people do nowadays at Christmas, parking their cars (easier to handle than malodorous camels which spit), returning over and over to get just the right gift, the gift that will say loudly and clearly, “I care.” So, where’s the problem? Christmas, in short, has had a pronounced commercial aspect from the first moment. People should get over it and get on with the real business of the event: love!
Whether you consider the matter from the vantage point of God to man — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16) —
… or from the vantage point of human relations, the fact is that Christmas is the prime event of every year based on, all about, and dedicated to love. And we humans after this storm-tossed year should embrace the event and enjoy it for what it is: a chance to love one another, be kind to each other, embrace our diversity, and give the embedded rancors of our deeply fissured planet a rest… even if we know, as we do, they’ll be back in the new year. Even a little solace helps. We need it, we must have it, and we deserve it.
And because I have been, shall we say, neglectful both about giving and taking love, I have a huge love deficit to make up for… and so Christmas 2011 must be done right in every nuance and detail… and this takes time, care, and thoughtfulness.
Cleaning the silver is just the beginning.
And then like the score says, “Candles in the window/Carols at the spinet.”
And gifts for all… and not merely anything grabbed at the eleventh hour Christmas Eve either… for the gift must be as special as the beloved who gets it…
All this takes time… meticulous attention to detail… and, most of all, love…
And it is this love, in short supply in years past, suppressed, which is the most important thing of all… This year will be different, for this year that love will flow without stint… as a resolute declaration to everyone, everywhere that this is a place where humanity is made welcome and where we know the true meaning of Christmas… and mean to have it! Share it! And renew it…
Knowing this, can you wonder why I am starting so early here? The wonder is that you have not commenced early, for your need is pressing, too.