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Merry Christmas! Bah, humbug! Viva Mexico!
Christmas is a sacred day, a day of quiet joy. Even if you think the Christ story is a myth, this non-fact is still the crux of Western Civilization. The trouble is that it has been taken over by the Devil, the alluring Mephistopheles with whom our society has struck a Faustian bargain. His new incarnation is Santa Claus, paid by stores like a barker at a circus to persuade children, who have no sales resistance, that they need useless presents. He lies worse than a used-car salesman, telling the gullible children that he comes from the North Pole. No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus! He is a slick salesmen for the commercial interests which have polluted our spiritual life like trucks polluting the air we breathe. The decline of our civilization can be measured by the degree to which he had replaced the Christmas spirit. The worst triumph of the Devil was in war-ravaged Colombia, where men pay to take a four-week course training them to say "Ho! Ho! Ho!". On international TV I did see one Nativity scene, a small group on a shelf behind King Juan Carlos, who gave a moving Christmas message to the Spanish people, with no reference to the Nativity but none to Santa Claus either.
In Bethlehem, the focus of Christmas, it was a sad day, since few could attend because of the Israeli roadblocks which were judged to be a deliberate attempt to sabotage the mass. The result was to draw Christians and Palestinians closer together; Arafat and members of his government attended the mass. In retort, Barak invited the head of the Orthodox community, which celebrates Christmas later, to visit him. Barak may also have been trying to curry favor with the large Russian community in Israel.
In Indonesia, the Muslims celebrated Christmas by burning churches, causing numerous victims. At our July 2001 conference, Scotty McClennan will conduct as session on the burning question as to whether religions promote global conflict. There will be differences of opinion, which must be kept within the limits of WAISdom.
In Rome the day was a sad one as a tired old Pope John Paul II welcomed the sick who were paraded in front of him, while secular Rome went on a typical buying spree. In Austria, the land where "Holy night, quiet night!" was composed, the Nativity got more attention than in most other countries. Of course, Christmas was celebrated in churches throughout the world, and many people known only to their friends and to God did good. All this got little publicity on global TV, which had to concentrate on more important things like the marriage of Madonna, without a single reference to the sacrilegious nature of this name. In the world of TV, Christian celebrations were held in the catacombs.
The past survived in Mexico, where even in Mexico City the Three Wise men and their medieval escorts paraded around the city. But the most touching scenes were in the villages tucked away on the slopes of Mount Popocatepetl, which must have known how Christmas would be celebrated by staging just before it a hellish scene which lit up the skies with a fiery eruption.
Like many people, I know Mexico City and the Puebla area well, but I have never been to these villages which do no appear even on detailed maps. Televisa took us through them on an eye-opening tour which revealed an extraordinary case of syncretism. These dirt-poor peasants, who spoke beautiful Spanish, addressed Popo in terms of the Aztec legend of a warrior who returns to find his loved one, the adjoining "sleeping woman" Ixteccihuatl, married to another man. They called him "Don Goyo," which is a diminutive of Gregorio, although I have never heard it. It must be a Spanish rendition of some Aztec word. They spoke of him affectionately but beseeched him to calm down, firing rockets to get his attention.
At the same time, those who insisted on remaining in their villages sang Christmas carols, touching posadas and pastorelas, as tears dropped down their wizened faces while they said plaintively "We have nothing to eat. What will become of us?" It was heart wrenching. Most of the inhabitants had been evacuated to safe places, but they wanted to return to their poor homes, where they had left their cattle. God bless them.
A footnote: Among the Christmas messages I have received is one from good Miles Seeley, referring to me as "a certified curmudgeon." This prompted me to look up the meaning of the word. It comes from coeur méchant, evil heart, and means "a surly, bad-tempered, cantankerous person". This prompted me in turn to look up "cantankerous". It apparently comes from contak, strife. Come, Miles. You know that I am peaceful and caring, the very embodiment of compassion. "God rest ye merry gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay". Miles' compliment does not. God bless Miles and all good WAISers. All are good.
Ronald Hilton - 12/25/00