HAVE YOURSELF A TWILIGHT ZONE CHRISTMAS
By George Wolfe
It’s always hard to say goodbye to a Christmas tree. Twelve days hardly seem enough.
For many people, and certainly for the business community, the Christmas season is over by New Years day. But the traditional Christian calendar actually extends Christmas until January 6, which begins the season of Epiphany. Hence, the “Twelve days of Christmas” as enumerated in the popular song.
In my hometown of Corry, Pennsylvania, there was an Episcopal priest I knew named Father McIlveen. He was an old-school Anglican from Canada. He and his wife would wait until Christmas Eve to set up and decorate their tree, then leave it up for the full twelve days until the Epiphany season began. In my family, we always disrobed our tree on New Year’s day, usually before the Rose Bowl game started on television.
Father McIlveen’s adherence to tradition is a rarity nowadays. As commercialism crept into Christmas over the years, the god of capitalism asserted its influence. Christmas decorations began appearing the day after Thanksgiving, and black Friday superseded in importance the first day of Advent. Nowadays, people are more interested in being the first to enter Walmart than they are the nativity manger.
When I was teaching at Ball State University, in December at the end of the first semester, I would have my students over to our house for a holiday party. Each year I would make it a point to show them a video of a Twilight Zone episode written by Rod Serling entitled “The Night of the Meek.” In it, celebrated actor Art Carney, renowned for his role as Ed Norton on Jackie Gleason’s popular show “The Honeymooners,” plays a drunken department store Santa Claus named Henry Korwin.
Rod Serling’s script is one of social protest. Early on in the show, after falling flat on the floor from intoxication in front of a self-absorbed mother and her spoiled child, Art Carney, delivers one of the great performances in all Christmas shows in his role as the drunken Santa. “Christmas,” he says to the store owner using semi-slurred intoxicated speech, “is something more than barging up and down department store aisles and pushing people around. . . . Christmas is another thing finer than that, richer, finer, truer, and should come with patience and love, charity, compassion. . . . I live in a dirty rooming house on a street filled with hungry kids and shabby people, where the only thing that comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve is more poverty.”
After being immediately fired by the proprietor, the drunken Santa leaves to find in a back ally, a bag full of garbage that miraculously turns into “Santa’s bag” full of Christmas presents that would have in it, anyone’s heart’s desire. By the end of the show, our unlikely hero would have given away all of the presents in the bag and have nothing left for himself. Yet he would come to realize that there was nothing he wanted, nothing more than to be the biggest gift giver of all times.
Christmas is the season when Christians celebrate the greatest of all gifts, and the very act of giving itself. For those who celebrate this true spirit of the holiday season, the Christmas tree stays lit the entire year.
George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.