Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

If Santa Took a Cue
David Simmonds

I remember I was playing in jazz band a few years ago when our trombonist, who doubled as our MC, announced that we were going to “play a few Christmas carols.” I was nonplussed, because the first song on our set list was ‘‘Jingle Bell Rock.” Add our trombonist to the long list of those who confuse the sacred and the secular elements of Christmas.

It is hard to keep the two traditions straight. The one horse open sleigh, that’s not religious, is it. The manger, that’s the birth of Jesus. The little drummer boy, well, he doesn’t show up in the Bible and he’s not on Mel Torme’s “Roasting Chestnuts” team either. Star of Wonder - that’s sacred. Reindeer in the sky, that’s definitely secular. A wassailing is a tough call, except that you don’t find much of it going on with RIDE programs everywhere.

Moreover, what about the Christmas tree: “Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree”; that's definitely a hymn and therefore one for the religious side, right? The tradition only dates back as far as renaissance Germany, so its origins are secular. What about the “presents set neath the tree”? You’d be tempted to put that one in Santa’s column, except the Three Wise Men initiated gift giving to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Come to think about it, Christmas music is about the clearest divide indicator of them all. If it’s beautiful, it’s probably sacred; if it’s schlocky, it’s no doubt secular.

There is room in the market somewhere for a guide that makes a definitive classification between those two elements of our Christmas culture. I bet that would be a long, boring hair-splitter and, anyway, that’s not my task now. I am looking for the synergies between our secular and sacred traditions.

What I am thinking is that there is room for Jesus and Santa to make common cause. On the surface, it’s a good fit. Doing all those shopping mall gigs in the six months leading up to Christmas must be a killer for Santa; he could stand to be relieved for a while. Spreading the message of peace on earth and goodwill to men must sometimes seem like a Sisyphean struggle for Jesus; he could use some cheerful encouragement.

Viewed as action heroes, they have complementary specialities. Santa could whiz Jesus around the world on his sleigh, freeing up some quality time; and show him how to slide down sooty chimneys without getting his uniform dirty. Jesus could show Santa how to stretch out a few loaves and fishes and turn water into wine, which would keep Santa’s present budget in check.

More importantly, Santa has a lot he could learn from Jesus: their combined message would be much more powerful than Santa’s alone. Jesus behind him, Santa could stop thinking about the presents he brings as being so many electronic goods under the tree. Instead, he’d find a more effective way to deliver the gift of compassion to those of us who need it. Maybe he could drop the faux ‘naughty or nice‘ routine that allows us all to expect our material rewards whatever our conduct has been. Maybe, together, they could help us drop the pretence that everybody always has a “Holly Jolly, Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas”; and instead acknowledge that for many, Christmas is just a black hole fueling painful memories of lost loved ones. Maybe that salutation itself would begin to sound a little less hollow and more sincere.

If they did make common cause, Jesus and Santa would have us right where they wanted us if we still didn’t respond to their joint message. The next logical step would be to withdraw their services completely. There’d be no more Christmas Eve dashing hither and yon over the continents and no more inspirational nativity pageants. Even the Great NHL Lockout of 2012 would pale into insignificance by comparison.

Eventually, however, we’d beg them come back, whatever their terms, so we might as well comply with their message when it’s delivered in a positive way. Exercise compassion, you bet, and Lose the materialism, will do it asap. Never play that wretched song “Jingle Bell Rock” or any of its companion seasonal dreck again? Well, all right, that too, in fact, that in any event.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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