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Christmas Part 6: Santa

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For a child, the debate of whether Kris Kringle is really Santa Claus is not up for discussion. Children have the ability to suspend facts, expand their imaginations, and believe in the improbable. As children we truly feel that bigfoot must have a summer home in the forest behind our house, or that aspiring to be a superhero is a viable career option. However, as we become older, our world demands that we provide evidence for our beliefs or decisions. We must explain our reasoning, give evidence for our opinions, and create and test hypotheses. When we finally become practical, rational adults, our belief in the magical has all but disappeared. We rationalize all decisions, deride cartoons and toys as “child’s play”, and triumph in our need to look and think like grown-ups. If we do decide that we need to suspend some rationality and fall back on beliefs, we often turn to self-help books or websites to teach us again how to believe in ourselves and what we can accomplish. Why can’t we instead never lose that little bit of belief that allows us to see things that shouldn’t be there, or to keep that little bit of magic with us?

Now, I’m not saying we abandon all rational ways of thinking. We should use all the information we can to navigate our way through life. However, in the gruesome melée that is real life, we don’t always have enough information to make all of our decisions for us. The consequences of the decision to be naughty or nice are beyond what any one person can predict. For those times when our knowledge is not enough, when rational thought can only take you so far, then perhaps it’s time put your trust in that which you can only see with your heart. I think it was this editorial that said it best:

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Christmas Part 2: The Logical Christmas

What do stories like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, It’s a Wonderful life, and A Christmas Carol have in common? Now, I’m not talking about snow, Santa, and the Baby Jesus. That’s just trimmings on the tree, so to speak. If you were to take a critical survey of Christmas movies, poems, and literature, you might notice a few thematic trends. The protagonists all make a transition from a place of despair and doubt to a place of hope and belief.

Some people balk at this, claiming that these stories teach you that leaving behind your logical faculties is the key to happiness. While it’s true that these tropes have produced some truly awful Christmas specials, it addresses an issue that everyone (in the Northern hemisphere at least) has to deal with every December. The days are getting shorter and colder. The trees are black and bare. Those of us with central heat argue that there’s no reason for us to fear not making it through the winter in our modern society. Yet for reasons we cannot explain, we feel depressed. The negative thoughts and questions of our lives seem more present in the dark of winter. Are we good people? Are we living up to our potential? Do we really deserve all that we have? These thoughts begin to influence our decisions. At some point it’s not enough to know logically that winter will pass, that hope is real and just around the corner. We adorn our houses with the light that we so miss from brighter seasons. We give each other gifts so that we can symbolize in something physical. Some people even do daft things like erecting trees in their houses.

So if you’re concerned that you are celebrating a Holiday that is based on mere Christian/Pagan/Saturnalian traditions, or on things that aren’t real, ask yourself this. Is happiness you feel from Christmas real? If your answer is yes, then you understand that the celebration itself is its own reward. As long as we have the long, dark winter months, we will have Christmas.

Christmas Part 1: Shopping

When most people think of Christmas Shopping, the word “Scrum” comes to mind. The malls become choked with sweaty bodies all dashing in every direction to reach store shelves picked clean of taste or value. And how the heck are you supposed to buy for adult loved ones? Let’s face it, if they want something they usually have a job that gives them money to buy said thing whenever they want it. You can try to mitigate that using lists, but the people writing them feel greedy and the people reading them feel daunted when their shopping budget just got spontaneously high-balled. When the inevitable Visa hangover comes in the mail you think to yourself, Why did I just do this? Why do any of us do this? Are we so under the spell of corporations and money-making enterprises of all sorts that we prostrate ourselves, year in, year out, on the altar of mass consumption? Boy, those corporations sure have us licked. I once saw a corporation eat a live puppy once. True story.

Or so I used to think. My wife, Sara, loves giving gifts and shopping for gifts. However, she laments that her shopping stamina is not up to par with her mother, who can go 8 hours without so much as an Orange Julius break. To Sara, when you give a gift, you are not just placing filthy lucre at the foot of a torch-lit shrine to Sam Walton. A gift is a symbol of how well you know a person. It is, in effect, your relationship in effigy. Finding the perfect gift is kind of like a game. You try to pick out the person’s hopes and desires from observations you’ve made of them over the past year. The search isn’t always fruitful. Sara will still ask her quarry if nothing comes up. But if you’ve got that kind of information about your loved ones, be it a snippet of conversation, or a glance of a magazine open on a coffee table, wouldn’t you act on it? Even if navigating the retail landscape is confusing, you get a little peek into their world, their experience. That, my friends, is a gift that all the realities of modern manufacture and consumerism cannot cheapen.

First Episode Blues

How many times have you been bored to death by an anime series, only to find out later that you “just need to stick with it” for a few episodes before it “picks up”? There seems to be some prevailing theory in the anime industry that you need to make viewers work for their enjoyment. If you hook people on the first episode, well, that’s just cheap. How will you know your fans will stick with you through the inevitable recap episode?

Take my experience with A Certain Scientific Railgun as an example. The first episode is all about how this school girl Mikoto is so apparently god-like that her sidekick Kuroko has made it her mission to lure her into love hotel. The antagonists, if you could call them that, are such push-overs that it’s embarrassing. Not only do I not care what happens to these characters, this show isn’t going to let anything happen in the first place. But of course, the fourth episode is totally epic. I just have to hang in there.

I still chase the dragon of anime bliss. The next Macross or Slayers could just be one more incomprehensible title away. I’ve given a lot of my time and money to anime. I’ve got a closet full of manga and un-assembled model kits to prove it.  However, now that I’m not a university student with 11:30am classes, my time is kind of at a premium. I just don’t think it’s too much to ask to start enjoying a show as soon as the opening credits roll.

Data Pack-Rat

How many of you out there practice digital hoarding? Do you have a collection of music, videos, or pictures that you’ve never seen before tucked away on some hard drive or other? These days, it’s so easy to generate large amounts of data with high resolution cameras, broadband internet connections, and DVRs that just squirrel away tv shows for you automatically. At the same time, because some of that data is protected by copyright, there is always some government or corporate agent in the press telling you that whatever you are doing with that data on your computer, it’s illegal and they are going to stop you by any means necessary. Most people’s response is to download like crazy before the hammer drops (it generally never does). To top it all off, the price of storage keeps dropping like a stone despite this recession.  This will only result in so much downloading that people can’t possibly watch, read, or listen to their entire ever-expanding collections. If the RIAA and the MPAA can’t stop downloads, they have certainly found a way to keep people from watching them.