published Monday, November 28th, 2011

Cook: Hark! The Herald Elmo sings

Christmas was stunning this year, wasn't it?

The blue sky. The morning stroll through downtown with hundreds of other Chattanoogans, all walking to benefit the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition.

The sweetly delicious work of gaining five pounds -- most of it homemade dressing or sweet potatoes -- in one meal. The naps that followed.

And best of all, family, friends and prayers of gratitude, which are the latitude and longitude of my life.

Yes, last Thursday -- I think I heard someone else call it Thanksgiving Day -- really was a sweet Christmas.

Ho ho ho. Ha ha ha.

A few years ago, I started secretly celebrating Christmas on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving is like the junior varsity version of Christmas: bare, basic, not flashy or overflowing with too-muchness.

Think about it. All the good ingredients are there, without any of the credit card debt.

Cloudy is my memory, but I believe it all started a few Christmases back, when Santa dropped the tailgate on his sleigh and emptied two tons of toys into my living room. My little boy had so many presents, he didn't finish opening one before moving onto the next one.

The meek and mild of Christmas morning turned into the frenzy of a Vegas slot room. I think my son started speaking in tongues: "Give-me-more-give-me-more-me-more-me!"

I saw three ships come sailing in. Yeah, Lego Star Wars Destroyer Ships.

Something twinkled across the room. I turned to see the miniature nativity scene nearby. There, sleeping in a manger, was the infant Christ, one day to become the Prince of Peace.

Across the room, an Elmo doll began to dance and sing.

I felt like Peter in the Gospels when the rooster crows. Singing Elmo startled me awake. I had betrayed Christmas. That December, I'd made more trips to Target than to a church pew.

"Mickey Mouse is the Antichrist," preaches the Rev. Billy, a performance activist, in his documentary "What Would Jesus Buy?"

The Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping travel the country, using satire, comedy and street theater. They exorcise cash-registers at Walmart, pray at Starbucks, get arrested at Disneyland, all in an attempt to get Americans to repent back to the original message of Christmas (it's not found at Macy's) and away from what he calls the idols of consumerism.

"If we were able to change Christmas, we would change the whole year," the Rev. Billy says.

I can feel people scratching my name off party invitations now. Please don't. I'm no Scrooge. Humbugging isn't my style.

I'm just tired of that process -- buying, giving, getting -- disguising itself as Christmas, which is supposed to be about the power of an evening star, heralding a world where the wrongs are made right, the crooked paths are made straight and hopes and fears of all the years are met in one carpenter's son.

Not a Motion-Activated Candy Dispenser ($19.99, CVS) or a "Hangover" DVD ($5.99 Kmart) or an old-fashioned movie popcorn cart ($99.99 at Kohl's) or a .357-caliber Magnum revolver ($229 at Academy Sports).

Nothing says Christmas like a handgun in your stocking.

Each winter, a fuss is made about big-store employees and how they greet shoppers, who get upset when minimum-wage employees say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" as they swipe their Visa cards.

Wondering the policy for this season, I called one of the 7,249 Walmarts around town. Asked to speak to a manger ... I mean ... manager.

"We're saying, 'Merry Christmas,'" she told me. "How about you?"

Well, I just don't know anymore.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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