***
LISTEN.
***

Open your books, my friends, and let us begin:

“It’s Christmas Eve /
I can’t believe /
we are in this mess.”

The holiday season is upon us. If we live in a cold part of the United States, we can feel the weather nip at our ears. We listen to the plows make their way through the night, their mix of grumbles and beeps re-casting their actual selves into imaginative creatures with relative ease. We look down on the rooftop of a building next to us and notice — if we’re in Cleveland — that someone has sketched out a crop-circle-sized anatomical design. We wrap scarves over our faces and hope our noses don’t run.

And yet the text of the song — the song with which we begin — suggests that we’re greeting the holiday season in something of a mess. But which mess? Which specific mess could I name to give this piece you’re sneaking glances at on your phone as you stand up in church during midnight mass moral grounding? (And, hey — while we’re at it: what sort of odd traffic spikes do your reckon The East India Internet Companies of our age have in their ledgers? Do you think there’s a folder out there that contains a list of what people frequently google when they’re sleepwalking?) And what kind of specificity could I offer up in the middle of a beat in the culture at large where it feels like we might have to introduce ourselves to each other all over again, even though we’ve all been living our lives all this time?

It’s almost — almost — as if we’re dealing with a cavern as wide as living in New York versus living in Los Angeles in 1988.

And there’s a lateral lesson we can draw from this. “My principal concern going into this,” John McTiernan — the director of Die Hard — said in a commentary track, “was that it was a story that concerned terrorists. And terrorist movies are usually … mean. And are filled with all sorts of mean and nasty acts. And I didn’t say, ‘Yes’ to this project until we figured out ways to put — in essence — some joy in it.”

The mess is mean. And since the story of Santa can’t halt toy production and acknowledge the kind of world imagined by Die Hard or the meanness of our own, we’re left wondering: what can we do?

I make fists (fists!)
fists with my toes
I make fists (fists!)
fists with my toes
I make fists (fists!)
fists with my mistletoes
and kick it into Christmas mode.

Note the chorus of singers that arrive to emphasize the word ‘fists’ — as if a Vishnu-like psychedelic 60’s display comes flowering peacock-like out of every attempt made at a punch by the narrator; as if someone singing a Christmas carol all by their lonesome in the empty streets suddenly heard the extra chorus of ‘fists’ manifest itself like a calvary of horses arriving at long last atop a hill; as if we aren’t dealing with a collection of moral centers all sitting astride the other but a refraction of light that just struck all our eyes a certain way, where a certain bright line instead gives way to the lines from E.B. White —

Merry Christmas to the unloved, the misunderstood, the overweight.

Joy to the authors of books whose titles begin with the word “How”
(as though they knew!) Greetings to people with a ringing in
their ears; greetings to growers of gourds, to shearers of sheep,
and to makers of change in the lonely underground booths!

Merry Christmas to old men asleep in libraries! Merry Christmas to
people who can’t stay in the same room with a cat!

Greetings to people waiting for trains that will take them in the
wrong direction, to people doing up a bundle and the string is
too short, to children with sleds and no snow! We greet ministers
who can’t think of a moral, gagmen who can’t think of a joke.

Greetings, too, to the inhabitants of other planets; see you soon!
And last, we greet all skaters on small natural ponds at the edge
of woods toward the end of afternoon. Merry Christmas, skaters!

And Merry Christmas to those who read the academic Roderick Hart arguing in Civic Hope that a culture of argument is the culture of democracy (fists!), and that we can see this through local actors that make up the community talking and arguing over local things. Merry Christmas to those who wonder out loud whether or not horses go to heaven, and Merry Christmas to the old man who steps into the discussion to say “it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing.” (Fists!)

Tonight’s song was written by the Scottish singer-songwriter Jonnie Common. (It’s now okay to close your books.) The name of the song is “Yippie-Kay-Yay, Father Christmas.” (Though never close a book.) The text was by the author, who is dreaming of all, and wishing you all well. Merry Christmas to every cowboy, cowgirl, and non-binary person out there holding onto the horns of the moment. (Fists!) Merry Christmas to the dust kicked up by the horse.

And Merry Christmas to the horse of the moment, kicking and writhing and alive.

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