Normally I don’t get halfway through Darrell Huckaby’s weekly column before I roll my eyes and give up. That’s alright; he probably doesn’t read this blog either. Darrell is one of many local columnists in Georgia who makes his weekly hay talking not exclusively but often about the way things used to be (always for the better) before all the Yankees got here. This one, however, caught my eye because of the recent Sunday school series I taught about Christmas and because it’s an interesting instance of cultural nostalgia in its own right.
I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before now, but the anxieties about the demise of Christmas are at least of the same flavor of if not identical in content with concerns about Sunday mornings. Change a word here and there, add a bow for good measure, and Huckaby’s lament about the Sunday afternoons of old sound like the roots of a War on Christmas:
And back in the day, nothing was open on Sunday except the church. No shopping. No movies. No soccer games. No nothing on Sunday afternoon, except visiting with friends or maybe watching a ball game on television.
Now, of course, it is hard to distinguish Sunday from any other day of the week. Everything is wide open, except Chick-fil-A, and visiting, as I recently noted, is a thing of the past anyway. In fact, Sunday seems to be prime shopping time and youth sports activities typically abound – and this year there promises to be a strong lobby to have laws passed to sell packaged alcohol on Sunday, as a way of stimulating the economy.
As I taught through my series on the history of Christmas a month ago, I stressed to my class over and over that there is no singular or pristine Christmas to which Christians can point for the sake of a fixed point of reference; instead, what Christmas requires, if Christians wish to be faithful to Christ, creativity rather than nostalgia, a willingness to evaluate the elements that make up the modern, hybrid sacred/commercial “season” and to submit it to strong theological scrutiny. Neither Dickens nor Charlie Brown nor Bill O’Reilly can do that for us; in our fiercely congregationalist tradition (note the lower case there), faithfulness is our own responsibility.
Perhaps that strange pop nostalgia that’s present everywhere I travel but especially prevalent in the South is one of those things that I’ll never understand, having grown up in the eighties, the birth-decade of MTV and the time in which Iran-Contra proved to us Americans what we already knew from Watergate. Because I can’t point to anywhere in my own memory as “the good old days,” I’ve never had much of an urge to return to them. I imagine it’s a product of the way that people taught history in the eighties and nineties, but I tend to look at documents from the past and see not divine order but provisional and often brutal measures to contain what people fear most, and I’m none too eager to repeat that.
I suppose, reflecting for a moment, that I should try to think inside the shoes of those folks who do, and I try to do so that I do not condemn, but I wonder whether those of us who experienced childhood in the twilight of the Cold War and after will ever really understand the horror of seeing “those times” encroaching on a world that once made sense.