Massacre of the Innocents

Those who shop for their food in supermarkets — and I did recently — will notice that the music is “curated.” They are closed on Christmas day, but for weeks before their customers are offered “Christmas carols.” These will be (if the ones I heard are an example) stripped of Christmas content; the lyrics possibly rewritten; but the tunes recognizable as “holiday music.” No attempt has been made to edit them in other respects. For instance, I heard a reference to a “one-horse open sleigh.” It is many years since I saw one of those; and other references are to some cosy comfiness that is quite irrelevant to the way we live today. Lurching through the parking lot after, I did not find a single sleigh parked there. I was not even looking for a baby in a manger, or other religious paraphernalia.

But return just after Christmas and the jingle music is gone. The all-season pop music has returned. The holiday is quite ended, except, holiday-themed goods are on sale at big discounts. Another sales season has cut in, and for a moment there may be a New Year’s theme, but generally we have segued to “bleak mid-winter” when we shop mostly because we need things. The sales staff may relax slightly; or, those not yet replaced by check-out machines.

The succession through Advent, which was once a season of abstinence, to the merry explosion of Christmas, has been amended. The “holiday season” now begins at Black Friday. It is not entirely over until January 2nd — for there are these “Boxing Days,” &c. But the notion that Christmas has twelve days, and that the larger season extends until Candlemas, has been obviated. On the 2nd of January we are, definitively, back to work. Unless someone has a birthday, no parties. Towards Easter, chocolate eggs will appear, and candied bunny rabbits, but these, too, vanish, this year on Monday, April 13th — by some coincidence the day after Christians are, in good conscience, allowed to eat them. But they are massively available through Holy Week.

Of course, this is not a major imposition. It does not compare with the Massacre of the Innocents. We can buy things when they are on sale, and stock them up. Better yet, we can avoid supermarkets, shopping malls, and Internet services entirely. There is an alternative economy out there, and by shopping in Korean and Punjabi stores, whenever possible, we needn’t be exposed to the (sparkling hygienic) filth.

Shopping, to my mind, is a religious activity. The products are miraculous, especially those grown and manufactured by human hands. I am amazed by what I am able to bring home, even from the supermarket. I think of farmers, and factory workers, and truck drivers. But these, for the moment, are out of court.

Instead, I want to emphasize the religious dimension of times and seasons. They have been changed, in the interest of a thoroughgoing commercialism, but they are still there. Notice we still have the old system, except turned upside down. Where there were fasts, we now have bloating; where we had feasts, we now have post-bloat diet plans. Where we had a hated king ordering the murder of male children around a little town, we now have an abortion industry. This is change, apparently; progress.

My Chief Texas Correspondent sent me a list of forty things, which, according to a website, proved that the world is better today than it has ever been. (Let me assure gentle reader that my CTC does not “believe” in progress.) Examining it, I could find only four items that were factually wrong. There were twenty-nine accomplishments to which I was basically opposed, and seven I agreed with, though each with serious reservations.

It was, however, though certainly not Christian, a religious manifesto. It was a list of “good things” people live for today. They are free to do so. I have not the power to stop them. But I do have the power to observe that what they think good is, for the most part, bad.