24 December 2008

Not Numbers, But Brown and Wrinkly

Some items of note from the morning edition of our local fish wrapper, that I felt deserved some discussion:

This is a direct quote from a news article regarding the retail business: “The holiday season is shaping up to be the worst in years”. This is not a particularly original statement about the state of things these days, just a variant of what we have been hearing for weeks if not months now. On the surface, there is nothing that seems unusual about it, either. But by the time I read to the end of the article, I was astonished and saddened by the very banality of that statement. To be able to make such a statement, to have it make sense to the reader, implies an existing set of conditions that the readership at large takes for granted. The basic implication is: the value of the holiday season is gauged by the transfer of money for possessions, fewer transactions equals less fulfillment.

I know the focus of the article is on the retail environment, not the holidays in general. But it was troubling to me because the tone of the article was that numbers equals joy. This seems to be pervasive within our culture, to a disturbing degree. Around here, we often hear the same dire predictions every summer regarding the effects of bad weather on the “success” of the vacation season at Ocean City. Everything always gets tied back to “business”. If “business” isn’t fulfilled, then we aren’t fulfilled.

With all due respect to business owners at all levels, I am tired of hearing it. I am weary of the culture of money telling me I won’t be happy unless I spend, fed up with it being implied that I have to consume or there will be no joy. I guess I am plain wore out being told I have to gauge my happiness by the amount of money I am spending and that others are making. Maybe it is exhaustion brought on by a culture that allows and expects APPETITES to drive everything. I like to eat, but at some point you have to push yourself away from the trough.

The headline reads “Shopping-bag Nativity scene”, and with a hook like that, I couldn’t resist a read. I was expecting something tacky, like an “I saw the face of Jesus on my grilled cheese!” type story. But it was better than that, in its own low-key and heartfelt fashion.

A local church has a yearly tradition of constructing a Nativity scene out of brown paper shopping bags. That’s right: brown paper shopping bags. Every year, a local grocery store and others donate the bags, and volunteer parishioners (one of whom was born near Bethlehem) cut and shape the bags into a cave-like grotto. They crinkle them up and paint them to look like rocks and moss, even make the walls look like they are sooty from campfires. The grotto is about 15’ feet high and 20’ feet wide; they set it that way because there is some evidence to suggest that Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the animals more likely would have been sheltered by a cave; something to do with available building technologies, I think. Anyway, the church uses statues to represent all the people and animals involved, and it gets blessed on Christmas Eve. One of the parishioners is quoted as saying “It is to remind people of the simplicity and poverty of the birth of Christ”; another says the crèche is “a labor of love that we all enjoy doing”.

I can’t claim to be a devout Christian. Hell, these days I am still trying to figure out if I even believe in God (a post, perhaps, for another time), but, still: a labor of love that we all enjoy doing. What an amazing, beautiful summation. Maybe this is why we should be doing anything, especially at this time of the year, when we are encouraged to love one another and find peace with each other.

I do know this: the red and the black in ledgers I do not keep will not be the arbiter of my happiness. Success cannot be defined by the bills in my wallet. This year, and for all to come, my labor (if you can call it labor) will be to love and be loved. Merry Christmas, and peace to all!


  1. Merry Christmas to the Gumbo family from the Dumbasses.

    The boys enjoyed your Porky Pig.

  2. Happy Christmas my friend... and Peace to you and yours.

    Much love,


  3. Nothing like a good opener to prepare you for the worst holiday ever. Power of positive thinking?

    Merry Xmas Mr Irish

  4. I wanna hear (read) the "Do You Believe in God" post.

    It will be FANTASTIC!!!!

    Go get 'em Irish. You've got the goods.

    Merry Christmas!!

  5. CD: 'Merry Christmas from the Dumbasses' - if that isn't the title of a hilarious Christmas album, I don't know what is!

    Anndi: I can feel it. And thanks again for that clip of Sarah M. That voice!

    Braja: Positive thinking is a bit of an undiscovered country for me. I'm liking what I see so far! :)

    Charmaine: *blush* You honor me, madam. That post is on the way, I'm circling around it. And Merry Xmas to you!

  6. I wish I had half the faith of those paper bag statue makin church goers. Can't wait to read a God post as well. ; ) Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  7. this was a most excellent post. truly.

  8. Merry belated Christmas to the Gumbo family.

  9. SBA: I wish I could feel it like they do, but we do what we can. Thank you!

    PPR: You humble me, sir. Thank you.

    MD: No problem, it's still a holiday season! Thank you!

  10. I heard on the radio that the flagging economy hasn't had much of a negative psychological effect on people. Apparently keeping up with the Jonses applies in reverse. As long as the apparent distance between people remains the same they don't get depressed.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...