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Godfrey Wishes You A Good Holiday Season
December 24, 2008 - 2:23am


Do you know the great children’s album The Bottle Let Me Down? Get it, even if you don’t have kids, for lyrics like these from Robbie Fulks that perfectly describe the magician at this year’s holiday party at our student union:

But as long as rodents roam across the land,
As long as children have a mucous gland,
As long as body fluids gurgle and flow,
Anyone can do a magic show!

(What's his name?)
Godfrey, the sickly unemployed amateur children's magician,
He's got wonders up his sleeves!
Godfrey, the sickly unemployed amateur children's magician,
If you'll only make believe!

The party, held each year for the children of faculty, staff, and students, had more problems than just Godfrey, who mumbled confusedly through his act. Cruelly, the delicious-looking gingerbread men on the snack table were so spicy the children couldn’t eat them, and the hot chocolate was scalding, gritty and black. The ballroom’s decoration consisted of two short helices of party balloons standing at the entrance. At least the puppet show was long, violent, and manic, as medieval as you’d want, with grotesque puppets of the Lady Elaine Fairchild ilk that had even my brave little Wolfie shouting “No!” at them.

I asked a few questions of one of the event’s organizers. She said the excellent Santa who’d been there several years in a row had been axed as a show of cultural sensitivity. I didn’t ask if the dry cleaner for the dirty, matted polar bear and snowman suits that a couple of undergrads wore had been axed for the same reason. Or why, if culture was the issue, the opportunity for intercultural education hadn't been seized. Wouldn’t a room full of happy children spinning dreidels, lighting Kwanzaa candles, and eating Bûche de Noël be better than banality?

When I was a kid on the campus of Southern Illinois University, I used to love the winter international-student festival. It lasted for a week and had an international dinner, free films, a cultural show with dances, performances, fashion, acrobatics, martial arts, and an expo with booths full of educational materials and gifts for sale. My mom being who she was, we often wound up afterward in grad students’ apartments with their friends, getting a start on Tet or listening to an African woman in a bright robe and headscarf tell stories.

It gets me down, this watery “holiday season,” and makes me long for something authentic, challenging, or maybe even a little dangerous to preconceived notions. If we huddled together around fire-barrels while waiting for the bear-baiting, and waifs ran up the street waving our stolen wallets, so we knew we’d never get the squire’s oxen back through the thieves’ forest without the necessary bribe—nay, alive—don’t you think then we’d sing all those minor-key carols sweetly and meaningfully?

Snow broke the monotony of my usual walk to campus this past week, sounding as it fell like the crackle heard underwater around a living reef. Birds were out, squirrels played, and wet trunks of trees stood black in the lightly falling snow. On the quad, pale lovely girls strode tired and serious with their hair twisted up in finals-fashions, and the young men had no time to notice them.

Winter in the temperate zones is a mysterious season because we know deep down it’s a miracle humankind ever survived it at all. Our traditions celebrate warmth in cold, light in darkness, closeness though we’re so often far apart, and gifts in time of want. I still put a polished apple, an orange, and a handful of nuts in their shells in the toe of each of my sons' Christmas stockings. They’re puzzled but aware. It took me a while to figure out why my mom did that for me: Because her parents had done it for her when they still ate according to the region and seasons, and money was too tight on a daily basis for fragrant little mysteries from afar.

My family and I wish you joyful mysteries of the season, whichever you choose to celebrate.


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