Once upon a time when I was a smaller person, it was December 23rd my family and I were discussing when to go to Christmas Mass. I raised the brilliant point that we should not go early on Christmas morning because obviously the agony of waiting for presents would ruin any sort of prayerful Christmas Day reflection. My responsible older brother looked down his glasses at me and told me that I didn’t have my priorities straight.
In retrospect, of course I agree with my brother – basing your entire day – or your entire season, or your entire year – around taking stuff out of a box is a bad way to go. But at the same time I feel like the rest of life is just a desperate scramble to catch up to the excitement of that morning when a large rectangle covered in tacky patterns is the realization of everything that makes life worth living. How many of your most ridiculously positive memories involve snow, pine needles, and piles of torn up wrapping paper? Infinitely more than those that involve L.L. Bean slippers and weird crystal-growing kits you never asked for. This is all basic Christmas meditations. Every kid in America knows that Christmas dinner sucks.
Alvin of Alvin and the Chipmunks is the voice of American childhood, I guess, and is responsible for whatever inane reason for summing up the desires of American children. His primary concern – that Christmas might actually come late – is, for smaller people, a genuine one. This is inconceivable when you’re grown up and normal, but when you’re so whacked out on desire for opening boxes that you can’t even bear to wait the extra hour of church because presents are **that** important – there is always a faintly distinct possibility that somehow the world is going to somehow forget to schedule Christmas.
Of course, Alvin is a brat and his other primary focus is the procuring of a hula hoop. Which is ultimately the cause of all the desire and the enthusiasm and the joy – abject materialism fueled by lazy, exploitative advertising. But the longing in his voice – if you can call whatever emotion you hear in his horrible, horrible voice “longing” – is real. It’s that painful, all-encompassing desire that we’re trying to get back for the rest of our lives. This is what Christmas is all about – the longing for something so bad that you start to question the solidity of the Western calendar. If you can channel all that longing for something other than a hula hoop – then damn, you’re doing something right.