Last night I went to a friend's house in West Philadelphia to see Josh Hitchens put on his one-man performance of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in a Victorian-era living room, before a gas fire in the hearth.
Hitchens did a bang-up job with a lively and convincing performance. And of course the source material is bulletproof. I've seen it performed by any number of actors, animate and inanimate, including the Muppets and Mr. Magoo, and it always (to a greater or lesser degree) works. That's an amazing accomplishment.
My own traditional Christmas story is far less known. But it has the advantage of being true. I call it...
The Parable of the Creche
When first I came to Roxborough, a third of a century ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing. Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season. It wasn't all that big -- maybe seven feet at its tip -- and it wasn't very fancy. The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ Child, and the animals were a couple of feet high at best, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden construction to keep people from walking off with them. But it was loved.
It was a common sight to see people standing in front of the creche, admiring it. Sometimes they'd brought their small children to see it for the first time. It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.
Alas, Gorgas Park was publicly owned, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of the separation of church and state. When the complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put into storage.
People were upset of course. Nobody liked seeing a beloved tradition disappear. There was a certain amount of grumbling and disgruntlement.
So the kind people of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in. They adopted the creche and put it up on the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen by all.
But did this make us happy? It did not. The creche was just not the same, located in front of a church. It seemed lessened, in a strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians.
I was in a local tappie, shortly after the adoption, and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:
"The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas!"
And while I'm on the subject . . .
Merry Christmas to all and on Earth peace to those of good will! For those who celebrate other holidays (or none at all), my very best wishes. Happiness for everybody, as the Strugatskys put it, free, and no exceptions!
Above: This photo is actually of Josh Hitchens performing his one-man version of Dracula. But theater is theater and I'm rapidly becoming a fan of Hitchens.