No Studied Neglect

Each year on December 26 a friend of mine is given to surveying his ravaged household and addressing thus a wilting wife and family: “Just think, 364 more days and we go through the whole wretched business again.” For him it is a season of stocktaking, wound-licking, and shuddering masochistic memories.

I know what he means. In my own youthful circles we invariably had party games—an institution mystifying to strangers and totally disruptive of family life. There is, for example, no clutch of circumstance quite so fell as being required to pass half a matchbox from nose to nose while standing next to a man who has grown a beard for Christmas (go on, try it).

A clerical critic declares that Christmas is made an excuse for meretricious salesmanship, and adds that for a month before the feast (he was lucky) the cry is “Buy … Adeste, Fideles … Nylons for your lady … It came upon the midnight clear. What come, Mommy? Santa Claus, my darling.”

The aforementioned S.C. comes in for a clobbering from many quarters. Any child who believes in him, announced eminent psychiatrist Dr. Brock Chisholm two decades ago, “has had his ability to think permanently injured and will become the kind of man who will develop a sore back when there is a tough job to do, and refuse to think realistically when war threatens.” Punning apart, I do like that last clause. It has all sorts of interesting overtones for today.

It reminded me, moreover, of George Washington, who spoiled the Hessian Yuletide by crossing the Delaware and surprising their revels 192 December 25ths ago. He wouldn’t have caught napping the early New Englanders, who are reported as having worked steadily through 12.25.1620 in “studied neglect” of the day. About forty ...

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