Thursday, December 22, 2011

In the Spirit

"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all out kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us." - Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol."

Someone asked today if Christmas was cancelled. I'm not sure the impetus behind the question, only that it echoed a fair amount of anti-Christmas sentiment I've seen bandied about in the past week or so. Now, while I understand some of that, and sympathize and even agree - seeing as when I was in Walmart the week after Halloween, when they had already started playing Christmas music, I made the comment to myself that it was way too early, and made the comment out loud, no less - it's never struck me as a legitimate reason to get down on the holiday.

I'm not sure there is a legitimate reason to dislike Christmas, unless you have one of those Phoebe Cates in Gremlins kind of stories. Then it's understandable. Barring that, no matter how drunk and disagreeable Grandma gets off the eggnog, I don't think you should let anyone get in the way of holiday spirit. You are responsible for being your own Ghosts of Christmas, and while I disdain the rest of the Dickensian oeuvre, he had things right with that one. You should celebrate, and make the best of it, regardless of circumstance.

This is not a pollyanna, as is well with the world kind of response. This has been a hard year on my end, and I'm not under any illusions Santa's going to gift me with everything I want. I'll settle for another hooded sweatshirt. Others have it worse, and there have been past Christmases where I've had it worse, certainly financially if not in terms of family. But for all that, it's a time to remember that you've gotten through another year, whatever the challenges, and celebrate that if nothing else.

So yes, it's been over-commercialized, and yes, you've probably heard the Carol of the Bells or Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer at least one time too many. And yes, every year someone breaks out the tired religious arguments, whether they are for the holiday or against it, which makes the rest of us who are sane want to beat them senseless with a yule log. (Okay, that last part may just be me.)

But you know what? The holidays are not about them, the ad execs or religious fanatics, or the just plain greedy. It's about the rest of us, who once a year rise to the better angels of our nature, and manage to set aside something for someone else, even if it's just saving up for that one present for a child who otherwise might not have much else to look forward to. Sure, it would be nice if the spirit filled everyone all year round, as it is said to do with Scrooge at the end. But that's asking more of human nature than we're capable of, if you ask me, at least for right now.

As Dickens' says, elsewhere in the book, "But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round [...] as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

So never fear. There shall be no cancellation. Christmas is better than the Post Office (and in less danger of being shut down). It has survived wars, disasters, cheesy Hallmark movies of the week, and other sundry difficulties and horrors.

As long as there is someone willing to wander about in a Santa hat, sing a few carols (however badly), and wish all their fellow travelers upon the globe a Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays if you aren't Christian) in the true, full spirit of the season, Christmas will exist.

And I, for one, have a Santa hat, and intend to proudly wear it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ghosts of Libraries Past

I was wandering downtown a couple of months ago when I found myself walking past the old library. That statement implies that there is a new library, which there is, and which I have been in recently. The new library is nice, certainly, and this is not going to be a blog post in which I rail against the shiny and the new. I'm not that old, yet, even if some days I think I'm getting there faster than I'd like.

Then again, the shiny and new had a pretty dismal science fiction section. But that's not the point.

The new library is a good library (lack of genre fiction aside), but there is a certain something that the old one had that the new one lacks. Of course, the old one lacked things, too. Like computers and windows and light. What it had though, was charm and aesthetics. The old library looked exactly the way old libraries looked, and I kind of miss that.

It had large Roman columns out front. They might have been Doric or Ionic, but frankly I don't remember the columns - or the classifications - well enough to really say after all these years. You walked up the big stone steps outside, and then there were more steps inside until you got to the central atrium. A dark atrium, because there was no window overhead (which, come to think on it, does it still count as an atrium then?). The center circle of the circulation desk sat in the middle, and there were stairs leading off to one side, along with half a dozen entrances to half a dozen different rooms scattered around.

Including what I remember being a pretty decent genre fiction section, in a room of its own towards the front.

I also remember the children's section was downstairs, and without question the new children's room is better.

As I said it was dark, especially in comparison with a modern library, but somehow that just added to the appeal. As a kid, this was the closet thing to what I imagined a castle to be like that I got to visit. It was the oldest building, or at least the building that felt the oldest, out of any I knew. I spent a fair amount of time there, too, even if it was rather inconveniently located downtown in a city with poor public transit. I loved the way everything echoed in the main chamber, and the narrowness of the research stacks, and the odd hallways that didn't seem to go anywhere (which probably led to the library offices), and even the various artworks scattered along the hallways and in dark corners.

It was a building with personality, and character, and history. A building that could have ghosts, though as far as I know it did not. A building that could leave its own ghost, create its own afterimage in the environment.

It still stands, obviously, but is now used for federal offices. I've heard you can still go in and look around, but I don't think I want to do that. I'd rather live with the old memories.