don’t know if Christopher Hitchens left written instruction but the publication date of this sixth collection of his essays seems pointedly to have been designed to miss Christmas lists.
I had forgotten that among the things Hitchens – the contrarian’s contrarian – sought to dismantle was the festive spirit; there are two reminders here of that particular heroic and unwinnable campaign.
The rhetorical onslaught of each is instructive of the method.
As ever Hitch begins enjoyably anecdotally in one case (Bah, Humbug, an essay from Slate of 2005) with a sharp account of being physically barred from a Bible belt talkshow for observing that ‘Christmas trees Yule logs and the rest were symbols of the winter solstice holidays before any birth had been registered in the greater Bethlehem area’ –
– in the other (The True Spirit of Christmas for the Wall Street Journal in 2011) by revealing that (of course) he knew all the words to Tom Lehrer’s unhappy holidays carol and sang them loudly in the presence of any holly and ivy gathering as evidence of his ‘root-and-branch resistance’.
Hitchens proceeds in both essays (he was not above a little seasonal recycling) to employ his Jesuitical arsenal of historical and literary allusion to advance the case that living through an American (or British) Christmas was analogous to existing in a ‘one-party state’.
In the latter essay he goes to some lawyerly length to address the ‘most Scrooge-like of questions: is there a constitutional issue here?’
As often with Hitchens the brilliance of the self-righteous anger and the engaged wit of the delivery makes you think he is joking.
He is not – entirely.
He sums up by arguing ‘angels and menorahs on the White House lawn are an infraction of the Establishment Clause’ and inviting a close reading of the letters of Thomas Jefferson on the subject.