I must admit that Christmas in Las Vegas threatened to become a bit melancholy this year, as the old frontier town passes into history, as the great experiment of it ends — the notion of preserving a refuge, out in the middle of the Mojave desert, from the shabby, bovine Puritanism of ordinary American life.
The experiment proved too successful, I guess, in the end — the air of freedom from Big Nanny created a vital economy and an exciting metropolis that the shabby, bovine Puritans wanted to move to, appropriate and transform back into the shabby, bovine places they left back home . . . as though they could have the best of both worlds, a vibrant fantasy city that was also tidy, safe and conformist.
American Puritans, the old diehards of the religious right and the new social hygienists of the “progressive” left (just as fanatical and intolerant in their own ways,) never learn. The bourgeois dullards who want to control the behavior of smokers are the same bourgeois dullards who enacted alcohol prohibition in the last century, whether their smug intolerance derives from moral or “health-oriented” motives. “The Puritan conscience,” C. S. Lewis reminds us, “works on without the Puritan theology — like millstones grinding nothing; like digestive juices working on an empty stomach and producing ulcers.” Which suggests that the religious moralists are perhaps slightly more sane than the new secular Puritans.
At any rate, in my wistful state I delayed getting a tree this year, but on Christmas Eve, when I saw that my favorite Christmas tree lot had already closed down, I suddenly realized how shameful it would be not to bring an evergreen into my home. I found another lot, deserted except for two exhausted lot attendants sitting in folding chairs outside the mobile home they were obviously living in for the holidays. They could hardly bring themselves to notice me when I walked onto the lot but finally stirred and stood up, prepared to make what would probably be the last sale of the season. I picked out a big tree, paid almost nothing for it, retrieved my Christmas decorations from storage and set the tree up in my apartment, ablaze with lights.
This changed everything, and shows why traditions are neglected at the gravest peril — they pull us out of passing moods and remind us of an antique wisdom that transcends the
understanding of the moment.
With the lights blinking, a fire crackling, a glass of egg nog in my hand, I communed with Christmases past and Christmases to come. I remembered my modest but Grace-filled place in the continuity of things.
I looked forward to Christmas in Baja — or wherever the dim-witted Puritan duppies drive me. It doesn’t matter. There’s never any guaranteed room at the inn, even if you’ve got what seems to be an ironclad reservation number. I awoke at dawn on Christmas morning and
the world was born again.
I was happy I’d been reminded to say, once again and just in time, “God bless us — every one.”