People commonly (wrongly, of course) say that Christmas should not be celebrated by the firing of cannon and lighting of firecrackers.
They say the birth of the Prince of Peace should not occasion loud noises, let alone any festival of gunpowder. They cite the poet Milton: "For silent was the night, wherein the prince of light his reign of peace upon the earth began."
Which is all very well in its way. But my view, which is probably the correct and orthodox position, is that the firing of salutes accomplishes a number of benefits to the city and its citizens:
It accords a proper (if somewhat unsynchronized) greeting to a visiting head of state, albeit his throne in this world is worse than wobbly. If we fire cannon salutes to every dingbat master of countries nobody ever heard of when they visit this capital, then why not for Christmas?
It takes some of the treacle out of the common unbalanced observance of the day, which easily bogs down in iddy-biddy babyhood. That is all good in its way, and I know it is commonly regarded as the day in which we honor the Diapered Ones, as later in the year we honor Mothers and Daddies. Still, Christmas would never have been celebrated in the first place if the baby had just stayed a baby. Implicit in the first day of any life is the last day of that life, and there should be (in the celebration of Christmas) not only the tenderness of a baby with cows, donkeys and hounds breathing sweet about the manger, but also substantial reference to great power.
All right-thinking folk understand the correctness of trumpets and drums, lights on altars, processions and torches and so forth. And, as I say, cannon and firecrackers.
The great celebratory noises of said explosives do much to affright powers of darkness. Such blasts also encourage the sun to rise with greater strength in the future. Where I grew up we well understood the importance of that. We used to leave the sun to its own devices, as we were busy picking cotton, and you see what happened. The sun got weaker by the day. In the nick of time one of the wise heads among us started firing off great noises and, as we were pleased to notice, the sun began to come back. Another week and it might well have been too late. Our fathers of old noticed the same thing. Although many fail to take part in the general duty to revive the sun, the world at large is indebted to those who faithfully sound off at Christmas.
And while we're about it, the city suffers from a bell deficiency. At my own parish church we have a bell that I suspect was rescued from a farm. It goes klonk-klonk. Still, the bell clinketh as the heart thinketh and we make do with it, pretending it is a great bell. If some of the people who clutter up churches and parks with memorials, frequently hideous, would apply their money to the installation of bells, it would be better.
Bells, trumpets, cannon, firecrackers have highly therapeutic effects on ordinary folk. It is a myth, of course, that everybody dashes madly from store to store getting ready for Christmas. I myself do not go in a store once in five years except to get parking lot tickets stamped. The merchants try to convey the message that everybody runs around buying things, but I believe only a fringe element does so. Those of us who do our Christmas shopping in September (when we see something we think is dandy) or else at 9 p.m. Christmas Eve, pawing over the junk tables (Spectacular Sales Reductions on These Items Only) avoid the so-called hectic holiday rush. Indeed, the trumpets and gunpowder rouse us from our somnolent style.
And on the other hand, those who have got themselves in a tizzy through several weeks of shopping will also hear the great noise and perhaps reflect that something is going on more important than their scamperings and fro-ings.
Either way, whether to wake folk up or calm them down, the bells and cannon roars are splendid.
And yet how well we all know that wise counsel and gentle admonishment count for little. Do I expect Christmas will be properly celebrated with marvelous noise this year? No. As usual we will go heavy on the syrup and light on the power.
Look, it's okay by me. I've told you how to celebrate, but you do it your way. I wish I had a cannon. Some buddies of mine in Takoma Park do. They sound off at New Year's, but are pretty much useless wimps for Christmas. Well, in time they will see things right and will improve.
In the meantime, rest ye merry. Not too merry. It's been years since I got tight on Christmas and I'm the better for it. But if you stay home a warm toddy or two may be just the thing for you -- you know best for yourself. Even if you do without trumpets, cannon salutes, brandy and proper greens in the house (juniper, holly, box, yew and ivy) -- even so, what the hell, Merry Christmas.