People sure are funny about Christmas. Somewhere between the staunchly religious crowd demanding the sacredness of the season and those who would rather be left out of the holiday all together, preferring the peace and quiet not usually associated with large crowds, busy streets, and angry shoppers, lies the rest of us. For many, the nostalgia of Christmas carries much of the meaning, with just as much reverence given to fond memories and cheerful disposition as there is to a celebration of any particular event. Then again, some of you may be reading this and wondering why one would even bother wasting time dissecting the means of celebration associated with such a convoluted holiday in the first place – which is a wholly reasonable way to feel.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that the mixture of belief and ritual surrounding Christmas cuts wide enough of a swath for all of us to enjoy it in our own way. Perhaps nowhere else is the syncretism of the season as on display as it is in our consumption of art. A recent weekend in Indianapolis featured Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas Sing-A-Long, with the real life Christmas Unicorn presenting itself the following evening in the form of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s production of the Duke Energy Yuletide Celebration. Suffice it to say, if you’re in the market for any sort of Christmas celebrating, well, there’s a little something for everyone.
While Stevens’ event gave the young, indie crowd reason to gather for a festive night of pondering where our reverence in regards to the season lies, and why, the ISO’s Yuletide Celebration was a family affair, running the gamut of traditional Christmas ritual, both in seriousness and in jest. Any time a show begins with a moving rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” only to feature 16 tap-dancing Santas on stage less than a half-hour later, you know you’ve stumbled across a case study in American’s melting pot of ritual and sacredness.
That’s not to say that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra did a poor job in its display of the holiday – quite the opposite. In fact, the entire night was filled with nearly every conceivable Christmas facet. From carols to hymns, from silly to serious, from old to new – every angle was covered with painstaking detail, talent, and thoughtfulness. Operatic numbers stood alongside harmonica solos, showtunes, and even a rousing performance from Cirque de la Symphonie. Co-hosts Angela Brown and Ben Crawford were perfect leads, engaging the crowd and entertaining in the form of song, dance, and monologue. All the while, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra itself provided the perfect backdrop for the occasion, capturing the heart of each one of the night’s performances and filling the auditorium with warmth and sound.
Indeed, Christmas was displayed in all of its forms, much to the enjoyment of the sold out crowd. And that’s the point. When it comes to our intake of Christmas media, we seem to put aside our normal artistic filters, both in terms of content and in terms of presentation, and simply partake in enjoyment. And that’s absolutely okay.
During Sufjan Stevens’ 12-minute mammoth of a song, “Christmas Unicorn”, he sings “For I make no full apology for the category I reside / I’m a mythical mess with a treasury chest, I’m a construct of your mind” before concluding that each of us is a Christmas Unicorn in our own right and that “It’s alright, I love you”. Hit continually from every angle and from every outlet imaginable over our lifetime, we each develop our own ideas and construct our own mental framework for what Christmas policies and ideals we hold dear and mean the most to us. When our differences in these matters collide in the form of events such as the ISO’s Yuletide Celebration, we get a glimpse of the unity, hope, and joy that supersedes each of our own concepts of what Christmas means and points to something greater. And that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to celebrate.