Laughing at Death

Laughing at Death December 17, 2017


We are well into the clambering season of Christmas movie argumentation. There are ten or so Christmas movies the children believe must already be foundational pillars of their nostalgic Christmas merrymaking (and boy, the nostalgia of late childhood is deep and broad and wide), and not that much time to see them all, mostly because I, the parent, do not want to. I want to go to bed already and not stay up a second longer. What? Watch Elf again? Really? Maybe we’ll have time tomorrow. I cunningly prevaricate, planning to be so busy when the rosy fingered dawn rears her wretched head that there won’t be a single snow covered chance in Sheol we’ll watch Elf.

But I do have time for The Hogfather. I always have time for the Hogfather. Why, you ask. For the simple and obvious reason that it is the best Christmas movie of all time, deserving to be seen every year.

First of all, I should just mention that if you haven’t read everything by Terry Pratchett you are wrong, and likely bad too. You should stop what you’re doing–probably shopping and freaking out if you’re anything like me–and order a stack of books with his name emblazoned on the cover and spend the whole of this next week reading them. Because really, you deserve a treat. It’s the principle reason for the season.

And second of all, if you haven’t yet seen The Hogfather, you should get it on Amazon and watch it. Because it’s really funny. Pratchett is the master of the carefully organized pun, the one that takes a hundred pages to build up to, the kind that makes you groan with the deep satisfaction of stumbling upon a terrible and funny piece of gilded treasure, and the movie does a pretty good job of preserving these delights.

So in the movie, the Hogfather is in peril because the assassins guild has been paid a large sum of money to bump him off (because, as everyone in the Discworld knows, if you’re going to have crime, it might as well be organized). Noted creepy assassin, Mr. Teatime (that’s pronounced Teeeeahhhhtimeeeee) is given the job and admonished to be elegant about it. This is tragic, because if the Hogfather is done away with, who will put toys into the stockings of rich children on Hogswatch? And also, it turns out, belief in the Hogfather is what keeps the sun coming up every day. If you don’t Believe…well, it’s too terrible an idea to contemplate. But try not to fear! There is a hero, and his granddaughter, who are prepared to risk it all to save the day. That would be Death, and Susan. Death procures a false beard and a pillow and rides around on Hogswatch filling the stockings of all children, both rich and poor alike, because he’s a sentimental old skeleton, and raising the Little Match Girl from the, cough, dead, and otherwise reinvigorating belief in the hearts of all almost as fast as Mr. Teatime can destroy it. I mean, you should go to church first, but after that you should hole up and watch this movie.

At least for the very good reason that the best thing you can do as a Christian is have a jolly good laugh at death, especially in Advent, especially right before Christmas–that auspicious and nostalgic laden moment when we remind ourselves that the ticking time bomb was set, ready to explode under the seat of Death’s trousers, seriously debilitating his ability to ruin our lives, cough, forever. The holly, the jolly, all the things ending in olly, are the first cheerful bite of the even brighter, richer, and more thrilling joy of Easter. It is good and right to celebrate, to feast, to rejoice over such a strange and beautiful work.

But, of course, it’s hard to do, because even though the reality is there–God coming to rescue us from ourselves, to pull us out of the darkness and into the light, to raise us from the dead and to destroy death, to make us glad with the weekly remembrance of his Son, to give us lovely things to eat and drink, to give us hope for an indestructible joy to come–we still manage to make a complete pig’s breakfast of it, to trample over the true joy, burying it under a pile of stressful, temporal, fleeting misery. Or maybe it’s not ‘we,’ maybe it’s just ‘me.’

I clutter up my life with lists and expectations–I’ve got to do that and then this and then this other thing and then that other thing over there–must keep moving, or else Santa will die and all the children will cry. And everywhere I go and every song blasting it’s single desultory gospel message–that it’s full hearted belief in Santa that keeps the sun coming up every day–lies to me that I must be happy and fulfilled or the very foundations of the universe will crumble into the dust. It’s so helpful to have Death flying around in a hog drawn sleigh to see that no, that’s not really how it works. My belief doesn’t call anyone, but most especially God, into existence. On the contrary, He is the one that gives the life. He gives everything. He holds it together. He makes the sun come up. He gives the gift even of himself. And when I spoil it, he comes back in and puts it, and all the things ending in olly, back together. Happy Third Sunday of Advent!

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