The multiplication of goods, not of the Good. In search of an authentic Christmas spirit


By John

I remember, or I seem to remember, the mixture of anxiety, restlessness and joy that filled us children when, at the end of the school dinner, Christmas Eve, was about to make its appearance, almost like a magic of the grown-ups, panettone, almost always panettone, which was cut, distributed, eaten religiously, taking care not to drop a crumb, because not only was it a sin (just as it was a sin to drop breadcrumbs), but it was a significant part of the only slice we had. We were at the beginning of the sixties of the twentieth century, the economic boom had arrived, in small doses, even in the smallest and most miserable countries and the black, sad, obsessive hunger that previous generations had experienced, and for which the fathers had left in America, Germany, Northern Italy, it began to become a story, a memory (just as it was difficult for us to remember the memories of others), but it remained as an underground fear, an always latent threat, an immanent risk, not resolved forever.
Families like mine, thanks to the America of our grandparents and the Canada of our fathers, to the work in the countryside of the women and those who remained, were able, with happiness and parsimony, to honor the “tradition”, the “Christmas fast”. (fasting was a real binge, which generally did not involve the consumption of meat) and consuming (depending on the location) the nine or thirteen (sometimes twenty-four) “things” based on pasta, broccoli, stockfish, cod, anchovies or other fish, vegetables, salads, cheese and winter fruit, especially chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, apples, oranges, mandarins and nougats, susumelle, zeppole and other varieties of desserts, in which mothers were experts. Then the tombolata began (the numbers were marked on the cards with the orange peels) and, as the “novena” passed, the players and singers of «Tu scendi dalle stelle», «Bambino Amabile», «Astro del ciel», we went out and we ran to friends: some went to midnight mass, others to have a “snap” in some cold and damp room, still others to get up to mischief in a town that really appeared full as a herd (Alvaro) and with the charm of the magical night , in which, at midnight, as the song assured, milk and honey descended from the sky and the valleys.
It seems like a nostalgic and romantic description of childhood Christmas. It is. But if, at my age, with the times (wars, climate crises, poverty) that “run”, if I didn’t invent, in part, something beautiful, at least in the past, I would have to wait for the end by making the list of ugly and horrendous, which we have before us. It’s not that, even as a young man, I didn’t see the misery of my companions, the pain of people, the separation of families, hard work and barefoot and coatless companions to whom we brought susumelle and nougats, but the fact was that time seemed to run forward, towards beauty, wealth, happiness, in a direction that led towards a happy ending. And something truly terrible must have happened if, over time, we no longer feel we are tending towards an end, a telos, a new world to reach, but we talk more and more about the End (don’t forget that someone, just for fun, threatens that could drop the nukes).
What happened was that the panettone became two, three, ten, one hundred. Of every type, brand, make. Filled with cream, nutella, chocolate, ice cream. And the Pandoro arrived, the nougats from everywhere, the sweets, the babas. And Santa Claus arrived, who brought many beautiful things to the children, together with many useless, superfluous, fashionable things, which made our children and grandchildren unhappy, sad, quarrelsome because expectations and fantasies always go beyond the real and of the possible, of the limit and because there is always a game, a smart phone, a newer, more beautiful mobile phone than the one you own and so those poor panettoni are thrown in the garbage, without any mercy, and those poor magnificent turdilli , nacatole, pignolate remain shy and secluded, almost intact, untouched, now tired of taking on the burden of a “holy” and “authentic” tradition in which no one believes anymore, which perhaps never existed. And the nine, thirteen, twenty-four things have become “a hundred and a thousand”, a thousand and a thousand, and cannot be consumed, not even preserved, not even given to the poor of the world, they must be set aside, thrown away, wasted. And the tables, surrounded by consumers who talk about the beauty of meeting and “eating together”, offer all the freedoms of the bellies of the world: together, foods and meals for carnivores, herbivores, vegetarians, vegans, allergy sufferers and indescribable pathologies and, in the meantime, everyone fiddles alone on their cell phone, sends greetings to those who aren’t there and doesn’t caress the nearby diner, they feel alone among the multitude.
For a certain period of time I had imagined that, once black hunger had been defeated, and the necessary well-being had been achieved, it was perhaps time to stop, not to always go further, to rediscover the beauty of sobriety, of “flavor”, of taste. , truly natural, ethical, non-poisoned foods. I was wrong, I admit it. Moderation and sobriety are only the fruit of necessity, of scarcity, of scarcity. The world has not even been able to mediate between hunger and abundance, waste and famine and the poor of our West and of the entire planet have become (as Umberto Galimberti writes in a beautiful book) useless, unwanted, as they are not consumers or inadequate consumers. Because in the consumer and market society, in a world where objects must be replaced immediately, where sales cannot stop, where those who do not have are not (as a Calabrian proverb said), where the market economy stands on the myth and practice of growth, “technique” has no morality, it does not obey politics, it only creates producers and consumers.
Advertising (Galimberti reminds us again), taking up a sociological, anthropological, philosophical tradition that has been dismissed as anti-modern, does not create goods, but the need for goods, changes our interiority, our desires, our relationship with the body, the health, “values” (such as freedom and democracy, which, however, are always sacrificed in the name of business and the market), produces a “world to be thrown away”. And the humanity that treats the world as something to throw away treats itself as a humanity to throw away (G. Anders).
Pier Paolo Pasolini had already spoken in 1975 of the “civilization of bread” in the traditional and agro-pastoral worlds and not because he was nostalgic for a universe of precariousness and hunger, but because he could not stand the existing order, he was nostalgic for the world where nothing should be thrown away , but everything was consumed, because it was sacred, the fruit of effort, of awareness, of wisdom, of a sense of limits. Because, I quote Pasolini from memory, in a world where every good is superfluous, life itself becomes superfluous.
Perhaps I entrusted to you my senile reflections (even if I thought so already at a young age), perhaps I was not respectful of the festive atmosphere, which would require joy, removal of problems, forgetfulness of the disasters of the world, but my best wishes of Christmas would not be heartfelt and true if I did not say that, even from afar, from time gone by, faint and irresistible voices reach me from those who thought that “much is like nothing” and that, on Christmas night, men, women children, animals, food, the dead, water, plants, forests were part of the same planet, which belongs to everyone and not to Sapiens, who also transforms bonds, affections, feelings, good wishes, life.
That world will never return and the magnificent fates that seem to lead us to the End seem unstoppable, but we, even in our small way, have the need to seek other paths, other paths.