Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.
“Abe Martin” came to life on December 17, 1904 as the creative inspiration of Indianapolis News writer and cartoonist Kin Hubbard. Up to that time, Hubbard had focused his talents on political caricature but as the presidential elections of that year came to an end, he found he had a good deal of material left over. To make use of it, he decided to experiment with a new format. It would be a single panel cartoon with a one or two line commentary. His alter ego for this experiment would be rustic philosopher, loafer and country bumpkin, Abe Martin of Brown County Indiana. The cartoon was an immediate hit with Hoosiers and began to develop a national following when Hubbard published a collection of Martin’s wise sayings a year later.
Hubbard (or Martin) came by his country wisdom honestly. Born in 1868, he was the youngest in a family of six children. His father was a newspaper editor and well known for his often contrary opinions. At one point, he so infuriated the local readers that they tossed him out of a two story window. Strong opinions, however, weren’t confined to the newspaper. The Hubbard’s were described as, “The strangest family you ever saw—loyal but opinionated.” That was never more evident than at dinner time when discussions often became so heated that everyone left the table. The rancor never lasted and soon they all drifted back to the dining room. This kind of “loving” feuding and fence mending (with acerbic wit on the side) turned out to be the perfect incubator for the country wisdom of Abe Martin.
Ultimately, what made Hubbard successful was the fact that anyone anywhere could read his one liners and immediately recognize their truth. And so it is for us this Christmas. We’re hanging the lights, trimming the tree, decorating our cubes and from eight-to-five feasting on homemade goodies. For the most part, even the unpleasant types in the office lighten up long enough to crack a fleeting smile. Those with a more generous spirit are absolutely bubbling with good cheer. It’s really kind of nice. But for many folks the good cheer is a little restrained. They can’t shake the lingering feeling that it will evaporate pretty quickly once the dull grey of January begins to assert itself. As a result, they hold back a bit. They don’t quite surrender to the season. They keep themselves “grounded.” They skip the anticipation of Christmas and instead think about it moving on. In short, they don’t let themselves believe that the good things in life can ever be sustained.
The circus has a profit motive for packing up quickly but there’s no profit in letting the Christmas spirit slip away. Those good feelings that the season creates are genuine and far more valuable than the cynicism, resignation and boredom that we’re confronted with so much of the time. So give yourself up to Christmas. Enjoy every moment. And for every kindness you experience; return it in double and then pass it on. In the year ahead, when the feuding starts, remember the kindness of Christmas and like the Hubbard’s be sure to quickly return to the table for a little fence-mending. Learn to keep Christmas and it will keep you. Merry Christmas, everyone! —Ebert