I am not a Christmas enthusiast.
I wouldn’t really call myself a Grinch, either. I like the twinkly lights that stud Fifth Avenue. I will dutifully plug in the eighteen-inch tall pink tinsel tree my mother sent me after my first year in New York, when she realized I really wasn’t kidding about ordering Chinese food on Christmas day. I don’t tell small children that Santa started off as a Pagan party animal, and I don’t sneer at people in fuzzy earmuffs humming carols. In short, I don’t begrudge people their own warm and fuzzy Christmas, but as for me? I just don’t GET it.
I don’t understand why we’ve designated one day for making children (in first world countries) smile (with money!). It’s so clear to me that this only reinforces the damaged relationship between love and material possession that exists in so many families. I understand that parents are in a hard spot, and that the cultural pressure surrounding the holidays is enormous. But in many families, the spendfest is used to relieve pressure, anxiety and guilt that build up year-round. I have several friends whose awful, awful parents made a big deal of Christmas and then held it up all year as their ‘proof’ that they were good parents who loved their kids, when they would have been better served by saving their $300 and actually treating the kid like a human being year-round. My own parents, in their zeal to forget having grown up poor, bought us so many gifts every year it was almost embarrassing – but no gift I ever received made me feel more truly or deeply loved for having gotten it.
I do know parents who have managed to revise the Hallmark version of Christmas, impressing upon their kids that celebrating Christmas is a fun cultural tradition, but that gifts aren’t the same thing as love or respect. These parents give me hope that somewhere further down the line, some civility and sanity will return to the proceedings. Imagine: Wal-Mart employees won’t be trampled to death by panicked parents who are terrified that their children won’t know they’re loved unless they get this year’s hot Wubble, and kids who grow up in needy families (or, heaven forbid, non-Christian faith systems) won’t be made to feel like second-class citizens, or like they’re underloved just because dad is a janitor and not a doctor.
I also take some issue with the idea that “holiday cheer” should begin oozing from my pores as soon as gobble day has come to pass. In December, everyone is expected to be polite and thoughtful and kind. I don’t understand why we fail to hold the rest of the year to the same standard. Is our society gift-obsessed because Christmas gives us a chance to prove to ourselves that we can, if we so choose, act mindfully and presently? Can we actually feel good about spending one month of the year acting with others in mind, and then abandoning it the rest of the year? Apparently, we can. (If that wasn’t the case, the idea of “holiday cheer” wouldn’t be so important, I don’t think, and people who weren’t able to muster arbitrarily better behavior for the month of December wouldn’t be made to feel defective.)
I just find it bizarre that we combine all the elements of a horrific, highly stressful month – extra expenditures, schedule disruptions, lots of travelling during peak times, seeing extended family, hosting and attending many social events – and then, after cramming all of these things into a six-week merry-go-round of overeating, overdrinking, overspending and oversocializing, we deem THIS the month we’re supposed to be filled with cheer?!?
I, personally, am filled with whiskey.
You know what fills me with cheer? January. The cold winter sky, the air of champagne hangover that muddles the entire month into one slow recovery. The holiday season leaves us so bruised that we lack the energy, in January, to be as bitter or anxious or angry as we were in the time ramping up to the holidays. In January, we’re allowed to call whoever we want and only go to parties if we feel up to it. January has forgiveness written all over it. It gives permission to do-over, to re-resolve, to take a moment and think about yourself, to nurse yourself back to some version of health.
But before January, December has to come, and I’ll get through it the way I always do. I will go to the holiday parties, and I will enjoy the lights and the kids ice-skating. And I will let the kids show me their new toys, and I will tell them that they are lovely, because it isn’t the kids’ fault and because they are children and they deserve to be happy, even if the particular brand of happy we offer them is imperfect. I will enjoy the parts where I get to see people I rarely see, and I will enjoy the fact that people seem to remember, in December, that we’re supposed to be decent to one another. But there are limits to the depths of my holiday patience, and if (rather, when) I disappear during December, you will know that I have reached them.
So in case I don’t see you (because the odds are good that I won’t): I really do wish you Happy Holidays, whatever that may mean to you.