For months now, people have been telling me that I should have a happy Christmas. We had a holiday party in my department. Another department's student group sang carols. Garland went up around the office. People have moaned and groaned about a raging "War on Christmas." And I have nearly gone insane.
I don't know why the US goes crazy over Christmas. Religious people tell me Jesus must have been born later in the year. History tells me that Christmas is celebrated around the Solstice because it made the conversion of Pagans that much easier. But the consumerism? The peculiar decision of parents to create an elaborate, years-long lie to children, that virtually all adults are in on, until that crashing moment when a kid realizes that Santa isn't real and what else is everyone lying to me about....
Misery. We talk about misery here. And for me, Christmas is the most miserable time of all.
Everyone pretends that Christmas is this idyllic holiday, and it seems to be just the opposite. Whether you want to celebrate or not, you are forced, sometimes dragged by guilt or even by simple necessities of going to work, to join in on the "fun." Christmas songs grate on my nerves. And my students wishing me a Merry Christmas makes me want to yell at them. Why do people say that? If someone is Christian and going to celebrate, they will even if you don't order them to have a merry day, and if they aren't, you're just being one of many dicks to say that to strangers in any given day from November 1 to halfway into January. It's like telling someone to have a nice day. As though it would not have occurred to them unless you told them to do it.
Why does everyone pretend that Christmas is lovely?
It's a terrible time of year. A time of year when families get together and say passive-aggressive things to each other about gaining weight, not being married, not having an ideal job, or having a kid who got in trouble with the law. It's a time when extended relatives get tipsy and say racist things. It's a holiday dictated by selfish people who demand that everyone pay $700 for a 3 day trip halfway across the country -- or "your mother will be so very disappointed."
This is the impression I get. My family isn't around anymore, and when they were they weren't Christians. So I can't say this as a personal experience. But I can say that it seems to be the universal experience of all my friends and partners, whose Christmases I attend every year. The crippling guilt about what to buy each other, and whether outdoing each other is generous or rude. The obligation to send annual updates that paint everything as cheerful and bright. The mingling of profound religious belief and secular obligation.
I don't get Christmas.
It wouldn't be so bad if there were an opt-out. But when you don't have people to spend Christmas with, and all your friends leave town, it just becomes this 2-month-long annual period of everyone buying as much as they can in order to get through 3 or 4 days of hellish family fare. Going to the gas station, the grocery store, or using public transit all risks blaring "The First Noel" or those god-awful Bing Crosby songs about Christmas in Hawaii or Ireland or wherever else.
The crowds, the stampedes, the universal assumption that we are all celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, everyone's savior, and the only proper way to celebrate is to buy that electric toothbrush that no one wants and to receive a bunch of thoughtless, cheap gifts and pretend it's all you ever wanted. Like almond-scented soap they were giving away for free at the mall. Thanks friend!! I really understand the meaning of Christmas now that you have given me this token of nothingness.
In an era when everything is so very cheap, is it really an event to give someone such goods? Does buying a DVD of Dark Knight Rises really convey to my friends or colleagues that they mean something to me? And what is the relationship between giving all that crap and the ultimate celebration of divinity?
The reasons Christmas is miserable to me are threefold: the religious side doesn't apply to me and my religion; the singsong happy time with family doesn't apply to those whose immediate families aren't around anymore and whose future families have not yet been found; and the consumerist obligations are so out of control that the concept of a "gift" (an elective appreciation of someone conveyed by selecting a product) has lost all meaning. Every year it's the same battle: either spend it alone or crash a friend's family scene, during which I witness terrible displays of familial hatred.
I think that's what I understand the least: the ability of families to hurt each other so much. Across the board. Every year, different scenes, always someone getting their feelings hurt.
I don't get Christmas. It seems to be misery defined.
(And I apologize if this is too off-topic. The anonymous element of CM made it my only real outlet)