For the longest time, Christmas was my least favorite holiday. If I could hole up by myself in a hotel room and just sleep through it, I’d be happy. I liked New Year’s Eve better. I liked Thanksgiving better. I liked Easter better. Easter is celebrated by believers, and it’s the one time of year they really walk the talk. Maybe that’s because Easter has been kept pure. It’s about sacrifice and penance for wrongs done and for starting over. The Christian tradition of Easter is hard to commercialize. Many try, but it usually fails miserably beyond being an excuse for some lame sale.
But Christmas has pressure. I used to have a friend who was absolutely militant about Christmas, one of those types that believed, as Sheldon Cooper does, that you had to reciprocate gifts monetarily and would lay guilt trips on anyone who did not meet her exacting standards of gift-giving. Never mind that the gift in question wasn’t for her. This was important!
She hasn’t been my friend for over a decade.
My former mother-in-law had a bad habit of reciting how much she spent on whom. Not sure why she thought this was important as I and my former inlaws would revert to our inner fifteen-year-old and make fun of each other’s haul. We were more interested in the food and the Christmas Story marathon.
But there’s foibles like that in every family. Mine had some odd habits on Christmas Day. I, in particular, A Christmas Story aside, do not want to see the television on at all on Christmas. I get mad if I boot my computer on Christmas. (And I know I will. Addiction trumps tradition every time. Thank God it’s a cyber-addiction and not chemical or habitual. I’d be screwed.)
But a lot of things contributed to my foul mood about Christmas. During my previous marriage, it was always a struggle to make sure I saw my side of the family every year and treated them fairly. Everyone wanted both holidays. It was almost like living in a broken home. It was during the late 1990′s and early 2000′s that my “friend” inflicted her tyranny on everyone she knew. So my attitude about Christmas was getting to be that Scrooge was a sell-out at the end of A Christmas Carol. Was Dickens deluded? Or was he making so much money off his books – He was the Stephen King of his day, after all – that he could heap mounds of swag on his family? The ghosts, I believed, might have been all about the spirit of Christmas, but I was firmly convinced that Dickens was in the pocket of Harrods Department Store in London.
It got worse. Around 9/11, we suddenly had a “culture war.” If you said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” you were somehow evil and anti-American and part of a mythical “War on Christmas.” If you said “Merry Christmas” to the wrong person, you were bigoted and arrogant and narrow-minded. My customary holiday greeting became “Go fuck yourself.”
My attitude about Christmas probably took its worst plunge around 2002, when my mother died a week before the holiday. It was the first time I’d seen my dad openly cry, and he never cried. He laughed a lot, got angry once in a while, but never cried. Mom died after a long, horrible illness, and it was horrible not having her around that year. My ex and I took a separate holiday so I could be with my dad and brothers. Nobody was having a merry Christmas that year.
During that time, I cut off the Christmas Nazi Lady from my life, something I should have done years earlier. But after mom died, the struggle to balance out Christmas trips became more irritating. The “Christmas War” became, I believed, provocation for justified violence. Yes, I was perfectly willing to bop the self-righteous old lady at Macy’s in the nose, except I hate Macy’s. I hated it when it was Lazarus. I still hate it. (It has nothing to do with Christmas.) I would not decorate my cube. I sent out few Christmas cards, and when my parents were both gone, I really wanted to stay home and not do anything. Yes, I was a miserable bastard from Black Friday through Boxing Day.
Then four years ago, my life got a reboot. I had a new wife with a child. I had a new extended family to get to know. What had happened was that my life had found a new center. The reason for the season wasn’t a rea$on at all. For Christians and non-Christians alike, this is the final wind-down of the year. Most people I know don’t really beat themselves up in a capitalistic orgy. No, we’re headed into the coldest and darkest day of the year north of the equator. (A fact a couple of friends from Australia revel in rubbing my nose in every year. Thanks, guys!) It helps to get festive, to eat a lot of good food, and to make someone’s eyes light up when you give them something you put a little thought into. Even if it is a gift card. (How can you go wrong with that? Well, the Christmas Nazi thought they were tacky, but she moved away, didn’t she?)
Christmas may not be all it’s painted as. It can be the loneliest and bitterest time of year for some people. But I’ve learned it is what you make of it. That’s why the Christmas War still gets on my nerves. If you get all worked up over someone’s preferred way to celebrate, then you don’t get the season. Christmas is about others. If you get riled up over the wrong holiday greeting, you have failed miserably at grasping the spirit of the season. You just made it about you.
The phrase is “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.” Try to work on the good will part. ‘Kay?