So, about the whole "Me and Christmas don't get along" thing

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Summary: I often come across as cynical, borderline sardonic, about Christmas. This is me explaining why, as best I can, though you might not buy my reasons.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

(01:53:00 CST) (3 Comments)

So, about the whole "Me and Christmas don't get along" thing

My sister-in-law, Alicia, made a post called "Bah Humbug" today about why she is not in the Christmas spirit this year. Christmas spirit, as though there was actually a great Weihnachten Geist (apologies to Hegel). As though, every year, people really did embrace a spirit available at no other time and become better people, all because of the belief in the common goodness of man. As though I could go to any old news site, right now, and find all the headlines talking about rampant acts of anonymous charity, a cessation of arms, a full dedication to the cause of bettering our fellow man. There are those, in my family and friends, who belief just this: that this holiday time is transformative, that it creates a catalyst amongst man. Crime rates? Depression? Greed? Surely they are all down? No? Damn!

When I was a child I was amazed by the time period. Not just the gifts. I mean, it's as Hogfather hints, Santa is bound by the socio-economic factors of the family, right? Poor kids get poor gifts. Rich kids get bigger gifts. And all you have to do is believe. Santa, you see, is the biggest Calvanist of them all. No, it was not the gifts, it was the tree. It was a microcosm. Lights, sounds, hanging bits, dangling bits, glitter. It was a universe sitting there, drying there. The tv shows were all about Christmas. The music was all about Christmas. Family came and visited. It was as if the universe contracted, just a bit, bent out of shape, to form an island of joy for a child. At that point in time, I loved Christmas. There indeed was a Geist.

There are anecdotes, I suppose, that whittled away at the belief. Home made gifts thrown away. Christmases in which fights broke out. Pathetic things, the kind of excuse to which people who just don't believe, don't want to believe anyhow, might cling. It was none of those things, not really. How many times I have had some pathetic experience elsewhere? You don't become a recluse because of pathetic experiences. You become a recluse you cannot see the thing as other people see it.

I suppose working for retail was sort of the crack in the cornerstone. Christmas, as a whole, had been drained of point over the previous years, smaller gifts, shorter visits. Then came retail, and I got thrust out into the other side, where the Christmas music starts in October, where the displays have been up for a month, and where the desperation lives. In the first year (of four) that I worked "on the other side" during Christmas, something occurred to me. I mean, let's put aside all those whiny shoppers, all the angry people. Let's put aside the parents furious that they cannot buy their childrens' love, those bosses that buy every worker the exact same gift, or people who buy a dozen extra gifts every year "just in case". Let's leave aside the bargain hunters and the coupon gatherers and the early-morning shopping ninjas desperate for a fifty-percent-off like you would not believe. This is the the thing that occurred to me: head down to the mall, any mall, or any shopping center, and look around. All of those stores are driven by this mad gyre of a month. Some of them make something like half of their yearly intake in that one month. It is so important to them, that they spend two months prior building up to it, sneaking it in, handing out things that hint at it to come. "It is the month that walks behind the sales!" That one month gives many of them enough money that the other eleven only have to help it along. And here is that worker pulling minimum wage plus a quarter or dime, working thirty hour shifts, fighting with people over trivial things and always losing because customers really do bring out "Customers are always right!" on just about a daily basis; and that poor schmuck knows that come the end of January, at the latest, his hours will be cut down so harsh that he will no longer be able to make ends meet with this one job. How is that the math is set up that we can bust our bones helping a million- or billion-dollar company survive for a year, and not get the same courtesy? How is that we as people cannot live for eleven months off of the revenue generated in one like stores can?

Well, it's because it is all fake, isn't it? That's the point. Companies could not survive the constant stress if every day was like Christmas, and it would be hell to predict shopping trends every day if there was no central pressure valve gassing off steam. What's more, if companies had to sustain the overhead of ready-steady worker force, their profits would pinch. You take those workers, though, you hire them for one or two months, and you make a dozens fold profit off of them, that's manageable. That's predictable. It's like hearding bison to a cliff side. If you had to hunt them one by one, there are days you would go hungry. You drive a whole herd of them over that edge, though, and you will have food for months.

But even that alone is not why I hate Christmas. Well, I don't hate Christmas. Would be a waste of passion, really. That's not why I got bugged by Christmas. Get bugged. I think it really occurred in a matrix of that, being aware of what was going on in the retail side of things, and then watching those people cry "War on Christmas!" because of someone saying "Happy Holidays" or whatnot. Our country, excepting retail workers, goes on standby for a couple of weeks. The richest, most powerful country in the world, coasts. Think about that. All important work, gets postponed. Even if there is work to do, we only half do it. Our malls and radio stations become infused with Christmas music. Something like 90% of all Americans celebrate Christmas. It is everywhere and becomes just about everything...and it is under attack? That is like saying that the belief the Holocaust happened is under attack because of a handful of dissenters, that the belief that all races are equal is under attack because of extremists. Sure, that belief or this belief has come under some fire, but to believe there is an institutionalize War on Christmas? Posh.

And then it all bubbles over, see? I'm getting criticized for not making nativity scenes with the baby Jesus in a manger (biblical) being visited by three (non-biblical) wisemen as an infant (non-biblical) while animals (non-biblical) are all around [Doug's Note: If you are going to attack others for attacking your beliefs, at least read the bloody book]. I'm getting criticized for not knowing that it's baby Jesus's birthday, for not making the holiday all about Him, when it was never really about Him. Just like it was never really a celebration that the Sun was not going away, that the Spring would return. It was never really a celebration of military victories and a crop well done. The Catholics made it about the birth of Jesus and set it at twelve days, from the 25th to the 6th of January. Which was abandoned until Charles Dickens practically revived our concept of the holiday on the basis of family and love. And then the twentieth-century protestant ressurrected such gems as "The Reason for the Season" and "The War on Christmas" and declared that God's very name is in the day and therefore it is about Him. Except I have done more than one Valentine's Day without caring about who the hell he was, and I can say quite assuredly that I have months of Wednesdays behind me with never an urge to put on an eye patch and poke a hole in my side (well, maybe a little).

Because it is just a day with the name and names are symbols and symbols mean what the bearer wants them to mean. And no two bearers hold a symbol in just the same way, not even when they really think they mean the same thing. I am not saying that it is wrong for you to love Jesus or to make the day about Him and all he has done, that is beautiful. Keep it up. All I am saying that just as soon as you can point out where in the Bible God decrees the last week or so of the year to be about the Birth of His Son, I will accept that it is a Christian holiday. Until then, well, it's just something you choose to do.

What's more, with all this "You're not worthy, you slimy heathen pigdog" tripe floating around; it's like we actively chose to close our eyes to the really happening because it was more fun to find Satan hiding under the eaves. For a century now, Christmas has been commercialized, compartmentalized, and orchestrated by people with fecking Marketing degrees; and I am the one declaring War on Christmas because I just want a quiet night with my wife!? You can't move a cat's whisker width without having a commercial tell you how giving a diamond is a proof of love, about how Santa really likes this cookie, or how our economy will collapse if you do not spend more money than you currently have. Speaking of Santa, the other symbol of Christmas. Do you realize that the core of the American Christmas myth is a freaking economic shill? What does he do? He brings gifts. Christ allegory aside, these are very real, very bought, gifts made in China because it is cheaper there. What's more, you tell your kids to believe with all of their heart and Santa will come, and this is all so you can spend hours in the snow and crowds to make your kids happy, to get them what they want. Then you tell your kids that if they do not do the same, they are failing their kids. And every generations the gifts are more expensive, the ability to please is less.*

Even if there is no Santa in your household, chances are you get together with family and exchange gifts. More and more, these gifts come from prepackaged lists with monetary limits (both lower and upper) imposed. Get me this gift and I'll get you this one. So everyone is happy. Except, well, I could keep my money and buy for me, and you can do the same for, and the value of the gifts would increase. I forget the exact stat, but one of the driving forces behind Christmas sales is that you are going to only be satisfied by your Christmas gift something like 60% of the degree of satisfaction you would have if you had spent your own money on yourself. That's 40% of cash in their pockets.

And all the stores with their plastic decorations and their one hour of the most bleating music set to loop and commercials and spam mail dressed as a Christmas card and everyone wearing fake Santa's hats and thousands of dollars being spent so a city can have mostly ignored lights strung about just because people would complain if it didn't. The War on Christmas was fought and lost years ago. Let people like my wife and I sit around with our little, pretty Christmas tree and look at the pretty lights and get lost time for a night. I don't care for that, out there, any more. The sounds and the rituals. The search to find America's soul one wrapped gift a time. I want to find my own soul in my little family and be done with it.

Sure, I'm an angry man and maybe a little old fashioned religion would do me good, but that's ok. I just have one last thing to say:

Happy Holidays.

Si Vales, Valeo

* For those worried about my disparaging of Santa and how it might be off the mark, I want to point out that nothing is stopping Santa from having other reasons or arbitrary rules. We could just have easily declared he brings one gift (that the child most deserves), that he brings a nice cake, or that he brings blessings to help the child stay healthy. Maybe Santa, to buy back into the whole hyper-reciprocal thing, could bring the gift that the child gives away.

3 Comment(s)

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(1) Allen says (via comment box):
This makes me think of writing A Christmas Carol with Karl Marx as the main character and the whole point is to teach him the true meaning of consumerism. The mall ruined Christmas for me also.

(2) Y···· says (via LJ):
C···· says "I am so glad you are not Christmasy" like everyday these days. We don't have any family here, so Christmas is another day to us. I had an art show at Santa's Village for the past three weekends. It was miserable. One of the organizers called it "Saturn's village". Happy holidays."

(3) Doug's reply left to the LJ comment:
Yeah, the fact that family tends to be at least an hour away does sort of contribute, but I sort of prefer it that way. I grew up in an area with a lot of close knit groups, and I don't mind them in concept, but I am such a quiet-time loving guy that having constant family interaction would probably drive me batty.

file under (...on Myself)
and (...on Life)
and (...on Gods & Skepticism)

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