Saturday, November 17, 2012

Happy Holidays

The last few days I have been expressing my opinions about the Christmas season on Facebook and many people have been great about sharing theirs. Some agree with me to some degree and some disagree. All but one have been polite about it and that person was banned. Since my feelings are both mixed and evolving I decided to bring them up here to see if I could find some clarity.

Let me start by saying I think all of the winter holidays are great. I love Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even New Year's Day. I know there are some other holidays but they aren't in my tradition to celebrate so I don't know if they are awesome or not. I'll assume so.

Thanksgiving I enjoy because I love having lots of people visiting (or us visiting them) and eating traditional food. I enjoy having a day of reflection on the past year, seeing it through a positive lens and looking forward optimistically. I love being with family and sharing long held traditions.

Christmas Eve and Christmas I also love, conditionally. What I enjoy is being with family and laughing with people I may only see once or twice a year. I enjoy the annual wrapping paper war and renewing the bonds of family. I like the church service and the music and telling the story of Christmas. I also like tracking Santa on the NORAD website every year and marking his position on the globe. I love my brother dressing up like Santa and making a silly fool of himself for the joy of the children and the embarrassment of the adults. What a cool gig.

Honestly, New Year's Eve/Day has never meant much to me. It is a time of looking ahead and making goals that I never keep. But it is also the beginning of the end of winter, at least in my mind. The weather doesn't often cooperate with me on that one.

In spite of all that, I dread the coming of the holidays every year. Each time my spirit gets heavier and my ill feelings grow. Part of this is the commercialization of Christmas. Part of it is the tidal wave of fanatic "Christmasiness" that overwhelms society. Some is also the insincerity.

Christmas is a commercial holiday. I get that. Stores need to use it to get even greater profits so they can stay in business and expand and get into the black. I hate that the whole thing is tied into love. "If you love your wife you will buy her this $800 necklace." "If you love your husband you can surely spare enough to buy that big screen TV. No money down. Put it on layaway!" Everyone must have gifts and they all must be perfect and awesome (and please from our store!). I've been seeing Christmas on TV for about 3 weeks now and there hasn't been a single reference to anything having to do with the religious holiday.

Christmas is a schizophrenic day. On one hand there is one of the two holiest days on the Christian calendar and on the other is the overwhelming demand to buy, buy, buy. The former is definitely the lesser of the two in our society. Christianity is so far separated from Christmas that we had to create a new mascot because Jesus wasn't a very good mascot for all the must have Christmas items we have to buy. Even Easter, arguably the more religious of the two greater holy days ended up with a cartoon rabbit for a mascot. I don't mind that Christmas has gift giving or that stores light up and play music and all that. I just think it is an insult to the person whose birthday is supposedly being celebrated.

Buying yourself into debt to somehow impress someone or keep up with the neighbors or whatever is hardly within the scope of Jesus' teaching after all. If you still have credit card debt from last Christmas (or many Christmases ago!) wisdom would say to cut back and not go further into debt for it this year. And yet we do, year after year.

Hand-in-hand with the commercialization of the holidays is the constant bombardment. Everywhere I go I see Christmas decorations and sales and candy and "the best deal of the year if you are willing to show up an hour before Thanksgiving dinner!" All of the commercials are now pushing me to buy buy buy for that special someone. The sales pitch is incessant and aggressive and pervasive. Only within my own home can I avoid it, as long as the mute button is handy on the TV remote. Again, I recognize the need to advertise. If I received this many ads for any product I would grow to disdain it. That the product is Christmas doesn't change it any more than if everywhere I went I was inundated with ads for hamburgers.

I know that I have friends and family who go ga ga for Christmas. I don't mind that. Bury your house in Christmas lights until the foundation cries for mercy. That is great. Preach the joy that Christmas music 24 hours a day brings you. Yes, I have a friend who plays it at night when he sleeps too. If this brings you joy and fulfillment, take it and enjoy it. Understand though that not everyone gets high on Santa fumes (ew!) and it doesn't mean the same thing to me.

Christmas music is another big pet peeve of mine. I don't mind that there is the music or that it is about Santa or snowmen or whatever. What bothers me is that it is so cherished when so much of it is either poorly written, poorly performed, or both. And yet I have to listen to it endlessly whenever I shop. I don't care for other genres of music and while I respect that other people enjoy it, I don't want to hear it when I'm picking out my dinner.

My final gripe about the season is the insincerity. Let me preface this by saying that I know most people are sincere and this is an opportunity to show community and love and friendship and I think that is great. The message that is bombarded to me by media though is to buy regardless of any of that. I saw a commercial with a family that were buying their neighbor a big screen TV. Come on. That has nothing to do with love or friendship. A talk show segment encouraged me to buy two extra presents just in case I forgot someone. Really? If they were close enough to me to buy a present I would remember them. If I forgot they clearly weren't that close. But we must be ready with a gift for everyone. I'm told I'm obligated to get that gift though even if it is someone I wouldn't normally give a gift to. Then starts the obligation. We had a couple that we were friends with for years but drifted apart. We finally only saw each other during Christmas week and only to exchange presents. Our friendship had lost its meaning but we still felt the societal obligation to spend money every year to prop it up. We finally stopped and the friendship met its natural end, as it should have long before.

My ideal holiday season does actually have stores decorated and music playing and all that. Instead of the holiday's volume (more than one meaning) being cranked to 11 it is a moderate 5 though. If it were toned down I wouldn't mind it so much. I want family at home and our family decorations and lights, all in moderation. I don't need to have a house that is seen from space to feel "the Christmas spirit," whatever that is. I want there to be excitement for Caleb to open presents in the morning but an acknowledgement of the religious meaning of the day as well. I want a simple meal and not a feast because I want to spend time with my family and not spend it cooking and cleaning. My Christmas music will be hand selected and not a lot of random songs just because they are holiday music. I want to buy gifts but not feel obligated to go into debt as a result. I guess in conclusion I want to control my own Christmas instead of every corner of society screaming at me about what I SHOULD want.

So if I seem Grinchy this year, it is partly true. It is in large part because of the headache I have for months from being hit in the head with the Christmas hammer over-and-over. I will get better though.