Aaron R. Davis
I’m getting really sick and tired of being told what Christmas is supposed to mean.
Every year, it’s the same thing: long, self-righteous rants about how Christmas is too commercial and too much about money. It should mean more than that. But, here’s the thing: whatever Christmas means to you, that’s what it already means to you.
Do you catch the distinction on that?
Christmas, like all our experiences in life, is already about the meaning you’ve placed on it. It just doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone, and that’s what a lot of you really need to get over. Because when it comes right down to it, someone else being obsessed with shopping and bargains and getting gifts doesn’t actually hurt you in any way. And it doesn’t hurt your Christmas. No one barges into your house and forces you to go Christmas shopping. Sure, crowds are an inconvenience, but that’s what crowds are. You can’t tell me that the holiday shopping season is the only time in your life when crowds are getting in your way while you’re trying to go about your business. Ever been to Disneyland?
Christmas means something different for everyone. For some people, it’s about togetherness with family. To some, it means something profoundly religious. For others, it means helping those in need. And for some, it means doing the stuff that made them happy when they were younger. And I want it understood here that I’m not knocking anyone or their Christmas celebration. Sure, I bristle a bit when I hear about “the reason for the season” or read one of those “Christmas isn’t Christmas without” posts, because I don’t like being told how I should be regarding Christmas to make someone else happy. I don’t need anyone’s approval to feel good about something. Neither do you. I’m not one of those people who gets offended by the phrase “Happy Holidays,” because you have to be a total asshole to get offended by someone wishing you something nice. I don’t want to insult whatever significance Christmas has for anyone else.
But for me, Christmas is a special with the Muppets, getting lost in Christmas music from the fifties and decorating a tree and then inviting no one over.
I know that sounds antisocial. But I’d much rather be alone or just with my wife than do anything else on December 25th. It’s a personal choice I made years ago, based on my own circumstances, and one I’ve yet to regret. Let me explain how this came about.
See, when I was a kid, Christmas was one of the two greatest days of the year (the other being Halloween, of course). I didn’t mind going to church on Christmas Eve, even though it always felt late and it was so much more crowded, because the morning would bring presents and Santa Claus and my dad would make pancakes and we’d get to play all day. If there was snow, we’d even get to have a snow fight. It was always fun and the snow somehow glowed with inner warmth.
And then, when I was 12, my parents broke up.
Christmas became a logistical nightmare of being shuttled between two parents in two separate towns, and I was never entirely comfortable because I was always thinking about where I had to be next and focusing on the fatigue and the travel. And I stopped really enjoying the holiday or the lead-up to it, because I had to be more grown up and I always knew my mother especially wouldn’t have enough food in the house for a decent dinner. (In fact, one year we didn’t eat at all because she just hadn’t gone shopping while the stores were still open. I would say my worst Christmas ever was being stuck in the car with my mom and sister, looking for a place to eat because she assumed something “must be open.” But no. Not even the Chinese places. Stereotype busted, mom.)
Christmas was just a hassle. And then I started working retail jobs, and it became even more of a hassle, because it was all about harried, desperate, rude shoppers. You want to lose faith in humanity? Spend a few weeks dealing with people who feel screaming and swearing at you because you don’t have any more of this year’s hot bestseller is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, like it’s your fault.
And, of course, as I got older, the snow stopped being fun and became a source of anxiety, because driving in it was so hard. Add that to limited sunlight, increased cold and the way daylight savings time throws you off, and it just became the most miserable time of the year.
You know what gets me through November and December? Commercial Christmas.
When people complain that Christmas has gotten too commercial, I shrug it off, because I like it. I like scouring the MeTV schedule for Christmas episodes of Bewitched and Family Ties. I like staying up listening to Patrick Stewart’s recording of A Christmas Carol. I like listening to Christmas music at a point when people are utterly sick of it. I like singing along to John Denver and the Muppets and watching A Christmas Story. And I love decorating the tree; and when I do, my ornaments are Kermit the Frog and Artoo Detoo and Superman and Mr. Spock and Mickey Mouse.
Do you get it? I love the aspects of Christmas that remind me of being a kid, of just enjoying Christmas instead of dealing with the hassle and the lack of food and the lack of money and the retail crowds and the accident-causing snow. I don’t want to be with my family on Christmas because I want to enjoy it.
Don’t we all want to just enjoy Christmas in our own way? I like to think those of us who celebrate it do. You don’t want anyone else telling you there’s a wrong way and right way and what Christmas should mean to you, so spare the rest of us the self-righteousness. You don’t have anything to say that’s original or interesting. Do you know when Macy’s first started staying open until midnight on Christmas Eve? 1867. You lost this fight before any of us were even born. Being cynical about the commercialism of Christmas goes back to angry columns and editorials you can read in New York papers from the 1890s, and they say pretty much exactly the same thing you’re trying to say now. I know that every generation of young people thinks they’re the first ones to think and feel anything about society, but your fake world-weary rage is just trying to ignite a candle that burned out in a century before the one before the one you’re living in now. If someone else’s Christmas concerns offend you, just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ignore them. Don’t participate.
There: you win. You get to keep Christmas in your way, and I get to keep it in mine, and we don’t have to talk about it. Just smile when I say Happy Holidays and stop pretending to be oppressed.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.