Christmas has never been one of my favorite holidays. I think it’s because of the combination of too much religion and too much commercialism. Giving gifts should not give one anxiety and spending time with friends and loved ones shouldn’t be filled with dread as it is with me sometimes. I can appreciate the trappings and vibe but in the end it taxes me emotionally and I always look forward to December 26th and beyond.
I watched a video the other day where David Letterman and Paul Shafer are with singer Darlene Love reminiscing about her singing the song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on his last show before they went on holiday break each year. She was explaining she was happy to have sung during the Christmas in Rockefeller Center show on NBC and how they never hired her to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” but had other singers sing it. Letterman blurted out, “That’s bullshit!”. Then he sat back and said that if he just ruined anyone’s Christmas he was sorry. That’s exactly how I feel. By expressing my view on the holiday I hope I don’t ruin it for others, that isn’t my intent.
I think one prime reason I am not a fan of Christmas is the expectation of giving gifts. I get so intimidated not only by getting the “perfect” gift for someone but making sure buying it doesn’t make me more poor than I am. One Christmas my girlfriend got me a two volume set of detailed notes on some of Paul McCartney’s songs he wrote. The title was “The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present”. I love the backstage kind of stuff artists tend to talk about and I loved the book. I got my girlfriend some random tool. She loved tools but compared to the gift she got me it paled in comparison and don’t get me started about the replica Jim Brown jersey she got me last year. She just knows how to get the perfect gift for people. I suck!
I think the epitome of my anxiety with gift giving was years ago I was working some job in Columbus barely making enough for rent and my bills and I was expected home for Christmas with the family and of course a gift exchange. I dreaded it. I had no money and I knew any gift would suck. I told my Mom and she suggested I go to a dollar store. She said the items there were fine and my lack of funds would stretch farther. That’s what I did. I bought one or two things for each family members and the whole bill was less than $30.
That weight was lifted off my shoulders and I felt better about being with my family that year for the first time in several years. We go to open gifts and my sister comments about the gift I got her. She asks if I bought it at the Dollar store. I tried to play it off but then she said she saw the exact same item at the dollar store in her town. That deflated me. She could have not said anything because she knew I was not making a lot of money. She could have not said anything since the point of the holiday isn’t the gifts in the first place.
Our society seems to be setup like how my sister reacted. Instead of appreciating the thought in the end she was offended by getting a cheap thing that was worthless to her.
So now I go through this roller coaster of emotions each holiday where I have no idea what I will get someone and 2nd guess myself if it’s worthy ie. valuable gift not from a dollar store.
This year I decided to change the narrative and I told my Mom that I am not expecting a gift and don’t want one. She still got me something so I had to scramble to find something for her and the coaster has left the launch building….
A minor holiday annoyance is decorating. Again, I get it and I enjoy it when others go all out with the tree and the lights and the stockings etc… but personally I don’t see the point. I guess it’s something more for families or loved ones to do together. Helping my Mom or my girlfriend was fun and touched me with the “spirit” of the season but left to my own devices I won’t do it for the simple reason I will just have to take it all down in January or by Valentines Day. Putting stuff away always seems to take more time and effort than putting the stuff up.
Being an atheist, the religious part of Christmas never took with me, never meant anything to me. I would be concerned about violations of the separation of church and state where some local town would get in trouble for having a nativity scene on the lawn of their city hall. The religious people would cry and gnash their teeth at the thought of the “War on Christmas” forgetting the fact that not everyone is Christian and that Christmas and especially the nativity scene is not generic. Of course I can’t escape the religious aspects of the holiday since I am a philosophical minority and it would be a waste of time to explain how much fiction is included in their “true” story about the birth of Jesus starting with the fact that Jesus may never have existed and how many parts of Christmas like the tree and lights are co-opted from Paganism or that the Puritans banned Christmas when they setup shop in Plymouth in the 1600s.
Growing up I’ve sang all the religious holiday songs and I didn’t explode but if I my way school children would not be singing the religious holiday songs. One time in elementary school I played Father Joseph Mohr, the man who wrote the words to “Silent Night”. It was an odd holiday play. In order to get as many kids involved as possible, even though I played Father Mohr another kid was his speaking voice and we weren’t allowed to mime the words. It was like watching a school play with ESP.
I think you can enjoy the holidays without having to include the religious bits. Getting together with friends and loved ones is a highlight for me as is any gathering. I miss not doing it any more. After my grandmother passed away in 2008 our extended family stopped gathering for the holiday. Part of that is a whole different story of dysfunction.
One holiday religious part I don’t mind is one I came across by accident. I’ve always been a bit of night owl and so I watch the late night shows like Jimmy Fallon, Colbert, and Seth Meyers. Years ago at 11:30 PM on Christmas Eve I turned on the TV to watch the Tonight Show when Jay Leno was the host and instead I saw the Pope at the time walking into his church in Rome to give the Christmas Mass. I was fascinated by the Pope walking down the aisle flanked by alter boys and very rough looking security people. Parishioners trying to reach out and touch him. One year someone actually jumped the barricade and security had to subdue the person. Found out later the person was just a really a big fan of the Pope and wanted to touch him. The next Christmas the aisle was wider so people could not even get within arms length to him. I don’t stay for the mass just the entrance like it’s from one of the WWE shows.
Of course I have my own rituals I perform during the holidays. I watch “A Christmas Story” at least once when they show it as a marathon on one of the cable channels. As I mentioned earlier, I would watch the last Letterman show before the Christmas break to hear Darlene Love sing and hear Jay Thomas’ Lone Ranger Story. I still watch it on Youtube.
Oh, one note about Love’s song. What I enjoyed about watching it on Letterman each year was the spectacle. They usually had a small orchestra, several back up singers, fake snow falling, and David Sanborn playing the sax solo break. Love also would appear each year in the spring to sing “River Deep – Mountain High” with the same setup of orchestra and backup singers.
I also try to watch all the classic holiday cartoons I grew up on even though the Charlie Brown Christmas is more religious than my current tastes. I also like the Christmas episodes of favorite TV shows like Saturday Night Live.
My favorite holiday movies are Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Die Hard and Die Hard II, Miracle on 34th Street (the 1947 original and the 1973 made for TV version that starred Sebastian Cabot, Jane Alexander and David Hartman), and Bad Santa.
A lot of the things I do is left over from when I was a kid and the holiday seem to mean more – mostly for the gifts and cash given as a gift. Going to the mall with my Christmas cash and returning clothes that didn’t fit on the 26th was fun for me.
Even though I still partake in some of the festivities I wouldn’t be sad if Christmas went away but I don’t fault people who love the holiday and all the trappings and giving gifts. Just be mindful that not everyone feels the same way. You can enjoy the holiday without having to say Merry Christmas or have a government sponsored nativity scene.
And if you get a gift that seems cheap and worthless to you, check your privilege. Appreciate the thought that went into it and the fact someone gave you a gift.