"Tis the season to be jolly; Fa la la la la.... la la la ...." phfftt ! Is this a joke? I don't mean to be negative, and the whole point of my rant is to AVOID negativity. But first I want to confront it. I know I am not alone. Feelings that accompany Christmas for many of us now:
Is this what Christmas is supposed to bring out in us ? Repeat after me: I DON'T THINK SO. It all hit me right about when I became an adult. And for this reason, I link the Christmas dread to the end of innocense. What a needless ratrace it became. What with inlaws, mom and dad, cooking, cleaning, buying gifts for people I don't like. Them buying gifts for me. Extended family gatherings that felt more like competition, duty, and formality than friendship. Christmas is a round of angry, competitive, resentful acquaintances wearing unbecoming grins. Or are they baring teeth? So many customs have been wrapped around the holidays that it begins to strangle rather than soothe. I agree that there should be a time that we spend with long lost relatives, get to know one another again, try to relate, admit that we are family. But isn't Christmas just about the hardest time to work people into our schedules, while those who are important to us are helplessly dragged along or neglected? Isn't this the wrong time to spend money on people who do not cross our minds by choice, while our kids get one less toy? I have nothing against distant relatives. I'm just saying that this is the wrong time for them. Columbus Day would be better. I have nothing planned that week. Work is light.
The real horror of the holidays is actually in the retail arena. What kind of nut goes shopping the day after Thanksgiving? Housewives and jobless old ladies! People who only drive once every four years to get their liscense renewed (and, of course, on the day after Thanksgiving). It is like the bread and milk scenario everytime they forecast a chance of flurries in the South. Suddenly normal working women can't find bread or milk on their weekly grocery trip because all those who have spent the day at home having their soap operas rudely interrupted by weather forecasts has lost their minds and bought a months' supply of bread and milk! (more on that some other rant)
Shopping brings out the real animal in most people. I can't get over the contrast between the cheery Christmas music and all the angry faces (mine included). The "give" motif on every storefront, and the concentrated greed beating in the hearts of every rabid two-legged mammal. The season of "goodwill" bombarded by people who park in handicapped spaces and fire lanes. "Peace" and "Love" are evident in the food court. Those poor fast-food cashiers are only making $5 an hour. They really aren't being paid enough to be the official frustration outlets of the mall. The more busy and frustrated the public gets, the more each one of them feels that they are "owed" more than they pay for. I am insulted for those who have to pick up the food slop, spills, and trash of the shoppers who are TOO GOOD to pick up after their children, throw away their trash, or wipe up their own food dribbles.
Another curious thing I have noticed is that the mall Santa and his helpers really do not like kids! More than anywhere else, here is where your kids are just a number. I get ticked that there is no place where my kid can tell Santa what she wants for free! Instead, the Santa stand is just a photo shoot for $6 per poloroid. The "elves" push your kid up the steps, push her onto Santa's lap, and expedite her down the "out" steps. This has to be confusing to the kids. I started telling my daughter he was a fake Santa so she wouldn't feel hurt when she doesn't get to recite her wish list. This is probably the most infuriating mall scene for me. I mean, it's pretty obvious all else in the mall is a scam, a business, a money machine. That's fine. Play Christmas music for my kids, and leave the commercial aspect to me. I'm an adult. As I said, innocense lost. But for the kid centered activities, can we hide the greed machine JUST a little better than that? Geez. I know it's just a job Santa, but don't give my kid nightmares, okay? It's upsetting enough to know that a big fat red intruder is going to shimmy down our chimney, but my kid's going to have trouble getting to sleep Christmas Eve if she thinks he has a smoker's cough, whiskey breath, a nervous tick, and a bad temper. Ease up, fat boy!
I think that retail shops feed on the dark side of Christmas, dark aspects of personality, and veil that with the generic Christmas motif. We think that we can buy good will, cheer, love, and peace, and are drawn to an illusion. But there is an undercurrent of greed that draws us too, and the retail world is aware of our insecurities, our fears, our confusion and frustration. Whoever is the loudest, the brightest, the most obnoxious WINS! And so the whole Christmas season is cluttered over with superficial noise, competitive ruckous.
Over the years I've learned to tune out most of the noise that causes me dread, panic, frustration, anxiety, etc. I start my who gets what planning in late August to avoid shopping, confusion, and financial duress. I see as much as I can through my daughters eyes. I concentrate on making memories for her. I think back to the things that made Christmas so special to me when I was little and find out that those are simple things I can provide for my family effortlessly. The smell of apples and spice, Christmas music, decorations, and happy, available, sane parents.
Christmas doesn't need to be as complicated as we make it out to be. By making priorities, trimming the fat, and putting it all in perspective, it is possible to meet the Christmas season with the anticipation, joy, love, and good-will that is the basis for all the madness. Grown ups are people too! Why should kids have all the fun?
It's so sad to feel this way about the holidays. Every year at this time I take stock and ask myself why I'm so short-tempered, melancholy and depressed. I'm always able to come up with a list. Which makes me short-tempered, melancholy and depressed. Maybe the answer is to buy all presents in July, wrap them and not give this season another thought until it slams me upside the head. The dread of marching through the malls with thousands of other overburdened maniacs plays a large part in the "humbug" syndrome.
Part of my problem is over-commercialization. Not just of Christmas, actually, but of EVERYTHING!!! Hallmark has made a fortune on keying on our guilt factor. There seems to be a card for holidays I've never even heard of. My extended family also expects attendance at all birthdays, anniversaries, mother's day, father's day, grandmother's day, grandfather's day, Guy Faulks day... you name it. I figured out one time that if I attended all these gatherings, I'd have about 15 weekends a year to myself. This being the case... I really don't need the end of the year to remind me to spend time with my loved ones.
In my case, the end of the year also brings a major month end closing for my company. As well as inventory.
Then there are the company Christmas parties and the parties you really WANT to attend with your true compatriots. You know. The kind where everybody gets rip roaring drunk and you wake up at 10:00 the next morning on the rug? (It generally takes me half an hour to figure out whose rug, and who's lying next me.) Some of us just cant wait for New Years eve to blow off the steam created by the stress of the season.
It seems as I dodder into middle age I find yourself with a bunch of "sets" of friends. There are my computer friends, my drinking buddies, my pool hall buddies, my football buddies, my old neighborhood crew etc. I try to find time to spend with all of them during the holiday week.
What I miss more than my own childhood Christmas memories are the memories that I still savor from my son's early Christmases. I still have a picture of him running down the hall, in one of our early apartments, to see what Santa dropped off. He was about four years old and the look of pure joy and expectation on his face made every bit of saving, scavenging and doing without more than worthwhile. We didn't have much back in those days and it was difficult for us to put money aside for Christmas. But we always managed. And it always seemed that no matter what we had to do without, it was a tremendous bargain.
As he grew older, and nearly as jaded as ourselves, Christmas began to be a burden. For us, it's turned into a whole series of "have to's" We HAVE to buy a present for so and so... We MUST send cards to these people we haven't seen in three decades and may never see again. We HAVE to show up at this house and that house and that other house. We HAVE to spend hours at the mall buying inappropriate gifts for people who really don't mean all that much to us.
Now that we have a 15 month old grand-daughter, the cycle begins again. I've convinced my family that we should draw names and just buy one really nice, appropriate, gift for one person. We still buy one gift for all the children under 12, though. This IS their time.
As I get older I begin to have a feel for what's truly important and tend to slough off the things that aren't. I no longer do the "expected" just because it's expected. I've worked long enough, hard enough and have acquired material wealth well beyond my wildest expectations. It's caused me to ponder why I do things, rather than just doing them. I think that if I live long enough I just may learn to truly appreciate the holidays again. I think I'm on my way.
Everything expressed in The Rant & Rave is most definitely the opinions of the two authors. Anyone taking exception to any edition of The Rant & Rave is cordially invited to sprout wings and utilize round rolling pastry as their next sexual conquest.