Well, here we go. It’s the official kickoff of the “holiday” season (even though our local Kmart has had their Christmas stuff out since mid-October). And I want no part of it.
I detest the holidays, and do not celebrate Christmas at all. I don’t decorate, don’t buy gifts for friends or family, don’t send cards, don’t partake of a big meal. Christmas day is, in our house, absolutely indistinguishable from any other regular day, except that we know we don’t need to- go -pick up our mail.
My grinchiness comes from both the past and the present.
My Mom was a huge Christmas person. She decorated the house, shopped year round to find the perfect gifts for everyone, did the card thing, and always prepared a big holiday dinner. She even hand-made all of the ornaments for her Christmas tree, hundreds of hand sewn, stuffed, and sequined works of art lovingly made.
But while this made for the perfect holiday environment, our family dynamic when I was growing up was not so perfect. Mom and Dad frequently got into spats during which they wouldn’t talk at all, and would barely interact. But regardless of how bad they were getting along come December, we were always expected to play along with the Christmas rules: buy and wrap presents for each other, and play happy on Christmas Day, even if no one had said a word to each other for week prior to that. I hated it, and I resented being forced to sit and smile for pictures, and worse, to suffer through the agony of watching the two of them open gifts from the others and try to appear civil and grateful for the thought and effort put into each package. If I dared to express my true feeling, I was called Scrooge and berated for not playing along.
As I got older, I began to understand the excesses that went along with Christmas, both in my home and throughout society. I always knew I was blessed, and I felt grateful every day for being born into the comfortable life I had inherited. But my feelings of gratitude became feelings of guilt and anger when, despite my objections, people bought me things I neither needed nor wanted, simply because a calendar told them it was time to give me a present. (I’ve never been a fan of giving gifts only because it’s a particular day -- gifts should be given because the giver wants to, not because she is expected to, honor and/or surprise the recipient.) My disgust for this holiday has grown as the commercialism and excess associated with it have increased.
As an adult, there’s only one Christmas tradition in which I enjoy taking part -- being a Secret Santa for a child or family who has true need. The city where we last lived had a wonderful program that we participated in each year. Volunteers were able to tailor the amount of their gift by designating, in generic terms, what type of recipient they wished to shop for (individual child or adult, family with a specific number of children, senior). We loved the program because it provided a very specific list of your adopted “giftee’s” needs, including sizes, and gave us the option of either delivering the gifts in person or being an anonymous Santa by letting the program staff bring the gifts to the participants. It broke my heart to see children whose dream was for Santa to bring them socks or a winter coat, or an elderly woman who just wanted a thick blanket so you could be warm while she slept. Because we didn’t buy gifts for anyone else, we always had the funds to go above and beyond the basics they needed and buy toys, gift certificates for the movie theaters, and other items that would bring them a bit of fun. I’ve never had as much fun, or felt as good about Christmas, as I did when we were making purchases for our adopted family.
Providing others who have nothing, and expect nothing, with both some of the essentials they need to survive and some luxuries they never thought were within their reach seems to me to be the real embodiment of a core Christian value. In my not-so-humble opinion, a whole lot of holier-than-thou Christians would do a lot better in the eyes of their god by celebrating the Christmas holiday by giving selflessly to others, with no expectation of reciprocity or even acknowledgment, instead of buying even more crap for people who are already overindulged with the latest techie toys, hottest designer clothes, and flashy jewelry.