27 December 2010

The Christmas That Pretty Much Wasn't

Being wearable is why boxers > sprinklers.
This year, more than any other, I just didn't care about Christmas.  We didn't have the money to go around throwing gifts at tangential people like postal carriers.  For that matter, we had a 15 year old cut-off age and bought gifts for nine people, two of whom are infants.  Even if we'd had the money, it just seemed wasteful to me.  It really sucks being someone known for liking things that have been heavily licensed for merchandise.  The moment it comes out that you like Star Wars, you can expect anything from boxer shorts to a Darth Vader lawn sprinkler.  The boxers you can wear, at least.  And I'm conscious that, ultimately, there's a high chance that the well-meaning gifts I've given have been received in a similar vain over the years.  My mom has loved the poem "Footprints" for ages, but has not once worn the pendant inspired by it that I got for her more than a decade ago.

It also turned out that I felt fairly miserable on the 18th, when our friends gathered for a Christmas party, and still don't feel particularly great.  My stupid Crohn's-infested guts are nagging, my throat has been frequently scratchy and I've fluctuated between having a headache and being dizzy.  In short, I have not attended a single Christmas gathering except the brief lunch with my family here at the house.  It could have just been a spontaneous lunch for all the "Christmas" there was about it.  I was in the bathroom when my cousin opened her gifts--the only member in the family to receive them.

I tried to get into the mood with music (scarcely played any and nothing resonated with me this year) and movies and TV shows (for the annual DVD Talk Holiday Challenge, which began 22 November and runs until 1 January).  Most of my Holiday Challenge list is either stuff I didn't even mean to watch (like an episode of According to Jim, a show I despise, that my wife was watching on TBS anyway and I thought I'd at least add to my list) or things that were merely set at Christmastime and not really about Christmas (like Batman Returns).  The closest I came to caring at all was around two in the morning Christmas Day while watching the 1999 TNT TV movie version of A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart.  But then the movie was over and the flicker died.

I've spent the last 24 hours seeing tweets and Facebook status updates about being posting what they got for Christmas; everything from stacks of Blu-ray Discs to video games and iPads.  This was really the first year that I've had a sense of being on the outside looking in and I have to say I can see why people who don't celebrate Christmas have become so critical of it.  I don't mean to pass judgment on anyone else; it's not my place, and anyway some isolated online remarks are hardly evidence about the thoughts, feelings and actual experiences of a given person.  It's the aggregate, though, that creates a picture of an expansive, well lighted room full of fat, well-fed people hip deep in expensive trinkets wrapped lavishly.  It's great if you're in the room, but it seems obscene from the outside.

Am I bitter?  I don't know.  If so, I don't know if I'm bitter that I wasn't in that room this year, or that I know there's no returning to it.  I've been on the outside now and confirmed what I've always suspected: that Christmas is a narcissistic exercise in self-indulgence.  No wonder our outspoken politicians conflate Christmas with America.  The only thing that evoked any moment of jealousy was during the aforementioned A Christmas Carol TV movie.  I enjoyed watching the depiction of Victorian Christmas gatherings with games set to a piano and boiled pudding.  I could have gotten into that kind of atmosphere, but of course that's not how it is and I suspect it wasn't often ever that way for most people.  I'm sure there are people for whom that would be appealing, but I know if I proposed it to my family they'd mock me for it and it would never happen.  "I don't want to hear [insert name] sing any other day of the year, what makes you think I want to hear [him or her] sing today?" "That's stupid; let's just eat and get on with this."  "No, we're not doing all that; just eat like normal people."  Normal people eat, quite a lot it seems, and then circulate the highlights of a department store amongst one another.

I wouldn't have minded this kind of Christmas.
I will say that my wife and I received two Christmas cards from two of our gift recipients that were sincerely touching.  We're not doing well financially, but a friend of my wife's has had an especially rough time so we resolved to ensure that her kids got some gifts to open this Christmas.  They are the very embodiment of gratitude, and their cards reflect that humility and sincerity.  A particularly nice touch is that the card written by the boy included a hand drawn illustration of a level from a Mario game, complete with Koopa Troopa, piranha plant and item box.  Those two cards are directly responsible for any optimism I have going forward. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge being offered a place of honor amongst the Cratchit children, and while I wish I'd been able to attend all of he gatherings to which I was invited, I particularly regret not having been there to witness these children open the handful of gifts we were able to bring them.

6 comments:

  1. At the risk of overstepping- It sounds a lot like you were actually on the inside looking out. Is there more to Christmas for you than how everyone else feels about it? I would never kick you when you are down, yet did not wish to ignore this nor placate you with cyber hugs and blowing smoke up your ass, for which I have too much respect.
    I am glad to hear your thoughtfulness and generosity were appreciated by those who you feel deserve it.

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  2. Oh, you're not overstepping; you raise some good points. I can't say that there's "more to Christmas" than any thing in particular because this year it became apparent to me that Christmas is nothing enjoyable to me. It was obnoxious at best, and it would be so much easier to get past it if I weren't constantly inundated with people glowingly listing off every damn (always expensive) gift they received. I haven't seen one Facebook status that read, "still dizzy from playing pin-the-tail on the Christmas donkey" or "hoarse from all the caroling." Instead, it's about how they got Inception and Scott Pilgrim on Blu-ray. No one has apparently even done anything except get stuff and collect a ton of merchandise. What's supposed to be fulfilling about participating in that, much less feeling shut out of it?

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  3. Well I can see that, but I can only speak for myself on that note. I was happy to exclaim that I got Fiestaware, I am always hay to exclaim that! I LOVE my ceramic dinnerware! But I had a much more deeply fulfilling holiday that getting some dishes, for sure. Facebook is...well just a place to talk about your stupid crap. I could have just as easily written a warm and gushy sentiment about family togetherness (which there was) or even the lovely snowfall we had Christmas morning. (Actually, I might have written that.) So I do get what you're saying, Christmas has been and will continue to be over the top commercialism. Not to mention all that "keep Christ in Christmas" jazz. (I have no problem keeping Him in it, I don't know what everyone is so worked up about, just effing say Merry Christmas!) But I suspect that at least a few of us, there is much more to Christmas than the goods, even if we don't fit it all in our Facebook status or Tweets.

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  4. All fair. In truth, I know I should never have framed my experience in a way that placed the expectation on the behavior of others. I'm responsible for my own happiness, etc. So what does it say that the primary emotion I felt before and during Christmas was animosity? I resented everything about it this year, and even when I became aware of that fact, was unable to change my state of mind. If anything, I came to resent not being allowed to be hateful, which has only made it worse.

    I could find nothing upon which to tether myself this year, and I say that not to blame anyone or anything else, but as evidence of how completely overwhelmed I've been by this misery.

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  5. I hear that. And you are allowed to be hateful, or at least hate-filled! At least with me anyway. Sometimes shit just happens and life just sucks and we hate it and everyone in it. That is simple. Each of us has our own experiences with our fucked up diseases and how they interfere with our lives, but all of us can easily understand that it does, even if others' experiences are different than our own. We can at least take comfort in that solidarity, if anything. That others get it and get you and if you want to be a pisser for a while, that's ok. But I am confident that life is good and you will know that again, hopefully soon.

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  6. I hear that. And you are allowed to be hateful, or at least hate-filled! At least with me anyway. Sometimes shit just happens and life just sucks and we hate it and everyone in it. That is simple. Each of us has our own experiences with our fucked up diseases and how they interfere with our lives, but all of us can easily understand that it does, even if others' experiences are different than our own. We can at least take comfort in that solidarity, if anything. That others get it and get you and if you want to be a pisser for a while, that's ok. But I am confident that life is good and you will know that again, hopefully soon.

    ReplyDelete