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.