Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bah Humbug!

*** Christmas Eve 2011 -- I've noticed a LOT of traffic on this particular posting, with the majority of the hits coming from Britain. If you're visiting this posting, can you leave a comment and let me know where you saw the link?  Thank back to Christmas 2010.
Get set for the most politically incorrect posting of the year!

I don't "do" Christmas.  Hubby (who channels the Ghost of Christmas Present!) thinks I am a Grinch, and a Scrooge.  I haven't "done" Christmas for the last four years, each year getting more and more comfortable with my decision to abandon it.

Now I'm not a Christmas HATER - I have lots of sweet memories from childhood Christmasses, and I'm still charmed by Hubby's childlike eagerness and holiday spirit.  What I hate is that Christmas has become a long list of obligations, and many of them are commonly loathesome to lots and lots of people.

No, the list of reasons I've decided to give up celebrating has become longer and longer each year, bolstering my commitment to remain tinsel free in the future.  I'm not sharing this list because I think EVERYONE should renounce the festive season, just perhaps to highlight a few areas that could cause you Claus pause, and challenge you to think about some of your traditions.

1 - I hate forced friendliness.  Okay - I'm not kidding here.  Twice already this year I've had people admit to me that they take medication, or medicate themselves with alcohol in order to deal with complicated family dynamics.  I recently had a chat with someone who was outraged that a particular family member was not attending a holiday gathering, even though she ordinarily can't stand this person.  What?  Really??

Why do people do this to themselves?  Are they expecting some kind of Christmas Miracle in their stocking this is going to erase years of horrible communication, painful memories, and hurt feelings?  Is grinning and bearing it what Christmas is about?

2 - I hate gifts.  Okay, maybe that's exagerating.  Gifts make me uncomfortable.  I loved the fudge and date squares in the cute cookie jar that my friend Lorraine left for my family (although, really? coulda been more of your famous date squares Lorraine!). It makes me smile when I imagine the fun and laughter my mom and sister shared as they cooked up the jars of home-preserves and creatively packed into beautiful gift baskets covered in colourful cellophane, topped with a pretty handcrafted tag.  I can tell these gifts were a pleasure for the givers to give, and so it's a pleasure for me to receive.

Anything else makes me really uncomfortable.  "It's the thought that counts" is bull$#*!  With plenty of gifts, it's clear that not a lot of thought went into it. It isn't easy for me to pretend that I'm really excited by the packages of crap that are going to the thrift store come Boxing Day.  And yes, partly it's because I'm disappointed, but the greater piece is that it embarrasses me that I may be hurting the feelings of the giver, because I can't fake surprise and gratitude.  On the other hand, I suspect that the giver is just thinking "well, that's another one off my list" because he or she feels an obligation to give a gift. And that just makes me sad.

3. I hate Christmas plays. No, not the cute little school concerts, but all the draaaaaaaaaama that plays out over the Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Now since this is a confessional, I gotta confess a good deal of schadenfreude on my part - this is why we like reality TV so much in our culture.  I enjoy a little gossip about  who lost their marbles, who ruined dinner, who stormed out, who got drunk. 

But upon reflection, I'm ashamed that I listened to the stories, I'm ashamed that I badly want to get the other side of the story, and I'm really sad that bad things happened, and these incidents are going to forever colour what is supposed to be a joyful time of the year, for many years to come. 

4. Christmas offends my sensibilities. Gross consumerism and materialism (that's a given). I don't have to expand on this, do I?  Okay, I will. 

Especially since I've been working so closely with poor people in the last few months, and particularly at the food bank these past two weeks, I've become keenly aware that nothing contributes so much to the loss of dignity for the poor than the awareness that they can't provide the kind of Christmas for their families that our culture expects.  Nothing draws a deeper line between the "haves" and "have nots" than the decision to pay the rent or buy the kids a few gifts.  At the risk of sounding cliché or trite, it's not fair that Christmas is a time of reckoning for children.  It breaks my heart that this is the precise time when children are most likely to recognize that they have less, ARE LESS (when you consider the average outcomes for kids who grow up in poverty).

And while I'm not what you would call a passionate environmentalist, I do think we should try to be as kind to the planet as we can.  A lot of resources, energy, and waste tallies up this time of year.  Will I ever use any of the calendars that I get this time of year from every bank, politician, pharmacy, and realtor?  Nope - into the recycling box. 

Twice this year I have already been asked about what I thought was appropriate to tip day care providers, so the giver didn't seem "cheap". To me, this kind of tipping is paradoxical: this gift is so you will hold me in esteem, and guarantee future good service, NOT because I want to demonstrate my gratefulness for your fine work and dedication. Just this morning I received a "tipping etiquette tips" article in my email. Dollar amounts were stated ($15 for the newspaper carrier) with clarity, but at the end of the list a suggestion that one shouldn't break one's budget:
 "Although there are a lot of grey areas when it comes to holiday tipping, experts all seem to agree on one thing: It shouldn’t break the bank. If you have to go into debt to tip this year, stop. Pull out a stash of stationary, and get writing instead. You can even allude to the fact that you were, say, out of work most of the year, says Blais Comeau. “Respect your budget. That’s the important thing,” she says."

OHHHHHHH!  THAT'S the important thing! Thanks for clearing that up.

But just before you click the comment button to tell me what a Scrooge I am, there are still some things I do like about Christmas.

1. I'm a sucker for Christmas lights.  I can't drive down night-time holiday streets without rubber-necking to-and-fro to take in all the sparkling and glittering.  I love me a Griswold house!

2. Turkey and cranberry sauce.  We just don't get that enough during the year.  I'm glad we save up all that specialness for holidays.

3. Christmas carols.  Not hokey Christmas songs, but beautiful traditional choral arrangements.  Or give me Mahalia Jackson singing "Oh Holy Night" - when she gets to the "fall on your knees" part, I get goosebumps. I like to sing Christmas carols too, but try not to get caught doing it, lest I be accused of having holiday spirit.

4. Snow.  Combined with those twinkly coloured lights?  Can it get any better?

5. Black & White holiday movie classics.  You simply can't see "It's a Wonderful Life" too many times. And I adore any version of "A Christmas Carol". Those happy endings are eternally satisfying.

6. Charity.  People come together and do great things at Christmas.

God bless us, every one!


  1. I understand your mixed feeling for Christmas. Out of a need for self-preservation, I have abandoned a lot of those obligatory tipping/gifting/forced-celebration situations because they made me very unhappy. And my husband hated it when they made me crazy and upset, because I was no fun to be around.

    I understand all your points about commercialism, too. I'll never stand in line for hours to get some special deal for someone on my Christmas list. I think my friends know I care about them even if I don't buy them a gift they don't need. (It takes the pressure off of them to reciprocate!)

    But, I'm going to buy a couple of little things for people who I think deserve a little something extra--the housekeeper on our hospital unit who does such a nice job and is always so helpful, my kids' teachers because I appreciate the hard work they do. It's just all too much, don't you think?

    I think we all need to find balance and make peace with the holiday. We need to make sure that we set our own priorities and not let others tell us how to feel.

    So, I hope you have a Happy Love-filled Holiday with your family!


  2. I agree with the vast majority of what you've said. Christmas should be a time to be with those you love and conscious of those who don't have the same priviledges.
    We gave up xmas gifts several years ago and it is a blessing! Instead of pulling my hair out over who to buy what I try and spend as much time in December as possible making charity quilts, usually accompanied by xmas carols/songs and with fairy lights twinkling!!
    Give me quilting, twinkling lights, mince pies and seasonal films and I'm happy :)
    Best wishes for the festive season and a wonderful new year. Helen

  3. I completely agree! We have spent the last several years trying to cut out buying gifts for anyone but our kids. It has worked to a certain extent, but we still have those people who insist on giving to us, even after we made it clear we wanted to stop with the exchanging. Some of them I simply accept with pleasure, knowing that they are getting joy out of giving me a gift and a few I feel obligated to return a gift. I wish I could get over that obligation part. Those are the gifts that I begrudge. :0(

    The whole waste and commercialism thing bugs me, too, even though I am not an environmentalist either. I have young kids and I can't begin to tell you how many cheap junkie dollar store toys they get. Which break into tiny little pieces in a few minutes and end up in a landfill. I wish people would just buy them a piece of candy at that point. At least that's biodegradable. :0) (And I could steal it.)

  4. I love your post. You hit the nail right on the head. This year I find myself thinking of the commercialism of this great day. It's not a holiday but a celebration of something that happened years ago. If you're not believer, that's a believer in Christ, then why celebrate. I know that's not what your saying but it's kind of what I think. I'm not a gun-ho catholic either. So much waste! When I was in my 20's, it was the time off work and the parties with my friends. We didn't do gifts but got together for the holidays. Now, it's my family that gets together. No gifts, we used to pick names when we were little, but lots of food and fun. Secret Santa rules but you don't have to take part if you don't want to. It's always fun, no fighting or bickering. In my dh's family, it's very tense, with everyone trying to see how much a gift costs or who got what. Lots of baggage left over from their childhood. My friend always thought my family Christmas was a lot of fun even 40 years later. I have 7 brothers and 2 sisters and we still get together, as many as can show up, every Christmas and Thanksgiving. I can do without the gift part even from my husband. It all comes from the same pot and I don't need diamonds and jewellry which I never wear anyway. Now I'd like to think of a better idea than putting uo a tree. Got any suggestions?

  5. I don't think you are a Scrooge at all and in my book it does sound like you "do" Christmas, just not in a scary, demented sort of way.

    We have pretty much eliminated gifts to all but a few very close family members and those are largely homemade gifts. Our kids get the bulk of our gifting efforts (and time). We decorate simply, enjoy carols, lights, and funny holiday movies. For us it is about family and being together--not the crap that makes us crazy!

    Good for you for knowing where to draw the line!

  6. I totally agree with every word you said. I haven't 'done' Christmas for the past 10 years since I got divorced and I have been much happier (for both those reasons!) No tree, no decorations, no cards, no gifts (and here in Australia tipping of any kind is rare). I stop going anywhere near a shopping center for at least 2 weeks before. I just don't participate in any of that nonsense any more. I've never spoken to a single person who can honestly say they enjoy it.

  7. I have done almost totally handmade Christmas this year. And, yes, Mom and I had a riot and many adventures (misadventures) canning and packing all the gift baskets for everyone we love. Mom says next year everyon gets a bag of potatoes . . . LOL. I am only going to places I want to be this year. My decorations include a tiny fake tree with 1 string of lights, a tiny poinsettia, and tons of Christmas cards from friends and family far and wide. If that makes me a scrooge . . . so be it . . . MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

  8. I agree with you on the commercialism. Oh heck most of what you said. I try to give to charities this time of year. I will say I like the red and green one sees at this time of year - like in red and green quilts. :)

  9. I thought I was reading a post written by my husband! It's so funny the things you said... it sounded just like him! And I am slowly turning!

  10. I love Christmas, but because it means time with family, either mine or my husband's, both of whom I truly enjoy being around. And it means that I get to give out my handmade gifts - I don't buy much, and usually that which is bought is for my children. And I like giving gifts to my children. I'm a bit of a Scrooge to them most of the year - I don't want them thinking they can get new toys and stuff whenever they want, but only for special occasions because I don't want them to turn into those entitled kids that I seem to see every which way I turn. And I don't stress about who gets and who doesn't from me. I'm not going to buy someone a gift just so I can say they got something from me. So I can relate to your frustrations with the season, but I seem to have found a way to celebrate without the stress. It sounds like you have done the same!

  11. Your post about Christmas defines much of how I feel about it--same with Valentines Day. It's just nuts setting a day that someone should buy something and give to someone they love--or think they love. What about just doing something any time of the year. It's the gross commercialism that really hits me. We don't try to compete with those really trying to make it all for Christmas, either, we just pretty much do as the mood strikes. This year, small gifts for the grandchildren. I calmly got stuck at my mom's in a snow storm a week before Christmas and knew there wasn't one more thing that "needed" to be done, I just vegged for 4 days waiting out the storm and visited with Mom and my sis. ...and ya know the day would have come and gone anyway even if I had to have stayed longer! Freedom is when one can remove oneself from the craziness around and still be okay with the person they've become.

    I looked around yesterday, and I still have a few decorations--the ones I put out with a bit of sparkle. They aren't just Christmas--they are a "change" and I keep them out til about mid February or later and then find something to remind me spring is coming.

  12. i late in catching up with my blogs, but "God bless you on this post."
    This is spot on.

  13. I started off at Sweet-P's blog. I wondered what you had to say about not doing Christmas, so clicked on your link in your December 2012 entry.