Friday, November 26, 2010

Blue Christmas

I’d like to finally admit something awful: I am not entirely a fan of Christmas.

There. I’ve said it.

It has been something I’ve been slow to admit to myself as much as anyone else.
It certainly isn’t the social demands and the busyness – our Christmas season isn’t much busier than the rest of the year. It isn’t keeping up with anyone.

What weighs on me are several things. Chiefly, my expectations and my conflicting expectations. At Christmas, I can never ever decide whether I want to be the world’s most lavish gift giver, choosing presents with extreme care and a carefree budget or whether I want to focus on the spiritual aspects of the holiday and eschew materialism.

The true answer is, um, both.

It occurs to me that this year is likely the last year my little girl will welcome dolls and toys. Why not go nuts? I love to find the perfect gift for people – to me, that is a chief way to express love. But I remember a few years ago when we used to make Operation Christmas Child boxes and I had a fantasy that a child would open a box only to discover toys they had made in their sweat shop. Bizarroland.

The other thing is that Christmas has had a melancholy tinge to it for me ever since I was about six years old and I started to worry that Santa did not exist. My parents told me that Santa was real as long as I believed in him. Somehow this launched into motion an enormous sense of responsibility for Christmas: that I had the ability to kill Santa or keep him alive. I will note in passing that the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny were never real in the least to me. But somehow – maybe it was a confusion of the central male characters at Christmas – I felt a dreadful angst about Christmas.

Every year, I feel a deep sense of responsibility around Christmas, making it perfect for my own kids. For a while I had thought I would never tell my kids that there was a Santa, but I did. At this point, my oldest has chosen to believe, my middle grasps the concept of Saint Nicholas and giving, and the baby accuses me, “I know it’s you.”

I always feel a sense of sadness at Christmas, that maybe there is something more I can do to make Christmas perfect. For a long while, I would feel disappointed about whatever I didn’t do each year. I’d feel a fleeting sense of time, that my kids would only be small for so long. I would heave a huge sigh of relief as we turned the calendar to January. Then, joy could come as it would. There would be no pressure to make things perfect and memorable, to keep a minor pagan deity alive.

The other weird thing has to do with the timing of Christmas. Liturgically speaking, Advent is a penitential season, a time of waiting. Christmas starts the festive season. But nobody told the retailers or my kids. At the same time, I am decorating the house and the tree and stilling my heart. Memo to self: it’s very hard to do both simultaneously. The last few years I’ve tried to get around this by doing a fair bit of my shopping before Advent starts.

Last year was an interesting Christmas. The day before Advent started, I caught a cold which instantly turned into a sinus infection that felled me for the better part of three weeks. I was able to drag myself to the very most important events of the season and I got a plague-imposed exile from the rest. I had to let go of a lot of expectations on myself and instead find gratitude in the things I could do. And I did.

So, here we go again.

I’d like to recapture last year’s experience, sans sinus trouble. I’d like to leave Santa in Jesus’ hands, shovel my expectations for perfection away with the snow and just receive the good gifts that come.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


  1. Here's your comment, as promised:

    I appreciate your thoughts on the struggle between materialism and the more spiritual, sentimental aspects of Christmas. It's a struggle I've come to think more about over the past few years. I've gone from getting something for everyone because it is the "Season of Giving", or at least that's what the television tells me to the extreme opposite end of getting nothing for anybody because that would be giving into The Man and what he's telling me to do. I think in this case, The Man is dressed in a red felt costume collecting the germs that thousands of children are willingly (and some maybe not so willingly) bringing to him.

    There may be something magical, almost ideal about letting your kids dream big about things that they want during this time of year. Is dreaming big something that we lose as we get older, or is it that our dreams shift from the magical to the practical?

    So there's your random comment of the day.


  2. Thanks Tim. I wonder whether my dreams have shifted similarly. Will have to think about that.