Christmas Desperation

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I’m just not feeling it, and I’m not sure why. All I know is I don’t seem to be the only one.

There’s probably several reasons. I’ve hardly done any shopping yet (I’ve started, but barely). I’m working in retail now (which could be worse). It seems unseasonably warm, even for Colorado (we’re a week out, and it’s in the 60’s). But mostly I think it has to do with the air of desperation hanging around the season this year.

It started before Thanksgiving this year. Now, I haven’t watched television regularly in years, but seemed the onslaught of holiday commercials invaded the airwaves earlier and with more ferocity than in years past. There were the requisite jewelry commercials: “How will she know you LOVE her if you don’t buy her DIAMONDS? Come spend your entire paycheck!” There were the pre-Black Friday sale adverts: “Who wants to spend time with their families when you can spend too much money on things you don’t need? COME ON DOWN!” And of course, the annual holiday specials: “Isn’t this time of year great? BABY JESUS RULES!”

And it doesn’t seem to be letting up. Practically everything I see seems to have a subtext that says: “Spend money! Enjoy yourself! If you aren’t ho-ho-happy, you’re doing it wrong! ENJOY SPENDING MONEY!” But for as widespread as that message is, it rings hollow. It’s like the ones saying it know it isn’t true, but need to keep up appearances lest the lurkers in the dark snatch them into the depths.

As a result, I think, the entire season is ringing false this year. And I don’t think it’s just me being especially cynical, mostly because that would be really sad. I mentioned on Facebook recently that a Doctor Who special filled me with more holiday cheer than all the Christmas songs, commercials, and knickknacks combined, and that’s true. Watching that episode filled me with the most holiday cheer yet, fleeting as it was.

But even if it isn’t just me, is this a new phenomenon? Or am I only now catching on to it? In years past, I’ve had the end of the semester to mark time; even before I went back to grad school, I worked on a college campus, and the rhythm of the school year was inescapable: once the holidays came and the final push was over, things wound down. But working in retail, it’s the opposite: things have been go-go-go since Black Friday, and likely won’t let up until after the new year.

Maybe that’s the problem: the lack of landmarks (like finals) has left me without a reference point. Has left me waiting for a cue that isn’t coming. Maybe the lack of final stress and focus has allowed me to see beneath the veneer of joviality. I don’t know.

But I hope it’s not just me.

9 thoughts on “Christmas Desperation

  1. Kseniya

    No, it’s not just you 🙂 My mom passed on Christmas Day, 2002; I had a good relationship with her, but I still feel like I somehow could have done more or been a better daughter or…(yeah, guilt well instilled). The early darkness doesn’t help. So for me the season is generally more melancholy than anything else.

  2. Pet

    It is not just you. I don’t think it is the Academic vs Marketing calendar thing either, or at least not entirely. I was thinking about it the other day, why do I dislike Christmas so much and when did that start? For me the answer is that it started many many years ago, but in just the last few years the last vestiges of anything I ever liked about Christmas have died a slow tinsel laden death.

    When I was small, Christmas was a magical time where Santa came to my (Dad’s Parents) Grandparents house on Christmas eve, because they had a chimney! (And my Dad had a Santa Suit, My Uncle some old sleigh bells and a deer hoof, and my Grandpa a video recorder!) I don’t remember a Nativity Scene, all I remember was a pile of presents as tall as the extra tall tree, and the smiles and love of the people who had put them there. Christmas at Grandma and Grandpas was not about getting “stuff” though, it was about wonder and joy. We always said thank you to whomever had given us something, even Santa, and meant it.

    After Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpas, we went home to sleep, and wait for Santa to see if he could figure out how to get in the picture window behind the tree. Christmas morning was about family, and hot tea, and Oranges in our stockings. -We- could get oranges other times of the year, but it was always interesting to me to hear how special Oranges were to my grandparents and even my mom and dad when they got them in their stockings. Christmas Oranges taste different because they are special. Someone loved you enough to pay extra to get fresh fruit sent to you in the cold of winter. A little bit of sweet freshness just after the darkest days of the year.

    After opening our stockings and a few things from Mom and Dad, we bundled up to go to (Mom’s Mom’s) Grandma Ruelda’s house. This Christmas was about Food and Family. There was always a never ending bowl of black olives, and a group of cousins to sit under the feast laden table with and see who could get one olive on each of ten fingers without splitting them, and then in to their mouth. Then there was Grandma’s Turkey, and Stuffing, gravy, ham, fresh homemade bread, pumpkin rolls, winter salads, Ambrosia, Sweet Potatoes with marshmallows, apricots, dates, sparkling cider and PIE! So. Much. Pie. Mincemeat, Apple, Pumpkin, Lemon, Cherry, and anything else that sounded interesting that year. My brother and cousins and I ran around through the forest of vaguely familiar knees playing tag and seeking bits of food all. day. long. Finally it was time to sit down and eat, and at each Thanksgiving and Christmas (the events were pretty well the same except one featured less room because of a fresh pine tree decorated with ornaments my Aunts and Uncles had made as children) we would go around the table and say something we were thankful for. In this group, it was almost always family, and very often it was Grandma Ruelda. She was the Pie Wielding Matriarch that kept everyone on the straight and narrow, and let you know you were loved. She was the go between between feuding siblings, and the voice of reason when one was needed, but above all, Grandma loved you no matter what was going on in your life or what truly dumb thing you had just done. Being at her house was warm and comforting and safe… it was better than being home.

    This is where my story diverges from some of yours and my calendar of Grinchdom accelerates. My parents finally got divorced. I say finally because they had been actively trying to kill each other for years with short breaks for the holidays… which was probably my first clue that the holidays were (at least to some extent) a lie. At first I was kind of thrilled that these people wouldn’t try to be interacting on a regular basis anymore, this should be a good thing. What happened is that the fight to see who won the title of “Best Parent” upped the Ante on the holidays. We now had two Thanksgivings to go to, and still three Christmases, but they didn’t flow like they used to. They were now periods of parents trying to impress us while still pretending to be Santa, punctuated by verbal altercations and the occasional fist fight, and well meaning family members who tried to step in and de-escalate things getting caught in the crossfire.

    Holidays were still something to look forward to though, for the bit of respite from daily life that happened in between hand offs and uncomfortable car rides filled with uncomfortable questions like “So…. What did that Turkey of of a (other parent) get you this year?….” Followed by increasing dismay that they could not afford to outdo each other.

    I got older, and about the time I would be expected to start giving gifts to the -whole- family (my mother is the eldest of 7, and my Dad the younger of 2), I did a brilliant thing and got married straight out of High School. This added a third and fourth and sometimes fifth family that I was obligated to spend holiday time with and buy things for. I wanted to make things different and make Christmas what it should be again, and for a few years I did this with nice wrapping paper and expensive gifts… all on my newly minted credit cards. Mmmm yeah. Someone working for twenty hours a week Student Work Study dollars should really really not be trying to do this. My Ex would buy some things for his family, but traditionally making Christmas had been his mom’s job, therefore it was mine. Nevemind that his paycheck hardly covered our expenses, and definitely didn’t when he spent it before he made a deposit. But I was the new young Matriarch to come, I had to make Christmas and make it right. So I spent money I didn’t have, both on my family, and on his, and on his extended family. Perfectly nice people, but ones I didn’t care about all that much except when they showed up on my “To Buy For” list. By the time that marriage was ending, I had figured out that I couldn’t keep overextending myself that much one week and paying for it the rest of the year. I tried the idea of making everyone the same present, but inevitably someone was allergic or offended, or thought that since everyone got the same thing I didn’t care about anyone anymore. And at that point, I -did- stop caring. If all this Christmas thing was going to bring me was angst, pain, panic attacks, and nausea; I could do without it.

    I found excuses not to go to as many of the holiday functions as possible. I still went to the ones with the Grandparents, most of the time, because they still made it special, and right, but I literally went from having Four Thanksgiving dinners and SEVEN Christmas Functions (both confined to the day/s) allotted for them!) To having a friend call me on Christmas Eve not wanting to be alone, and having to be talked in to going out to some little Truck Stop Diner… Because all I wanted that night was to not see another human face.

    The rest of my undergrad was pretty good. I managed to find excuses for all but Thanksgiving with Grandma Ruelda, and Christmas Eve with Grandma and Grandpa. I went to some pretty great lengths to make that happen too… One year I was working the overnight tech support shift. They were nice and brought us in a catered dinner… with wine and all. I ended up working a double shift because so many people called in, and they were trying to ply me with wine to stay for a tipple. The money would have been amazing…. But I knew that I had to go to Thanksgiving this year more than any other. I left work drunk (on their wine!) at 1:30pm, and arrived at my Grandmother’s house which was usually an hour and a half drive away at 2:15pm. I hugged Grandma and hung out with the family, and ate, and drank, and kept ignoring my phone as long as I could. Finally I gave in and answered. It was the manager that had been there for almost 24 hours now BEGGING me to come back and relieve her so she could go see -her- mother while she was in town for the holiday. So, I finished dinner at Grandma’s, said my goodbyes, time warped back to Greeley, and worked another 11 hours, still drunk. Thank goodness no one cared about their computers not working on Black Friday in an age that was still just before Cyber Monday…

    I got to see Grandma Ruelda just a few more times before she died that following February. I would not trade those few insanely dangerous and stupid Thanksgiving hours for anything.

    It is here, unfortunately, that most of you catch up to me on the Grinch making scale. The death of the elder generation often takes a lot of shine out of that Christmas star, because they are no longer there to put it in.

    Grad School was good. It gave me an excuse to not go home, and to try to ignore this thing with candles and cookies that was going on around me in a strange new place with no snow. That only worked for a year though. I started dating this guy who seemed like he might not be made of pure evil. We started spending a whole lot of time together, and I don’t remember when I moved in, but I was at least a long term guest in his space when next Christmas break rolled around. My Grandfather had passed away the previous October, and I was not sure I could go home and face Grandma somehow… which was fine, because I couldn’t afford to, and she at least understood that. This new guy was kind of a cynical atheist with some pagan overtones. I thought I could totally handle that, but was surprised out of my whits when he wanted to do all sorts of Christmas things. He wanted to cook me Polenta and ham for breakfast. I am allergic to Polenta. Fail one. He wanted to put up a Christmas tree. I had decided by then I was allergic to those too. Fail two. I think this started our first big argument. He wanted to go walking together and watch the lighting of the luminarias. I just didn’t understand what he saw in this ridiculous waste of money other than an opportunity to get me so cold he would have to warm me up, but I went with him because I felt bad that I am allergic to polenta, but I am not allergic to candles. We had a nice time, and we stopped briefly in a strange little temple with overtones of multiple religions about it. That is the place I have felt most at peace about Christmas since I was two and looking at a tower of wrapping paper taller than Grandma and Grandpa’s tree. It was a safe and sacred place full of love.

    We have spent every Christmas since with each other, weather we have marked it or not. Even when we run away to a warm beach with a cold beer, Christmas seems to follow us, but it is much better knowing that there is only one place I have to be and one person I have to be sure to say “I love you” to.

    Black Friday followed us to Brazil this year… Think about that for a minute: A country with no Thanksgiving holiday lining up at midnight on Thursday in preparation to kill or be killed for the best deal on holiday cheer. At least they are somehow more honest about it than we are.

    Anyhow, I worry sometimes that I killed what was left of his Christmas spirit, but I think commercialism did that really. The year that his entire family exchanged $50 gift certificates for places they thought the other “might” like to go. That is when it all really ended. When his brothers grew up, and discovered that they didn’t really know each other well enough to buy personalized gifts any more. And that is just as well, because the sisters in law who had married in were even more at a loss. Fortunately, his Brother had kids not too much later, and it was wisely decided that Christmas is for the young, and that our efforts should be focused where they had been on us once upon a time, at creating the sense of wonder that is supposed to abound at this time of the year. And I hope it will last for them, for these nieces and nephews. It won’t though, not forever. And though it may sound cynical, my best and brightest Christmas wish for them all is that they will be able to find peace with escaping Christmas when it is time for them to do so.

    I don’t wish for no family and no cheer, no lights, and I definitely don’t wish for no love… I wish for all of these things, just without the strings and price tags and angst that have come to be associated with them. Dear Santa, is that too much to ask?

  3. Mark

    I think another part of the problem is how quickly it seems to be approaching. We’ve basically got 9 days left before Christmas, and to me, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas usually feels a lot longer. It just seems rushed this year, like everything is pushing it to just get here and be done and over with. Whether its our own feelings of wanting it to be over (entirely possible), or the massive deluge of ads and such that are insistent that the season is upon us, there doesn’t feel like there’s time to sit back and enjoy the buildup.

    And it may just be me, but almost all of 2013 felt like that. This was a freaking fast year, both in how the span of time felt, and how busy everything was. If my work wasn’t busy, my SCA life was. If my SCA life was down, work or family filled the gap. I never felt like I had any time this year to relax, even during my downtime. I either had to fill it with something, or it seemed so short that doing anything seemed like it wouldn’t be worth the effort.

    So no, it’s not just you. It may be for different reasons than the rest of us, but I don’t think it’s just you. Granted, that’s probably about the most over-used platitude in existence, but if we keep saying it to each other often enough, maybe we’ll finally realize it. Or get absolutely sick of it and want to stab the next person that says it to us, one of the two.

    1. Pet

      This is a good point… I have my theories about the Government and Big Business trying to force financial recovery and that making our year feel shorter and more stressed. I think this adds to the inevitable disappointment of Christmas, but It is only an extra stress on a pre-existing and pretty much inescapable issue.

  4. Pet

    Whoof! I must document that I feel a whole lot better (even on a pretty bad pain day!) after writing that all out! Thanks for providing a place and a motive. I hope it helps you some in your own personal thinking too.

    1. Joshua Post author

      You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing! It’s encouraging to hear that it isn’t just me. I’ve just noticed the (for lack of a better term) scrooginess in myself this year, but it sounds like you’ve really done some thinking about the whens and the whys. Even if it doesn’t fix the issue, knowing why seems to help. I agree on multiple points, like how gift exchanging can seem vestigial and the whole consumerism thing seems artificially inflated.

      And I’m thankful you took the opportunity to share your story here. It’s encouraging to know that people read my words and react to them, that I’m not just yelling into the void. To be corny, it was a great Christmas present. Thanks. 🙂

      1. Pet

        Once again, tis too bad I am allergic to corn 😉

        You say lots of stuff that I agree with or that makes me think. Both here and in person. I am sorry that I don’t get a chance to chime in more often. Keep it up. <3

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