For my continuing musings regarding this oh-so-wonderful holiday season, I’d like to try and figure out how I got here, fed up as I am with the whole thing. I’ve put off writing today longer than I meant to (read: as much as usual), so I may revisit this later more fully. As usual, though, no promises.
I wasn’t always so scroogy. I still remember a time when I looked forward with unbearable anticipation to Christmas. Sometimes I would sleep under the tree, in the warm glow of the lights and ornaments. Come Christmas morning, I would bound down the stairs (far earlier than any sane adult should be awake on a day off, of course) and revel in the sight of presents pile high under the tree. We weren’t allowed to open anything until everyone was awake, of course, but that didn’t stop me trying to sleuth out what was waiting under the tree (boxes of LEGO bricks make a very distinctive tinkling sound that, to this day, still makes my heart race).
Opening presents was done in an alternating fashion, cycling between me, my brother, and our parents: one at a time, then on to the next person, usually with cards being opened first. That way, everyone got to be the focus of the celebration for a short time. I can still recall spending all morning after opening gifts building the Deep Freeze Defender. If I stopped for breakfast, it was after much protest.
Leading up to Christmas, my brother and I were encouraged to make a list. We were reminded that “Santa” may not be able to bring everything on our list, but that we should put down ideas nonetheless. This encouraged us to be selective with what we asked for, and added a bit of chance and excitement to the annual wrapping paper holocaust.
I suppose things started to change for me once we moved past “Santa,” and started becoming aware of the monetary costs involved in our gifts. We were still encouraged to make a list, but to keep it under a certain amount. As time went on, crafting the Christmas became a numbers game, which only became worse as the items we wanted increased in price. Suddenly, when one video game accounts for more than half of your gift budget, it takes a lot of the mystery out of opening gifts.
This growing malaise was compounded as I became an adult with my own income and gifts to buy. The season became a source of stress, especially since I’m not too keen on spending money when it’s tight. I had to juggle my own budget, making sure I didn’t overextend myself too much during the last month of the year while trying to find meaningful, useful gifts for friends and family. Let me tell you, that was a challenge on a grad student budget, and wile less so, still is on a retail drone’s.
The list-making tradition continues, but feels as perfunctory as a grocery list at times. The really big things I don’t feel comfortable asking for, since I understand how much of a drain the holidays can be. And things I’m capable of buying for myself, I generally just go out and purchase. The unnecessary things are just that: unneeded. And it feels like people I know and love are in similar places. It’s not really much of a surprise I’m reduced to exchanging gift cards packed inside a saccharine Hallmark card with a bow and glitter.
So I guess you could say Christmas really lost its sparkle for me when it became about money and accounting. You might say I’m missing the human aspect, that the season is about giving gifts to people you love rather than receiving. And you might even be right. But that side of things is hard for me to hold on to, especially given my predisposition to Funks due to lack of sunlight and sleep. Is there an easy fix? I don’t know, but probably not. Christmas is a time of innocence, and it’s hard to hold on to that magic when the world is pressing in on you from multiple sides.