Six years ago, when I was 20, I decided to opt-out of most holidays, particularly Christmas. I told everyone I was not exchanging gifts and followed through on that (i.e., not the version of not exchanging gifts which means just not exchanging expensive gifts). I spent as many Christmasses as I could get away with away from family, or anyone really, instead creating my own traditions. And forget Christmas trees.
I used to love Christmas but hated what it seemed to have become, and felt that I needed to experience that extreme before trying to re-look at or reclaim it or anything. Within the last couple of years, I have begun to acknowledge Christmas again, gradually—still no gifts, not really—but last year a housemate and I got a tree, hung up lights, things like that. I was able to reclaim the part of Christmas which I’d loved as a kid: the aesthetic. The look and the smell of the tree, the sight of the lights reflected off the snow (if applicable), things like that.
Last night I was awake at midnight and remembered another part of Christmas I’d forgotten: that proverbial stroke-of-midnight on Christmas Eve. Even after the myth of Santa was revealed to you as just that, there was still a sense of magic and wonder and newness, something in the air, something dreadfully exciting—“a rush of ripe elan” as The Decemberists say. Last night I looked for it, and didn’t feel it, not within myself nor from my surroundings. Perhaps it was too ad-hoc.
The spirit of Christmas is more or less lost. It lives on in the lights, the aesthetic, but is lost among people. I forget it was ever there only for having seen “A Christmas Carol” at Trinity Rep recently. Scrooge was bah-humbugging the spirit of Christmas, the goodwill and kindness and sense of community amongst people that is to be heightened during this time of year. Which we as a society (at least in my neck of the woods) have bah-humbugged into oblivion. For all I see now are people running around stressed and pissed and snippy, worrying about spending comparable amounts of money on the many people on their gift-list, worrying about getting the perfect gift, giving up and getting any piece of useless overly-packed junk that no one would want but at least it’s something, having to fake glee when you open your own piece of useless overly-packed junk and becoming depressed that wow that person doesn’t know you at all, stressing about meals and food, stressing and trying not to think about the credit card bill that will arrive the following month to pay for all the pieces of useless overly-packaged junk; crowded parking lots full of frustrated drivers and frightened pedestrians, the stress of seeing family you don’t care for, not seeing the family you do, because this is kind of the only time you get to, having to do too many things during the longest time off from work you’ll ever get this year, trying to get in some “r & r” amongst all this, stressed because it doesn’t happen, which makes you need it more…
Ah, the spirit of Christmas.
And only six days later—New Year’s Eve. Deciding how much to drink, it has to be enough to forget your vacation’s almost over, to have a good time and stay awake and sing that song that no one knows the lyrics of past the first line; but not too much to be dreadfully hungover. Then, the next day, dreadfully hungover, trying to remember who you need to apologize to, trying to remember if you made any resolutions and if there’s any chance in hell you’ll actually keep them.
I miss what the holidays were, when I was growing up. I don’t want to be bitter, but my culture seems to be conspiring to make me so. Have things changed or is this how it always gets when you become an adult? I feel as though I am left with only two options: Join in the “festivities” which seem to have completely lost their magic and spirit and have become merely hellish, or opt out completely. Again and again, for most of my adult life, I have opted for the latter.