With the holidays firmly in the rearview I wanted to post an old, cynical piece I wrote about Christmas.
In December the United States are painted red, white, and green. Houses don shining golden lights like jewelry. In living rooms sit the sacred trees, blessings of pine bedecked with glittering ornamentation. Patrons file into the stores to offer their propitiations, gathering around sales like a manger scene, giving money to the fortunate, receiving their lot to lay at the foot of the evergreen idol. Children mind themselves on account of the white-bearded man who watches them always, ready to punish or reward their behavior with hellish coal or heavenly gifts. On the 25th day, families assemble to rejoice in the birth of their new material acquisitions. Thank you, Almighty Dollar, for these gifts I’m about to receive.
If you ask a number of people what their favorite holiday is, the vast majority are probably going to say Christmas. People love Christmas. They love the music. They love the dinners and parties, the food and drinks. They love getting together with friends and families. They love giving and receiving gifts. Oh, and I suppose a few like the Jesus-y stuff, too. But here’s the thing: none of those activities are exclusive to Christmas, and none need be confined to that most wonderful time of the year. The holiday itself is a mishmash of religious and pagan traditions, nature worship and solstice celebrations combined with other familiar mythologies, all hijacked by the soul-sucking juggernaut of capitalism. December 25th is no longer the hopeful day full of A Christmas Carol ethos. Christmas in America, with all its compulsory gaiety and shameless materialism, is a lovable abomination.
Every part of this Yuletide celebration has been commodified. Christmas songs have been recorded ad nauseum, by seemingly every pop star and in every genre. It is possible, right now, to purchase a heavy metal or reggae or polka Christmas album (question: does a Christmas album automatically render a band Christian Rock?). How many versions of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” do we actually need? To quantify the ubiquity of these songs consider that according to a 2015 study by Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, there were 1.3 million recordings of Christmas songs, including 25,000 covers of “Silent Night.” I’d say we’re finished making Christmas music.
Films and television aren’t much better. On every syndication-laden channel one is apt to find a film where some brow-beaten father is dragging his feet through the punishing month, with its traditional and meaningless routine of tree and lights and shopping and egg nog and Bing Crosby, all to realize the true magic of Christmas has to do with being with loved ones…you know, the stuff that you could, but neglect to do the other 11 months. Feliz Navidad, Dad! Try to think of a Christmas movie—besides “Die Hard”—where the thrust of the film isn’t some sentimental realization about this ever-magical season. It’s nearly impossible.
The entire season has become all too predictable. After enough time the years become a blur of the same humdrum monotony. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spending time with my family, but Christmas can be tedious. It it is too reliant on money and not dependent enough on the things which ostensibly are supposed to make the damn day magical to begin with.
A perfect encapsulation of the bankrupt nature of the modern American Christmas is online shopping. It is simultaneously the solution to and the epitome of the worst parts of American culture. Christmas shopping was at one point an enjoyable experience. I can remember as a child loving the decorated malls, seeing Santa, hearing the music, and relishing in the buzz of the holiday atmosphere. This sensation has evaporated entirely. Now the mall is the 4th circle of hell, with dead-eyed parents marching like the damned, determined to mollify their pain-in-the-ass kid with some gift they don’t need and will likely be tired of before New Year’s Day. So what do we do instead? We haphazardly fill our “cart” on Amazon and *poof* gifts arrive in the mail. It used to be “the thought that counts.” Now, we hardly think at all, just click, click, click, and close the browser. Ah, Christmas: a time to max out credit cards and make completely irresponsible decisions which will only imbue kids with the notion that love is shown with boxes and bows and stuffed stockings.
Then there’s all the lying that comes with Christmas. Santa Claus is watching you. You’d better be good or else you won’t get any presents! When you let that wash over you, you should feel pretty filthy. We lie to children, tell them a man—whom they don’t know—is constantly watching them and judging. Despite what the song says, we’re not telling these kids to be “good for goodness’ sake.” We’re telling them to keep it together or else they won’t get any gifts. Yes, punishment and reward: those timeless teaching tools which will surely produce noble adults.
And I can’t forget that damned Elf on a Shelf, another shameless commodity designed to be a tool of invigilation for would-be naughty children. Every night I have to move this stupid, rosy-cheeked, hermaphroditic looking Ken doll in tights. Then I have to pretend I’m surprised that he/she/it ended up in the place I begrudgingly put him six minutes before the kids came down the stairs. Sometimes I forget. Then I have to compound the lie. Why is he in the same place? Well, he must like it there. Part of me just wants to spill the beans about all of it: Santa, the elf, Jesus, the whole nine. Guess what kids? It’s not real. It’s just stupid stuff adults have come up with to keep you in line.
Social media has played a role in the commodification of Christmas as well. Reliably, everyone you know is going to post a picture of their perfect tree with their perfectly wrapped presents sitting perfectly, about to be opened by their perfect children, dressed perfectly on such a perfect family day! #Perf. We used to take pictures for ourselves. Now we take pictures for everyone else. But I digress…
Despite these crotchety musings I actually do love Christmas. I like getting dressed up and spending the day with my family (and any day where I can put away a few judgement-free drinks is a plus), but there are times when I realize that I’m a willing participant in the bastardization of what was once something wonderful. Every swipe of the credit card, every internet purchase, every white lie about Santa, and every uploaded photo—they are all just reminders that we’ve all collectively sold our proverbial souls to Capitalistmas—that American holiday where we are so grateful for everything we have that we rush out to buy all of the things we don’t have.
Ah, screw it, I guess I’ll just have another spiked egg nog.