Monday, December 3, 2012

The Christmas Conundrum: Enslaved to Tradition

“There are only 22 more days to shop before Christmas!” As I continue to hear this kind of sentiment, it increasingly agitates and baffles me. As children, we tend to accept the world around us as inevitable. Certainly as a little girl in Newfoundland, an environment predominately saturated by Christian culture, I never questioned Christmas. It seemed like an inevitability, a non-optional custom regardless of one’s actual religious leanings.

Can you opt out of Christmas? Not all of it, but the parts you dont like and enjoy. I think, yes. Of course, if you actually enjoy the season and the traditions and the increased emphasis on certain values, then why would you want to? The sad thing is, so many people seem to hate, or at least feel indifferent towards, Christmas, and yet they still grudgingly participate.

Advice articles on how to deal with Christmas: Why is this a thing?
And from the outset of this blog, let it be known that I love shopping. I love clothes and accessories and knickknacks and buying things. I’ve even gone through periods of what can only be described as shopaholicism, in which I’ve recorded all my purchases in an effort to curb the habit. 
 I’ve also always enjoyed, really enjoyed, shopping for Christmas presents and I’ve always loved - and savoured - a lot of aspects of the Christmas season. This isn’t about disliking Christmas. I’m also an atheist, so the secularization of religious holidays doesn’t bother me. This has nothing to do with the absence of Christ in Christmas.

Merry Christmas.
What bothers me is how much so many people seem to resent Christmas. My whole life I’ve witnessed Christmas discussed as a mutually agreed upon topic of commiseration. “I’m not ready for Christmas.” “I have so much to do before Christmas.” “I hate you for having all your shopping and wrapping done.” The question “Are you ready for Christmas” has started to sound a lot like “Are you ready for Skynet to take over and the machines to rise?”

Christmas is discussed, especially in polite small talk, as a communally experienced doom, something that becomes increasingly stressful as we get older, and we succumb to the pressure of entertaining and facilitating the charade of Santa Claus. The shopping for many people isn’t fun and enjoyable – it’s a burden. They spend more than they can afford and go into debt to give gifts they feel pressured to give. They worry about getting “enough” and getting “the right things.” And this isn’t just some toys for some Santa-fearing children, but for everyone.

I understand that I’m not a parent, and so there are aspects of the “pressures” of this custom that I have not yet confronted. I have thought for years now that, when I become a parent (and I intend to), I will not reinforce the idea of Santa Claus. I should mention, I told this to my class in high school and it was, especially at that age, a controversial idea for which I took a lot of criticism. It’s not that I dislike the core idea of Santa, or want to “kill the magic” for kids – not at all. I just want to raise my kid(s) from the outset to see Christmas as more than a chance to write a huge list and demand things from an imaginary man, or to behave so Santa doesn’t put them on the naughty list.
Christmas is a time for watching A Muppet Family Christmas.

People need to remember that at the root of all this shopping and decorating and stress is an optional social custom.

(My devil’s advocating, sociologically inclined boyfriend would here say something about how such deeply entrenched and reinforced – and socially policed – customs and traditions become non-optional, or at least they come to feel that way. OK, point taken.)

If the build-up to Christmas, and the holiday itself, is a pleasurable, fun, meaningful experience, that’s great. I’ve personally always enjoyed and embraced the Christmas season and really enjoyed gift exchange and celebrations, however arbitrary they have become in terms of the secularized Christmas I “observe.” But the stress, the debt, the complaining of having to clean your house for company – it’s not worth it. If the cleaning and cooking is so frustrating and annoying, don’t entertain! Let someone else host the family gathering.
At the end of the day (and for the next 22 days and beyond) we should all remember that, regardless of how you were raised and how you were cultured to experience Christmas, your psychological relationship to this holiday is malleable. You can change what it means to you and how you experience Christmas, the good and the bad. Don’t blindly and unquestioningly follow the socially reinforced pressures if, at the core, you don’t enjoy the rituals.

The “true” meaning of Christmas is a lot of different things to different people, but I don't think anyone would insist the true meaning is forced consumerism, ensuring non-needy children get more toys, and being stressed.

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