I hate being a Grinch but I’m really not into Xmas anymore and I don’t know how to make it better. (And don’t even get me started on those damn radio stations that play nothing but cheesy, shop-worn “Christmas Classics” from Thanksgiving to December 25th. GAH!!)
I loved Xmas as much as the next kid growing up. There were certain family traditions – cookies, of course (my favorites were peanut butter kisses and magic cookie bars, which I miss to this day), decorating not only the (artificial) tree but the entire house, wrapping green plastic garlands with big red bows around the wrought-iron stair railings, and getting together with my extended family, where we’d play cards in clouds of cigarette smoke into the wee hours. The older we got, the more sparse the family gatherings became, as the aunts and cousins scattered to variously distant geographic locations. The last few years before my mother passed away, it was just us – my mother; my sister, her husband and my niece; and Darian and me.
Darian spends Xmas Eve at her paternal grandmother’s house, where they do the whole traditional Italian fish and pasta meal (including a seafood salad that features calamari with their chewy little tentacles intact), then stays the night at her dad’s with her younger siblings. I usually spend the night before Xmas wrapping presents. Then I show up on Xmas morning to open presents with my ex’s family, after which we head off to my sister’s for brunch before my sister goes to her in-laws’ for dinner, which then leaves Darian and me to our own devices on Xmas afternoon and evening. She might go out with friends, or we’d watch a movie on TV. Last year we actually went to see Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken in the theater and then to a diner for dinner and dessert. As far as I’m concerned, that was a fine new tradition, so we’ll have to find a good movie to see this year! Even better, we can visit our “other” pets at the shelter first!!
Not that long ago, I even managed to get enthusiastic about shelling out $50 for a live tree from the local guy (a bit of a rip-off artist but they’d set the tree up in my house for an extra $10 tip) and decorating it with my limited collection of ornaments. (My favorites are a set of porcelain Hummels trimmed with gold.). But I can’t even have a tree anymore, thanks to cats who think everything hanging on the tree – high or low, it doesn’t matter – is there for them to play with. And it’s a pain to climb up into my crawl space without a proper ladder to take down the decorations, just to struggle to put them back up again a couple of weeks later. Likewise with putting up lights on the outside of my house, or the huge blow-up reindeer I splurged on the first year we were in our house, plus I’m always afraid of getting electrocuted in the rain and the snow. Sometimes I wish I could have a “husband for hire” just to do stuff like put up (and take down) Xmas lights. They certainly do look pretty, as long as they’re tasteful and not over-the-top explosions of Xmas on people’s front lawns.
Christmas lost its religious cachet for me years ago. I must have been about 12 and a star in the junior choir at the United Methodist Church of Seaford. I was all set to sing “O Holy Night” at the Christmas Eve service, which was my grandmother’s favorite holiday song, when God saw fit to make me ill so I never got to sing despite weeks of rehearsal. Actually, I think it might have been more stage fright than laryngitis, which makes me feel a little ashamed in retrospect. But whatever the reason, Xmas soon just became about the accoutrements – the pretty lights, the clan gatherings, the endless chocolate and cookies, and of course the gifts: mountains and mountains of painstakingly wrapped presents, especially when my daughter was younger, because there were gifts from mom and dad and also gifts – the most extravagant, expensive ones! – from Santa, plus a stocking stuffed with little goodies I’d been carefully collecting for weeks (although in later years, the stocking contents were basically comprised of items I’d picked up at the local CVS the night before).
Work has clearly been a prime contributing factor to my lack of Xmas spirit. For the past 13 years, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’ll be working non-stop up to the last minute of December 23, scrambling to help clients close deals by the end of the fiscal year. If that doesn’t suck the Xmas spirit right out of you, I don’t know what will. It also doesn’t help that my financial situation has changed considerably in the past few years. When I was earning a full-time lawyer’s salary, I was able to splurge on gifts, usually at the last minute (having had to work till December 23, after all) and usually more expensive than they needed to be, especially for my daughter. Of course I was compensating for not being around very much – no cookie baking for us, and decorating was often an afterthought, but I could be counted on to come up with some pricey presents! Now, with my part-time work schedule, while I might have a little more time to spare, the funds have officially dried up.
When I had money I also used to make charitable donations – to Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, the ASPCA, Global Kids – but now I barely have enough to buy gifts for my loved ones let alone give cash money to worthwhile nonprofit organizations. Truth be told, I’d much prefer charitable giving to paying my tithes to the retail gods.
There aren’t any little kids in our family anymore. The youngest is Darian’s sister Guin, who’s 11, so there’s no more Santa charade or visits to Toys ‘R’ Us. But that also means it’s tougher to come up with meaningful gifts for an 11-year-old girl (clothing is an option, but you need to choose the correct style du jour), a 13-year-old boy (Darian’s video-gaming brother Erich, who I used to get away with buying a GameStop gift card but that’s become a little old hat) and my almost-16-year-old niece, whose birthday arrives just two weeks AFTER Xmas so I’ve got to come up with yet another gift for that, especially given the milestone nature of this year’s celebration.
I’ve spent so much time and money buying what I believed to be thoughtful gifts for others over the years. That’s really what the season is all about, right? Giving? Except I despise how materialistic it has all become. There was a great quote on Facebook the other day: We spend Thanksgiving being grateful for all the things we have, and then we go out at the crack of dawn on Black Friday to, in some cases, literally fight with each other to get a bunch of things we think we need. Hah! We need nothing more than the company of friends and family, and maybe some magic cookie bars – screw the gifts!!
I actually suggested to my sister that this year we don’t buy each other gifts, or maybe get just one each for my niece and my daughter. After accusing me of being a Scrooge, she then told me that she already has my present, which probably means (ingrate alert!) it’s something I didn’t ask for and don’t necessarily want, and yet I will need to be appropriately appreciative when I open it on Xmas Day. And I guess I should be grateful since lately it’s the only gift I get.
I know people talk about this being the season of “peace on earth, good will to men”, and I appreciate that concept very much, but for most of the planet, Xmas certainly isn’t that. I’d much rather have peace on earth, good will to men (er, PEOPLE) all year round.
By now I’ve probably dragged you down on my “bah-humbug” trajectory, so let’s end on a lighter note, shall we? I present the Four Stages of Life (courtesy of a post today on Facebook):
- You believe in Santa Claus.
- You don’t believe in Santa Claus.
- You are Santa Claus.
- You look like Santa Claus.
I think it’s safe to say I’m squarely in #4 territory!