Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree!

I hate Christmas. There, I said it. Bah-fucking-humbug.

We all know that Christmas is an over-hyped gimmick to prop up the sagging retail industry and to somehow revive our economy by promoting wanton consumerism. (Although it seems more likely to help China’s economy than our own.)

This is the time of the year when suicides and psychiatric hospital admissions spike. For many, it is not a happy time. There is an expectation that we are supposed to be happy, more happy than usual, at Christmas. When it doesn’t live up to expectations, we feel more down than ever.

Not everyone lives in a house that looks like the Currier and Ives illustration on the front of a Christmas card. The snow, if there is any, is more likely to be slushy and dirty. The woodland was cut down a century ago to make way for farms and orchards and more recently for planned “estate” communities. Sitting in a traffic jam in an SUV is a far cry from a one horse open sleigh.

Christmas has never been a happy time for me. As a child, my sisters and I used to dread it. Our obsessive-compulsive dad would put up the same white artificial tree each year. He would allow us to assist in putting up red balls (all the identical shade of red) scolding us if we were not careful to graduate them from small at the top to large at the bottom. Those red balls were the only things we were allowed to put on the tree. He aimed a red spotlight on the red balls. He liked the uniformity and simplicity of it. Our obsessive-compulsive mother liked not having anything messy that might detract from her immaculately clean living room. The tree itself was disruptive enough.

We did not have a happy family but at Christmas we were supposed to play the role of happy children. We would dutifully make wish lists for Santa Claus, carefully editing to be sure that we listed only gifts that were within Santa’s price guidelines and that were readily available at the local mall. On Christmas morning we did our best to pretend enthusiasm and curiosity about what might be under the tree, knowing full well what was there. The things we really wanted – to be loved, encouraged, made to feel we had some self worth – those things were never under the tree.

As a young man, Christmas was even worse. Everyone would be preparing to go home to their families. They were excited. What little was left of my family had become so dysfunctional that we did not even see each other for holidays, or any other time for that matter. I spent Christmas sitting at home alone. Everything would be closed. The decorations and holiday music outside mocked me, reminding me that my life was a failure.

So forgive me if I fail to wish you a merry Christmas. Let Christmas revert to the religious holiday it once was and let Christians celebrate it. I do not identify myself as a Christian and I have no more need to make a big deal over Christmas than I do over St. Francis of Assisi Day, Purim, or Ramadan.

Instead of looking to the unhappy past, let me focus on the promise of the future. I wish you all a very joyful New Year.


  1. Loved this, though weirdly, because I'm Jewish, I've always wanted to celebrate Christmas! But I appreciate your candor. You do write best, straight from your heart and delightfully observant brain. Happy 2011.

  2. You know, I do not know anything about Jennifer Bell but Her advice sort of hit home. I do not write what I feel or think many times because I am afraid I am going to alienate someone. Why why why people should know me. I should know them. I think I am going to try to be a bit braver this year.