The terrors of christmas

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I hate christmas. I have always hated christmas; yes always, since I can remember anything at all, I remember hating christmas.

My mother was a single parent (father having left when I was 2). She always worked christmas (she was a nurse), she usually worked double shifts on christmas – overtime at holiday pay rate. So she was never home for christmas. That left me to the tender care of my 2 older sisters – who basically hated me. (With one, the estrangement was never repaired.)

My mother would usually prepare christmas ahead of time – chicken sandwiches, canned ravioli or beans, canned string beans – sitting in pots on the stove waiting to be heated, yum yum. For dessert, those prepared sugary jelly pies one got at the corner-store. Of course, for the first few years, I got little of it – my sisters were voracious eaters and didn’t think of christmas as necessitating any more sharing behavior than they engaged in the rest of the year.

There was gift giving, of course. My oldest sister liked to give me torn socks. My second sister, fortunately would actually try to be generous, and usually bought me first comic books, and then later books.

My mother’s gift giving was a little erratic. I think she tried, she really did. But she was too busy with working and household chores to really put much thought into it. Usually she would ask us what we wanted, and then on Christmas morning we would unwrap these relatively cheap, easily broken plastic toys. Being kids, of course we reacted depressed and complaining. By the time I was a teen-ager, my mother had just given up – she just gave us money the week before Christmas and had us buy and wrap our own presents. Somehow, the experience unwrapping them was not the same.

We had a christmas tree – my aunt usually bought it. It was usually too big. Since we kids were doing the decorating, we always over-did it and the tree looked over-weighted and gaudy. It usually stood too long in the living-room, way past new years, so it was a brown shriveled, needle-shedding wreck by the time we got it out of there.

Holiday festivities revolved around the television set. I suppose I watched every christmas special produced during the late ’50s – early ’60s: tawdry re-narrations of the nativity story, cheap vaudeville acts pretending to be cheerful, sit-com families making vacuous jokes and grinning stupidly ear to ear. The only broadcasts worth remembering were old films. I still have fond memories of the Alistair Sims “Christmas Carol.” Otherwise, by the time I was 14, television as a whole was losing interest for me, and I had gotten the general idea that christamas was basically a marketing scam. (“Things go better with Coke – Ho ho ho!”)

For quite some time in my adult years, I tried and tried to ‘get the spirit’ of the holidays. A part of me wanted to believe that the religious magic could actually worked; a part merely wanted to belong to some community celebration.

But it was hopeless. The effort to feel happy only made things worse. Christmas after christmas collapsed in emotional ruin, occasionally spoiling romantic relationships. It was only in my late 30s that I began making friends who also found the christmas season emotionally tortuous, and for many of the same reasons. Families can be a curse, not a blessing, and we ought to allow those who experience that to live their lives without some sort of guilt trip about not observing holidays that they find hollow or painful.

The last christmas I tried to celebrate, in 1991, was with my mother and my second sister. By then I had abandoned christianity completely, so it was completely about family for me.

We ate chicken and potatoes (that I cooked), listened to an album of christmas songs, and sat through a viewing of one of my mother’s favorite films, “The Sound of Music.” We exchanged presents; my sister and I bought books, my mother (true to form) gave us plastic trinkets. We all agreed what a wonderful time of the year it was. We hugged and said good-night.

I never felt so hollow, and so hypocritical in my entire life. I gave up any attempt at celebrating christmas all together, and I have never regretted doing so.

Well, what about ‘the message,’ though? Peace and love and good will to all – and of course, if you buy that, we got a freshly born baby god to sell you too!

Well, I’m sorry – if peace and love and good will are dependent on some mythic infant from a tribal culture in some desert hinterland, than the human species is doomed – this only means we are incapable of generating an ethic that responds to the gross changes in culture that our history has brought about. The worship of an infant marks the infancy of our culture. Let us admit that there has been some progress since then.

Nostalgia for christmas is really nostalgia for small communities in rural cultures, when riding in a ‘one horse open sleigh’ was a necessity if one wanted to visit family. But we live in cities now, and many of us don’t want to visit our families. Many of us just wish the whole horror show were over, and we have every right not to participate.

And if you have children and they express unhappiness with christmas, don’t chastise them – they probably have very good reasons for it, and you should wonder hat these are.

So what to do this consumer glut ‘holiday’ season, if you’re not in a holiday mood?

well, if you can enjoy the sensual pleasures, the one good thing about christmas is that you get a good excuse for doing so – get drunk and have good sex is one possible experience of christmas cheer.

If you’re not so inclined, try reading a good book. I suggest George H. Smith’s “Atheism: the Case Against God” for its intellectual rigor. Or perhaps something more entertaining, a movie classic – Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” makes for jolly good holiday fare.

Certainly you can’t go wrong simply meditating on the absurdity of the human experience. 400 years of modernity and we’re still celebrating a Roman holiday!

Happy Saturnalia!

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3 thoughts on “The terrors of christmas

  1. Reblogged this on no sign of it and commented:

    My annual christmas special. Hoping to post more writing soon. But the terrors of the season are keeping me locked in a dark room this week. And, Santa! you better stay away – I’m American! I got a gun! Don’t tread on my chimney iffen ya know what’s good fer ya! We don’t need no Arctic immigrants around here!

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  2. Dear EJWinner,

    I empathize with your Terrors of Christmas post to a lesser degree having not walked in your shoes. The Late Great Absurd Moralist Christopher Hitchens claimed to have never had Christian faith, period. I once had it then rejected it. What did I risk through my thoughts, words and actions under surveillance? What did I bet? My eternal nerve-endings according to the Bible. Matthew 12:30-32: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy. But the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

    Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1992. Oh well. In Satan’s animal-horned-man world, what would one expect?

    Who and what did I actually reject? I rejected an invisible Tyrant that empowers the roles and responsibilities of Eternal Tormentors and Tormented. The Victims and the Victimizers. The job titles describe the primary functions performed.

    I rejected Sadomasochism as Hitchen’s once uttered its definition (“compulsory love toward that which we fear”). In other words you must love the Tyrant, the consequences for disobedience being the eternal knife inflicted against eternal nerve endings so lovingly made.

    Here’s what motivated my attempt at courage. I am a human father. I am also a human dog owner (actually the dog owns me, and knows it). The thought of ever inflicting pain upon them for a nano-second causes a reflex of moral disgust and impossibility within me. The Christian salvation equation is fundamentally wrong in that respect. Parents would sacrifice themselves for their children, not the opposite formula.

    I concur with Prometheus chained-to-the-rock’s response to the emissary of Zeus’s offer of freedom on condition of repentance:

    Job’s Submission and Prometheus’ Humanism

    However I hedge my bet by saying I’d never admit to this under threat of Inquisition. I’m only human, not Prometheus.

    Non-commercialized St. Nicholas was also human:

    Bones Of Saint Nicholas Reveal What Santa Claus Really Looked Like:
    “St. Nicholas was born in 270 AD in Patara, in modern-day Turkey, and after losing his parents at a young age, was raised by his uncle, the bishop of Myra.”
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/12/17/bones-of-saint-nicholas-reveal-what-santa-claus-really-looked-like/

    Dark places are sometimes necessary for retreat, privacy and contemplation.

    Without darkness we could not see the stars at night.

    I retain Sommum Bonum hope for the human.

    WTQuinn

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