2. When I was about 5, we went to visit my mother’s parents for Easter. The night before, I discovered that the Easter Bunny was my Grandmother, and, in some good humor, I told her so.
One would think a reasonable adult would see this as a teachable moment. But not all adults are reasonable.
I was beaten black and blue. I stopped believing in the Easter Bunny, I stopped believing in Easter, I stopped believing in my Grandmother, and in my mother who supported her. From then on – until I actually practiced (and not just studied) Buddhism – it was me against the world; and more and more similar experiences with my mentally warped family re-enforced this.
This isn’t the typical experience, I know; yet similar experiences occur more frequently than we would like to suppose.
I hate Christmas. The very idea of it, triggering so many painful memories, offends my sense of well-being. I rise above it through practicing detachment from such memories and focusing on the present day. But while I do not interfere with whatever happiness others enjoy at Christmas – which I suggest is much less than we pretend there is – I treat the whole season like a bad horror movie one has to sit through to get to the second feature.
Spoil the fun of Christmas? Frankly, a part of me wishes I could. The unfulfilled (and unfulfillable) promises of the season are unnecessarily vain and artificial – and so inevitably disappointing.
But much of our aspirations are, so feel free to box this comment and mark “Do not open until New Year’s.”
But experiences like mine should serve as reminder of the limits of the ‘cheer’ and ‘joy’ and ‘good will to all’ of some traditions we are expected to observe without complaint (otherwise we’re ‘spoiling the season’ for others).
Experiences like mine raise questions concerning undertones that may not have much to do with reasonableness. Why was my Grandmother so threatened by discovery of the Bunny fraud? why do people with experiences like mine continue, year after painful year, to struggle to achieve a sense of belonging, of enjoyment, that can never be theirs? what are we really expecting from holidays anyway?
I have four close friends. Two never had children. Of these two, one never bothered with holidays unless he and his wife were invited to parties among people they really cared about. The other kept going to family get-togethers for years – unhappily, complaining afterwards – until the migraine headaches these experiences caused finally reached health-risk proportions. He then let his family know, in no uncertain terms, that he and his wife would no longer attend such endurance tests and would only observe – privately – those holidays they felt comfortable with.
Of the two friends who have children, one celebrates Christmas in the accepted traditional way without much trouble. A practicing Catholic, however, he never bothered with the Santa story with his daughter, because he did not see it as necessary to what he believes to be the spiritual truth of the season.
The other friend, also with a daughter, is a complete atheist with no interest in the season, and so never taught his daughter anything about Santa, because, why bother? Both these daughters seem to be turning out ok and untraumatized, despite the lack of shared fiction-making at an early age.
That’s what the Santa story (and, I suggest, much of Christmas) really amounts to – collective fiction-making. The Nativity may truly be a myth, since many adults accept it, but the Santa story is just a story (not even legend), since no one who inquires reasonably into it can accept it – not even children. Like all shared stories, it serves its social purpose for many (and commercial purposes for quite a few), but frustrates, or simply bores, many others. The real question is why we make such a fuss over it, one way or another. What is the emotional or psychological investment here?
I’ll leave that as a question for further inquiry.