Christmas becomes less about the rituals when your life changes out from under you.
Before my divorce, I had a long line of Christmas musts: Right tree, plenty of gifts, fireplace stockings and nothing could be missed. But Christmas would never be the same for me after my first wife left in 2003, and I’m so much better off for it.
I had custody of my kids after the divorce, but we shared Christmas, on a year-on, year-off basis. I spent several sad years in a dark house, unshaven and feeling sorry for myself, drinking eggnog or cheep beer. Depression was my Christmas staple when I didn’t have the kids.
Then I remarried, and my second wife, Joy, put a hard stop to the despair-filled rooms. We spent our first Christmas together without kids at a Reno casino, playing blackjack and eating a ten-dollar prime rib dinner. It was the best Christmas I can ever remember as an adult, and it was the first moment for me in a long process of rethinking the holiday.
Christmas can be a time of excess. Too much food, candy and cheapass toys nobody needs or wants. I do love to get together and celebrate, but there is so much pressure over the “right” kind of celebrating. It creates expectations and clutter and sometimes hurt feelings, and there should be a better way to enjoy the season without being oppressed by it.
At the same time I began reconsidering my personal Christmas obsession, the rest of the America started going bat-shit crazy over the fictional “War on Christmas.”
All of a sudden too much was no longer enough. We needed more mangers, “Merry Christmas” greetings and a whole lot more Christian overtones in public schools. If you dared hold an alternative view of the holiday, you were branded the “other.” Oddly the Christians who had for decades warned of the commercialization of the holiday became obsessed with all things retail.
Trying for the “right” Christmas cost me years of needless worry and pain, and just as I started to see the stupidity of it, the Christmas mafia began to demand that I celebrate their holiday with even more seriousness. This season seems filled with the salivating rage of Christmas mobs, and the more antagonistic it gets the more I want to replace the baby Jesus from the local nativity scene with a giant Swiss Colony summer sausage and two giant orange chocolate balls (my problem-solving skills are stuck in the 8th grade).
The focus on Christmas tradition and religiosity is just an attempt to enforce “uniformity of celebration.” It’s turning a once pleasant holiday into a Yuletide colonoscopy.
I now have a big blended family with piles of kids with varying relationships, and our family does not celebrate religious aspects of the holiday. We are not Christians, but we are culturally American (for good and ill). For our family, Christmas is now a never-ending cluster-fuck of kids flying to various cities, multiple Christmas mornings, parties we can’t miss and hefty credit card charges. If we keep our heads, we can craft some sanity in our celebrations. If we have yet more unrealistic expectations, we lose even more about what is really important about Christmas: taking a break to love those closest to us.
We’ve made progress. We’ve given up on a lot of the rubber dog shit from China. Instead we give our kids vacations, skiing lessons and karate uniforms. We put our Christmas funds into activities instead of things. Although we still spend too much, our attitude is that the season serves us. We try to forget the raging debates and Wal Mart stampedes and just enjoy our children. By taking Christmas back from the brink of religious fervor and crass commercialism, I can sort of enjoy the holiday again.