Saturday, November 20, 2010

•the problem with christmas•

Christmas is imminent, and whether or not you "celebrate," you have an opinion. What, pray tell, is it? Share. Please. Your story will help us all feel a little less crazy next month.

No problem.

Nope, not a problem.

Cousins rough-housing? Still not the problem with Christmas.

OK, here we go: what is this tiny, tiny beer doing at Christmas dinner?

All things made better with cake.

Wait. No, no, no... Does that cake say Happy Birthday? SIGH.
The problem with Christmas: it's not just Jesus's birthday.

The facts: I celebrate secular Christmas. Tree, ornaments, gifts, nog, fuzzy muff coziness. Cinnamon. Songs. Love it, love it, love it. I even love the way it stirs the family pot, so to speak, releasing pungent odors of dysfunction like none other. It's annual, it's crazy, it's Christmas. What else would we have to talk about in December? The rain?

The problem with Christmas: it's fussy. I only practice the (not exactly) holy rites of Christmas once a year, so I never quite get comfortable... unless I start celebrating waaay in advance. There was the year I dragged my fiance to the tree farm the day after Halloween. (The family that ran that farm was amused.) There was the year I had LLBean deliver a 6 foot balsam fir to our doorstep. And there have been subsequent years, of blissfully fake treeage (best Craigslist purchase ever). Troy and Penn and I are still a new enough family that there are plenty of kinks to work out. Best of all, I think I am getting to a place where I genuinely enjoy the working out of the kinks. Again, what else would I have to talk about in December?

My values: This year, my plan was to replace gift-giving with donations to Something Meaningful. And... once November rolled around and I started playing with photobooks online, that light was extinguished. Soul-less gift giving, it is. Maybe when Penn isn't having such a cute year, I'll be able to transition to Heifer International. I am surprised to be so divided. My visions of Christmas are interwoven with emotion. Now that I have a small one to look after (and pass things on to), I am looking at those seemingly innocuous traditions through a new lens. A glorious tree with multitudes of presents underneath? I love the look of it; reminds me of the delicious parts of childhood. But I do remember that icky moreMoreMORE feeling. Can I prevent that from tainting my kid's Christmas? A three year old will not understand, if he is encouraged to "come on, open another one." He'd rather open one gift and play until his eyes bleed. So... do I make a point of leaving the treeskirt bare, save for one gift from us? (Let's leave Santa for another post.) Or do I populate the under part of the tree with gifts for other people? The three of us love thrifted stuff: last year was our second "No New Christmas," and a raging success. But we aren't imposing this restriction on the rest of our friends and family. And the un-shiny truth is that I'm glad. Oooh, that is hard to admit. I love presents. We are ridiculously fortunate to have received gifts of the Abundantly Generous variety. The giant television that showed up one year? That thing takes up the entire living room and has to remain unplugged when not in use, or else it dims our lights. And. I think I love it.

It's curious that an admission like that (loving one's gifted television) should inspire such self-loathing. What a strange, awkward culture we live in! We are surrounded by praise for zero-waste and low carbon lifestyles, yet a giant part of our social diet consists of high-speed internet access, YouTubery, and well-made kitchen appliances. I'd love to live in a yurt and have a composting toilet, but. I'd want to blog about it. I'd hate to give up my perfectly good wordly goods, in part because I'm affectionate about my crap. But also... trading stuff I have for new "off-the-grid equipment" still means commerce. Yurts aren't free. I have yet to see a flash water-heater available on Freecycle.

Yeah. Christmas. It stirs the pot. What stirs your pot? Everyone has a holiday that dredges up something...


  1. Ah, I'd comment, but I actually think this brings to mind an entire response post on material stuff and commerce and what stuff is good, useful, necessary stuff and what stuff is just...stuff. I know, color you shocked! ;-)

    But the short(ish) version is: I believe you can both live in a yurt and blog about it. And emerge with both your carbon footprint *and* your values intact. And also: I was just reading a column of mine from a few Decembers ago, in which I described a conversation you and I had about the newsletter's theme of "shopping responsibly" and how your gut response was to tell people, "Don't buy anything!" and how, while that's understandable, it's not really practical.

    As I've written before, in that thing I seem to be writing, "We're embodied; we can't escape the material." (Wow, it's weird to quote yourself. Really weird.)

    So to sum up (snort): Some stuff serves a purpose. Other stuff does not. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but it doesn't pay to throw the baby out with the bath water. Thoughtful, mindful--those are the keys. And frankly, the guilty feeling we all suffer as we're trying to make the distinctions between categories of stuff only serves to depress us and blind us to the real job at hand.

  2. Great post. I also struggle with deciding which xmas traditions to keep and which ones to ditch.

    In case you're wondering, my stress is not about the stuff as I used to. We've minimized gifts as much as we get consensus on within our families. I stress when I have to cook for 20 people when I'd rather be chatting or playing board games. I feel like I *should* want to cook on holidays, but I don't. I want to heat stuff up and then get back to Ticket To Ride.

    That said, I just realized (headslap)I have no idea if we're doing stockings this year... ARGH.

  3. Yes, the problem with this post is that there is soooo much to say in response. Too much for my little tea-time blog interview. Maybe I'll let loose on Christmas next time I have a coffee shop writing window. Mostly I love it, though, especially tiny lights on trees, bringing trees indoors (sacrificed & farmed, though they are...), all the countdown rituals: advent wreath, advent calendars.... and what the true spirit of the season can be. But, of course, I am also still seeking ways to avoid the plastic crap & commercialism.

  4. that is blog interlude, not blog interview

  5. Funny post that made me think of *your* post: