Friday, December 25, 2009

Surviving Christmas 101

I was well onto my 50s before I got over my traumas about Christmas. So for those folks who find that Christmas is mainly a reason to be miserable, here's what I've learned about surviving that season of "joy."

Let me explain. I grew up in a Lutheran parsonage. The life of the preacher's kid is a series of events where the PK is expected to be the model of good behavior. Other kids had the option of singing in the choir--I did not. My mother believed that if you always followed the social rules, you would always be above criticism--think of a more decorous preacher's wife version of Dana Carvey's church lady, and you would be about right. And of all the get-it-right moments in the church year, NOTHING was more important than Christmas. We're talking about Christmas plays, and caroling, and authentic smorgasbords, and a Christmas letter that went out to about 500 people. For extra Christmas fun, I was sent to a religious elementary school that would stage a Christmas show so elaborate, we began working on it the second day of school in September.

The stress of all this perfectionism was offset by the disappointing reality that in rural churches on the windswept prairies of Minnesota and North Dakota, a lot of singing was off-key, the Christmas tree was pretty scrawny, and the smorgasbord wasn't very authentic. All that effort for such a miserable outcome left me feeling cheated and I hated the shouting matches that would erupt over some sentence in the Christmas letter, or whatever.

I grew to loathe Christmas--at least the versions I had known. So when I went to university, I continued singing in choirs. I thought that maybe if the music was done well, I could actually find that elusive joy we kept singing about. And yes indeed, it is MUCH more fun to sing in a good choir. But I was still miserable. So I stopped trying. I often claim my favorite Christmas was the one where I drove a taxi until midnight before going home and defrosting the refrigerator. But even ignoring Christmas doesn't work very well because of this:

This thing is absolutely lovely. The music is well done, the camera angles were well chosen, the sets and costumes were superb, the lighting spectacular, the horse beautiful, etc. You get a better than real-life ride through a snowy wonderland because someone took the trouble to make a "sleighcam" work.

So what's the problem? The problem is this. Suppose you have a pretty good Christmas. You got a couple of things you actually will use, your aunt Martha who always sings flat had laryngitis, your uncle Carl who used to listen to Rush Limbaugh actually wanted to know about your politics and how they work, no one got drunk, the food was superb down to the six varieties of herring, and you sit down to watch some football and suddenly you are confronted with the reality that no matter how nice your Christmas, it wasn't as nice as the one in the ad--NOT EVEN CLOSE.

And you didn't get the Lexus with the big red bow on the roof and you KNOW that somewhere, someone did. So in addition to the real reasons people are miserable at Christmas--loneliness, seasonal depression, genuine hardships--they are being told that their lives are worthless because they didn't SPEND ENOUGH MONEY.

In a time when so many people are hurting, allowing emotional saboteurs to compound the pain is sociopathic. And we don't have to play along with the folks who would ruin a perfectly fine holiday to sell beer, or whatever. So here's my suggestions for escaping the emotion hazards of Christmas:

1) Set a VERY modest spending limit for Christmas shopping--like $100 and that includes the Christmas dinner and decorations. Face it, it is impossible to shop your way to happiness. Using a religious holiday as an excuse for conspicuous waste is a surefire loser. There is no "perfect" gift so stop looking for one.

2) If this shopping boycott leaves you with extra money, give it to a food bank or homeless shelter. There are a LOT of folks hurting this Christmas.

3) If you enjoy someone's Christmas entertainment, give some money to the organization that spent all fall working on it. If you know some of the performers, thank them personally.

4) Turn off the television--at least the programming with commercials. Just remember, job #1 for the guys who make commercials is making you feel inadequate. Don't let them do it on your holiday.

Merry Christmas


  1. Not driving a taxi today, but sitting home alone with only the internet to keep me company is proving to be the best Christmas ever.

    Not one you'd enjoy (jalapeño-stuffed tacos, science fiction movies, weird pop music) but I'm happy as a bug in a rug and yes, that woman tackling the Pope just added to my joviality.

  2. Merry Christmas Wege!

    That's the secret--the less you do to try and make Christmas "memorable" the better it is. We have folks coming on Sunday so my main squeeze decided to paint the first floor before they came. So we are spending the day napping. Yesterday was spent putting our rooms back together and watching the Norwegian Lutheran colleges show off the musical skills on PBS. One of MY best Christmases ever.