Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas: The Unrealistic Ideal

Over the past five or ten years I've noticed myself liking Christmas less and less. In the past there have been two main causes behind my waning affection for the holiday: its seemingly infinite commercialism and its overshadowing of the equally-worthy holiday of Thanksgiving. I could write several long posts on these two evils, but I want to focus this post on a more recent cause of my disinterest in Christmas: rampant idealization.

I can hardly think of anything in our society that is held in such high esteem as Christmas. Most people love Christmas and go out of their way to show it, putting a tree in the most noticeable room of the house with lights outside announcing their affection for the holiday. Christmas stories talk of the wonder and excitement of the season. Every Christmas movie has a happy ending with Christmas bells and laughter. The Andy Williams song says that "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". The blind worship of Christmas seems to have no limit.

But is it really the most wonderful time of the year? I think in our imagination it is, but reality is never so simply. Parts of it are wonderful and parts of it aren't. Some years are great and others aren't. To idealize Christmas is a bit naive.

Take this year for example. As usual, we opened presents on Christmas Morning, ate a nice breakfast, had a relaxing afternoon nap, and then...that was it. Weeks of trying to think of the right gifts--shopping ahead of time, making sure the stocking-stuffers were all acquired, trying not to over- or underspend--resulted in a fun morning. Nothing to complain about, but at the same time it was no scene out of a TV Christmas special, no Peace on Earth. By mid-afternoon we were cleaning the house, doing dishes and laundry. I wasn't completely over my flu from earlier in the week and Rita was fighting a headache. In the evening we received a phone call from a family member with a small crisis. Rita had to make an emergency trip out of town. Her Facebook post for the day was "bah, humbug." I think it reflected her low mood after an emotional effort to make Christmas unrealistically special.

To not like Christmas is a serious social sin. We make movies about those that don't like Christmas and then apply the names of the main characters as derogatory terms. But movies about Christmas, and often even our own memories, don't reflect reality. The realities of life don't go on holiday, and often there is simply nothing magical about Christmas. And that's fine. Just because every gift isn't a big hit doesn't mean the other ones aren't memorable. The problem comes when we set our expectations too high. As humans we naturally tend to filter out bad memories and dwell on the good ones. That's great when we recall Christmas Past, but terrible when we set expectations for Christmas Present. If our ideals call for every year to be the best Christmas ever, we will eventually be met with disappointment.

So call me a Grinch or a Scrooge if you must, but expecting every Christmas memory to be magical would just be setting myself up for disappointment.

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