Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Holidays: Pros and Cons

Well, here we are.  The holiday season is in full swing.  You know what: I’m not sure what to think about that.  Ever since Thanksgiving passed (thus no longer limiting Christmas advertising to a polite 75% of all media), I’ve been finding myself feeling either annoyed or indignant with surprising frequency.  I often do start to feel this way at the beginning of December.  The thing is: I really don’t have any major reasons to do so.  I’m not a Christmas fanatic, but I don’t consider myself to be anti-Christmas either.   Nevertheless, you’d think I was a straight-up Scrooge based on how I’ve been reacting to Christmas so far.  So I’m going to take a look at some of the more prominent aspects of the holidays and decide whether I think each aspect is good or bad.  As you’ve probably guessed, when I say “holidays” I’m referring only to Christmas.  There are plenty of other holidays, but Christmas is undeniably the attention whore of the group.


Here’s one part of Christmas that’s hard to miss.  Lights and wreathes and trees are going up all over the place.  To be honest: I have no problem with the lights.  I loved looking at them when I was a kid, and even now I can appreciate a nice-looking set of Christmas lights.  Of course, some Christmas fanatics definitely go overboard with the lights, too.  If astronauts on the International Space Station are tweeting pictures of your house, you’ve gone too far, but you have paid for a pile of coke big enough for your energy company’s CEO to sled off of.  ‘Tis the season of goodwill, and all that…

Then there are the Christmas trees.  I’ve had a lot of exposure to this, as I’m related to actual Christmas tree farmers.  The smell of the trees does provoke a bit of childhood greed nostalgia, but as an adult, I don’t quite see the appeal of getting a tree each year.  Dragging a whole tree in, decorating it, making it the most prominent feature of your living room, and then discarding the whole thing when the season is done seems wasteful as hell. (And then there’s the whole fire hazard thing.)  And seriously, how is a dying tree supposed to be festive?  I guess it’s the same reason dying flowers are somehow a symbol of undying love. (On a related note: I totally want to see some horror movie where a slasher decorates his victims with lights and ornaments now.)  Getting a realistic-looking plastic tree that you can reuse would cut down greatly on the wastefulness and fire hazard aspects, admittedly.  Owning a plastic tree would seem like heresy to my tree farming relatives, which does tempt me to get one.

As it stands, I haven’t bothered to decorate for Christmas at all as an adult.  No lights, no real trees, and not even a plastic tree.  It’s not really out of a Scrooge-y hatred for decorating, though, more just laziness.  So: my final judgment for decorating:

Working Title Films

Christmas Cards

Ah yes, the cards.  Hallmark rolls in more coke each December than the poor energy CEO can ever hope to pass on to his children. 

That’s not snow…

And why not?  You get cards for even more people than you get gifts for.  It’s an obligatory acknowledgement; I’ve seen plenty of people send cards to people they don’t even like.  I… don’t really like cards.  They seem so pointless.  What?  You really want to let your 2nd cousin’s best friend’s daughter’s next-door neighbor know you’re thinking of her this Christmas?  Send her an e-mail!  Same gesture, but free!  Okay… maybe part of Christmas card gesture is showing someone that you’re thinking enough of them to spend some money on the card.  That would explain the accounts I’ve heard of people making their own cards, an effortful and personal gesture which insults some card recipients.  How dare they not buy a card?  Of course, if the ultimate nature of these token holiday gestures is spending a few bucks, then send a small gift...

Oh, and some families apparently send family newsletters at Christmas.  That’s just bizarre…

Either way, I’m pretty sure you can guess my judgment for cards:

Paramount Pictures

Gifts and Christmas Shopping


Finally, the true meaning of Christmas:  Presents!!!!  If Hallmark can blanket Hallmark-ville (that’s a real place, right?) with a snowy blanket of cocaine each December, then Walmart can cover the Arctic Circle with it in a bizzare effort to compensate for melting polar ice.  Receiving gifts was without a doubt my favorite part of Christmas as a kid.  To hell with all that other stuff; I was ready to bathe in Transformers and Legos, and may the snow demons curse anyone foolish enough to give me clothes! 

On a side note: I never really believed in Santa Claus.  My own parents weren’t really into that whole “lying to your kids for the sake of tradition” thing, so they never mentioned anything Santa-related.  One of my earliest childhood memories is of one of my aunts telling me about Santa Claus as Christmas drew near.  Problem is: I could tell she was lying.  Her tone of voice just wasn’t right, and neither were her eyes.  Kids can be pretty perceptive.

Anyway, while as an adult no Christmas can ever live up to the Christmases of childhood, I’m certainly not opposed to receiving gifts (though there’s always the potential awkwardness of getting a gift you really don’t care about).  But now there’s the dark shadow side of gift-receiving: Christmas shopping.  I’m pretty good about making Christmas shopping painless for myself.  (Amazon Prime for the win…)  But by God… do I hate being bombarded with everyone else’s shopping stress.  Advertisements are everywhere from October onward, and as the apocalyptic Day finally approaches, you can feel the increased frantic stress of almost everyone around.  I thought holidays were for enjoyment!  On top of that, I hate the awkwardness of shopping for someone for whom you have no idea what to get.  I always worry about the potential implications of whatever gift I’ve chosen to give someone, and what asshole judgments the recipient will be making about me if he/she doesn’t like the gift.  (That worry may have something to do with my family, a bit more on that later.)  Christmas shopping is much easier when the people you shop for just plainly tell you some things they want.  Of course, some people aren’t helpful like that.  Even rarer are the people with whom I’ve managed to secure what I like to call “mutual non-gifting agreements.”  As the name implies, these are people that have agreed to not get me anything for Christmases or birthdays, and will not expect to get anything from me, either.  I really wish I could get more people to enter into these bargains.

While receiving gifts can still be nice, I think the horrors of Christmas shopping weigh heavier on me these days.  Oh, and screw Black Friday.  Just screw it so hard.  Final judgement:

Paramount Pictures

And while you’re Christmas shopping, you’ll probably hear:

Christmas Music


People seem to either love or hate Christmas music.  Some are blasting it in their car, at work, at home, on the toilet, during lovemaking, at funerals… you name it.  Others get so sick of it that they’re ready to shiv someone the next time they hear about Frosty.  My first instinct for this entry is to say that I straight-up hate Christmas music.  I’m certainly not a fan of it.  But do I really hate it?  I’m not sure.  I react negatively to it, but I think it might be more of a case of stimulus association.  I’ve already expressed my annoyance with the Christmas shopping frenzy, and that’s where I mostly hear Christmas music, be it in the stores or paired with advertisements.  Even if I hear it elsewhere, it’s probably going to make me think of the shopping.  Uncoupled from that association, I probably wouldn’t care much either way about Christmas music.  I love listening to music, but there’s plenty of music that doesn’t hit the right spot for me.  In general such music doesn’t make me angry; I just tune it out.  Most Christmas songs would fit that category.  They’re music, just not the kind that I’m into.  Now… country-style Christmas songs might be another story, as country might just be the one form of music that I actively can’t stand.  Another caveat:  I can’t stand Little Drummer Boy.  That “pa rum pum pum pum” bit drives me nuts.

So, while there’s a negative bias due to shopping and Little Drummer Boy, overall for Christmas music in and of itself, I’m going to say:

Working Title Films


The holidays are full of food.  Between family dinners and all the cookies and candy, you’ve got a free pass to eat all the unhealthy food you want for like a month straight.  And then I’ve got to put up with the New Year’s resolution crowds at the gym for the first few weeks of January.

It’s worth it.  I kind of have to stick to a constant workout routine, since I have very little self control when it comes to food.  December brings a fun onslaught of candy and cookies and such.  I love it.  I’ll happily load myself with sugar.  It’s expected, after all.

What else is there to say?  Final judgment:



Bill Branson, National Cancer Institute

This one’s pretty inextricable from the holidays.  You’ve fought shoppers, traffic, and diabetic shock to finally spend Christmas at home with your loved ones.  That seems to be a pretty common thing.  An overwhelming majority of Christmas advertising features family somehow.  Images of home and hearth, presents around the tree, kids trying to stay up for Santa, family dinners, and so on are just about everywhere.  Well… that’s a problem for me.  For just about five years now, I’ve intentionally been completely out of contact with almost all of one side of my family.  I haven’t even come close to developing the writing balls to talk about why, but the reality is that I chose to get them out of my life, and that’s what I’ve done.  You’d think people that I cut out five year ago shouldn’t affect my holidays now, but it’s hard to forget the 20+ years that I did spend with them.  I try not to, but Christmas, with its endless family connotations, makes that impossible.  My family hang-ups are a gigantic contributor to my Christmas negativity.  Beyond simply being reminded of family by all the commercials, there’s another mechanism:

Remember that phrase “Christmas fanatics” that I’ve used several times:  It fits that side of my family quite well.  I have a long-running tendency to immediately dislike things that remind me of my family, and especially things that I know they like.  So part of my Christmas enmity is based simply on the fact that they get really into Christmas.  Additionally, just about all of my hatred for country music comes from the fact that they like it.  I also dislike the word “tradition” just because they’re really big on tradition.  The list goes on and on.  I’m well aware that this is a phenomenally unhealthy way to determine tastes and preferences, but… what can I say?  It’s really hard to overcome my knee-jerk tendency to immediately want to stamp out anything with the stench of my family on it.  Said tendency has been with me for a very long time.

Even if you don’t have the issues I have, I think it’s still possible for family to create some headaches on the holidays.  If you have to travel to them, then there’s always the possibility of travel nightmares.  I really hope I never have to fly for the holidays; I’ve been through enough hell just driving for them.  That bad side of my family: they were holiday gluttons.  Every damn holiday was obligatorily spent with them.  If even one person didn’t show, it’s like the whole holiday somehow didn’t count.  I had to drive my old Geo Prizm through many shades of wintry hell back in the day. 

“What do you mean you’re not coming???”

I’m not trying to argue that you should all forsake your families this Christmas.  If you love your family and enjoy spending the holidays with them, then that’s great.  I can still find good family on Christmas.  Nowadays, I can spend my holidays with the other, not nearly as bad side of my family.  Hell, there’s also my wife’s family (so long as I can convince myself that they won’t turn into my bad family once I let my guard down).  I’ve got friends, too.  Family is what you make. 

As for this entry, though, I’ve been using family in the more traditional connotation of blood relatives that you’re supposed to stick with through thick and thin and all that, as well as its overwhelming presence in Christmas media.  In that sense, I’m going to have to rule:

Paramount Pictures

So… three cons, two neutrals, and only one pro: I guess that adds up to me being a bit of a Scrooge, albeit not a major one?  Nah… to hell with that.  I think of “Scrooge” as an epithet used by Christmas fanatics for anyone whose fanaticism doesn’t match their own.  I’m not bound by their black and white stereotypes.  I sure as hell won’t be visiting that bad side of my family, and shopping frenzies annoy me, but I’m going to enjoy my Christmas in my own way, and you should, too.  After all, there will be cookies.


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