Friday, December 24, 2010

Real Americans are Grinches

This rant was prompted by this post on Greta Christina's excellent blog.

Christmas is fun for me… but I really can't stand this culture's "You Must Love Christmas" thing. (As exemplified by fiction's various Grinchy McScrooges: not celebrating Christmas = misanthrope.) You can shrug your shoulders on Valentine's Day, but naysay Yule and you might as well be praising Nazis.

It seems to be partly an outgrowth of plain ol' Christian exceptionalism, whereby You Must Love Jesus. And it's really reared its head in these past couple years, where not saying "Merry Christmas", or even saying "Happy Holidays", is seen as part of a massive underground effort to besiege Traditional Values and destroy Christians. The wildest irony is that the holiday itself was once seen as just that! In this country, the only ones to have actually "banned Christmas" are Christians themselves, namely Puritans. Christmas was thought to exemplify the sort of secular debauchery that fundamentalists fear today.

Nowadays, each of us is forced to "take sides" on an issue that can't even be articulated. It's just a vague notion of "Christmas is one worthy holiday among many, and its traditions come from all sorts of pagan and monotheistic practices" versus "Since when did all this non-Christian stuff and these non-Christian people even exist? Grrr! Get with the program."

Still, as much as or perhaps even more than folks like me, Christians are very much the victims of the You Must Love Christmas madness. With lucky exceptions, each American gets torn by rival factions — families, charities, and stores — to make this year's the most Wonderful Christmas Ever. And a lot of that isn't just from the pressure of the various institutions, but because so many of us really do have nice nostalgic memories of how wonderful our own Christmases used to be, back when we didn't have to worry about giving, only whether or not we would receive. Come the sacred morning, lo, we did receive, hooray! What did you get? Neat!

So we feel this tremendous guilt to give that childhood-sized emotional experience back to our parents, even if they're not alive anymore. There's this vague duty to pull off something flawless. And in the midst of all this, the failure to enjoy oneself is seen (as illustrated by Scrooge and others) to arise purely from some unwillingness to part with money, or from a displeasure that other people are having fun! (What other people? What fun? They're usually as freaked as we are!) Thanksgiving is stress-free by comparison. At least the meal can be delegated so everyone has something small to do, and much creativity isn't usually expected.

Did I mention that Christmas is fun for me? Yeah, in December I basically do my best to trim down any sense of holiday-specific obligation. Plus, even while I despair at the panic and neurotic stress of all the other celebrants, I deeply enjoy what it's really about, which is the axial tilt of the Earth with respect to the Sun, and the fun of lying to children.

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