Tuesday, 7 December 2010

How do you solve a problem like Christmas?

For most of my life I've been Christmas skeptic. It's probably got something to do with rumbling the Santa myth at the age of four after laying a trap and springing out of bed to find my mother and grandmother pretending to be Jolly Old St. Nick. “AHA!” I probably didn’t cry, before forcing them to admit that the whole thing was a fraud. The good news was that I got the presents anyway after promising not to go straight out on the first day of the new school year and spill the beans to everybody else. Had it happened today I’d have been whisked off to therapy to the next day and wouldn’t have turned out the bitter, soulless, heartless human that I stand accused of being. Well, maybe not the soul bit. That went when I sold it to some guy in Albury on Ebay for $13.50 in 2001 but that's not important right now.

So, in the spirit of openness and tolerance which should guide everything we do no matter what, if any, religion you follow I'm writing this for everyone. But more specifically, at the risk of turning this into a My Chemical Romance song, I'm writing to the people who have been bullied by society into Christmas against their will and are seeking a way out. You, my friends, are not alone. Follow me and we'll create a world where people can no longer describe you as "Scrooge" in a borderline defamatory way because you don’t want to join their workplace Kris Kringle or drape everything with tinsel.

It’s the enforced gift exchange which troubles me the most. I'm not sure this aspect of the festival was ever explicitly stipulated in the bible. Perhaps it's deep inside one of those clauses that you have to read in Aramaic while hanging upside down from a tree to get the correct interpretation, but never in nine years of paying polite interest at Catholic schools do I remember the bit where they read us JB Hi-Fi 3:16 “thou shalt buy gifts for all or be cast into the fires of social hell”. What I will tell you for certain is that there’s nothing about having to send every person you’ve ever met in your life a card every year. Just like Valentine’s Day and the twenty pages of gushing, embarrassing and frankly hilarious messages between courting couples in the newspapers it’s an invention designed to line the pockets of merchants, keep the Hallmark company afloat and give us all a reason to coo over the fact that there's still some sort of civility in society.

This week alone I've been asked three times "have you done your Christmas shopping yet?" and three times I've said I don't do it only to be greeted with a look like I'd just admitted to butchering a Shetland Pony with a machete. This isn’t some sort of anti-capitalist protest and my next step isn’t throwing rubbish bins at riot police out the front of the G20 summit, I say spend money until you’re utterly bankrupt and forced to live in a cardboard box if you like just don’t do it because you feel that you have to or because you’re worried about social exclusion.

Nobody seems to care if you’re not interested in the religious side of things, which is odd but not as strange as how the 20% of people who identified as being non-Christian or nothing at all in the last census are somehow allowed to skip all the Jesus focused celebrations but are still required, as if by law, to hand over trinkets and Borders gift vouchers to third cousins and garbagemen. You can openly mock the concept of going to a Midnight mass to somebody in one breath and then be cut out of their will for not sending a card. That 20% is not even counting the 11% of people taking the piss and claiming stupid things like being Jedi. How many of us are just doing it to keep others happy? Maybe a majority generally enjoy it, or at least force themselves to, but what about people who don’t? Do you have the right to say no without being abused or having people say they’re “sorry for you”? Of course you do.

I'm as guilty as any child of taking the Sega Master System and running when I was young. I’m certainly not standing on any lifelong moral highground here, and even though I’m still concerned about the morality of telling your kids lying is always wrong and then lying to them about some fat porky climbing down the ceiling and stuffing the sack I can see how going along with the myths and mystical teachings of St. Xbox can be positive for kids.

At least it should be positive, I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where the split came pre-birth and I was never treated to the spectacle of arguments over the table on the 25th and the inevitable divorce-remarriage circuit leading to an interminable Tour De France style quest to fifty gatherings a year with yet more and more presents for half siblings, cousins and other various freaks that you barely know and barely tolerate. Imagine having to go through all that? Plenty of you probably do and if you’re sick of it just say no.

Last night I suffered the biggest grilling of all time about my lack of interest in the season. It was light hearted, but there was a tone of disbelief when I reiterated that no I really don't want to receive presents. Nor do I want to sing carols, put up a tree or drive around the suburbs trying to find obscenely lit up houses sapping the national power grid with their neon atrocities. First there was the suggestion that I’d been scarred by bad experiences with my family, then the idea that it was bad gifts in the past and finally budgetary concerns on my behalf. There’s nothing like people thinking you’ve blown all your money on the pokies to really make you really feel welcome in their holiday season.

But that doesn't mean that I don't want you to do any, or all, of the above. I'm not the December version of Richard Dawkins, hacking down Christmas trees with an axe and leaping out from behind trees to scream at children that their parents are lying to them about Santa. Call me scrooge if it makes you feel better about having maxed out your credit card for no reason, but a true Scrooge would want to ruin the season for everybody else. Not us. We just want to be on the margins, sitting on the kids table looking in this quaint, invented tradition.

If you're into it then you have my blessing to go mad for the season in any way you wish. But if you're only going along with it to please everyone else then I'm here to tell you that you're not alone and it's time to stand up and fight for your right to depart from Christmas.

"You have to give presents" I was told. Why? Is it so wrong to remove oneself from the whole thing? I don't want to be given anything, I don't want to give you anything and we're all happy. There's no need to trawl shopping centres at 3am on the Thursday before Christmas desperately trying to find me something that I might like but if I don't you don't really care because I'll plaster on a fake smile and pretend I do anyway.

If you say you’re not keen get ready for the standard arguments. You shouldn't have the same holidays, you shouldn't be allowed to go to the parties, you should be thrown on a similar bonfire to Joan of Arc etc.. Do they do the same to friends of other religions? Of course not. It would be borderline racist and you’d probably end up with somebody knifing you. I’d be more than happy to show up at work on the 25th as long as meant being able to exercise the democratic right to not go through the rest of the process.

There's a sickening falseness to the whole thing. Even if you're going to give and get with your closest family why do you need to wait until December 25? Surprise your mother with something nice on May 13. Do it again on August 2, hell fire up again on December 24th if you must but why wait until you're told to do it.

Now is the time for all of us who don't want to play the game to say so. No more anxiety about what Aunt Mabel or the guy in the chicken shop will think if you don't give them a gift. Tell them that they're wonderful people and that you don't want them to give you anything either. Instead I say give to charity. This isn't some sort of George Costanza "Human Fund" scam, do something positive in the name of your loved ones and if they don't appreciate it then tough - tell them to go to the Congo and recover their donated duck.

The world is not going to be saved in our lifetime but I'm here to tell you that the path to enlightenment isn't coming from a bag stuffed full of randomly selected crap from Chadstone: The Fashion Capital which you found only after driving around for three hours to get a car park. At the risk of ending up living in a panic room with Danish cartoonists I'm going to suggest that if the old JC chose December 25 to make his shock comeback (and wouldn't that completely ruin up the day for those of us who never believed in the first place?) he'd slap mankind upside the head for being greedy bastards who completely missed the point.

This December just say enough is enough. No matter what the power of commerce compels you to do you've got a choice to say no. See you in social hell suckers.

P.S - I am available to host any Christmas functions
P.P.S – Once you’re shunned by your family you’re welcome to come over to mine on the 25th and watch National Lampoon’s European Vacation. There’s a fit bit o’tit in it.


syeds said...

WOW! lengthy but powerful post.

Christmas Messages

Bron said...

Hear, hear.

I am fucking sick of Xmas, every year trying to figure out whose turn it is to host the debacle, pacifying in-laws and their families, trying to find presents for people who either have everything they need already or you don't know them well enough to know what they'd like.

To top it all off, I've got the rep as a Scrooge now, because the last few Xmases I've tried to beg off, saying I'll be overseas or something.

I just don't want to deal with weirdo sisters-in-laws whose moods fluctuate wildly and without warning, screaming kids fighting with each other, blah blah blah.

And why does it have to be on that day, anyway? Fuck the rules! I'd much rather come around to watch National Lampoon. Now that's a perfect way to spend Xmas Day!

Fluffy said...

"Do they do the same to friends of other religions? Of course not. It would be borderline racist and you’d probably end up with somebody knifing you."

Actually they really, really do. "Jewish" is apparently no excuse for not partaking in the Christmas retailapalooza, and you get a nervous "HA HA DIDN'T YOUR LOT KILL JESUS" into the bargain if your accuser fancies themselves a bit of a card.

How many times have I heard "But it's not about the religion!" as the reason I should feel obliged to muck in? The fact that we never celebrated Christmas in my house as a kid and that Christmas Day was just an inconvenient bank holiday with shit all on TV (see also: Good Friday) is generally regarded as something I must feel unbelievably bitter about and grounds for retrospective child abuse claims. I'm here to tell you life without Christmas doesn't mean you don't have exciting holidays, presents, games, fun, love, and embarrassing relatives.

I am going to be directing my next accusers to this *excellent* post.