How many people still eat a Christmas goose? A figgy pudding? I’m not even sure what a sugar plum fairy is, outside of little ballerinas in the Nutcracker. Are real plums involved?
Last post I brought up the mythification and hyper-nostalgia of Christmas, and all the fuzzy warm imagery wrapped up in returns to cozy homes, as if the holiday were a Thomas Kinkade painting ready to take us back to a rural or agrarian past, perhaps with hobbit hutches for neighbors.
I read once that 97% of American families have some dysfunction. Much of that may well be garden variety and relatively harmless or at least survivable, but in my years in San Francisco I’ve known a lot of people for whom Christmas is the worst, gloomiest, most wretched time of year.
So for them the mythification of Christmas has some sting, built as it is on a premise of nostalgia sustained by some, imagined by others, and painfully missing for those who never had the reality or the illusion. Old emotional wounds mostly scarred over are rubbed raw anew, and if you don’t run around with armloads of presents and Christmas fixin’s you’re deemed a Scrooge — as if it is an either or proposition.
Is there a way to be neutral about this? Or at least opt out of the strange Christian spendfest that’s been made of the holiday?
For in everything I understand about how our ancestors celebrated the anniversary of Christ’s birth, it was a spiritual gathering, not a splurge. From what I’ve read, up to the mid-19th century a lot of Christians frowned on the celebration, including our puritan founding fathers and mothers, who preferred spiritual to materialistic events.
They didn’t want it desecrated by gift-giving at all.
I’m not Christian, and don’t feel his unfortunate passing has any more relevance to me than the loss of other living things; I do not perceive any added conveyance to the divine beyond what the creator has already provided. So the whole event has always been a mammoth ball of mixed messages for me.
For several years the height of my participation was card-writing; over several days I added notes and short letters to the cards I sent, enjoying the chance to hook up with old friends. I have an entertainment center, full of books and electronics and such, and I would tape all the cards I got up there, and thus once a year re-connect with old friends (and some still youngish).
That was it. I managed to get through a few years without any of the gift-giving hoopla at all, and liked that. For several years, before I met the woman who is now Mrs. Ombud, I quietly celebrated December 26th, just because it was over. I regarded it as a successful Christmas if I got through with a minimum of muss, hypocrisy, and fuss.
I guess I can see how this would mean some people regarded me as a Scrooge. But I didn’t feel that way. I wasn’t snarling “bah, humbug” in anyone’s face. And as odd religious rituals go, I will say that Christmas is more benign than, say, tossing virgins in a volcano.
It’s just got so many antiquated rituals. Ferrinstance, this whole tree thing is kind of odd. I don’t care how many rationalizations I read about Christmas tree farms — the habitat could be used for something other than growing coniferous support for elaborate ornamentation. Don’t we want to bind carbon into big living trees for a century or two, or at least lock it into wood products, rather than creating another transitory, throwaway item for the waste stream?
(That’s not bah humbug, is it? It’s proactive, and progressive, really it is … )
I guess that, in a world all too often of pain and discomfort, something that can bring people together happily is generally a good thing, even if it arrives with large doses of ambivalence. So cue the sleigh commercial, where the grandparents are warm and loving, puppies spill out the front door leading everyone in a group wag, and everyone gets the happy childhood they ascribe to a common past.
In the Currier & Ives myth, there is no disease or hunger, no one feuds with the neighbors, no one worries about grades or jobs or bills, there is no cancer or road rage, and the Hatfields aren’t shooting the McCoys.
Wait a minute, weren’t the Hatfields still shooting at the McCoys when this whole myth started?
Probably driveby shootings from horseback. Or would those be sleigh-by slayings?